Elim Chew



Elim Chew Soo Gim (b. 1965, Singapore–) is best known as the founder of 77th Street, the retail store specialising in streetwear for teenagers.1 She is an advocate of social entrepreneurship and believes that businesses can contribute to the community.2 Chew sits on various boards and committees in the public sector as well as youth and community organisations. She has received many awards, including the Public Service Medal.3

Early life
Chew, a devout Christian, is the third child in her family. Her father, who passed away from stomach cancer when she was 21, was a dispensary manager and her mother a hairdresser. Chew studied at Fairfield Methodist Girls’ School before moving to London to learn hairdressing at Vidal Sassoon and Toni & Guy for two years. When she returned to Singapore, Chew worked in a hair salon for a year before starting her own one-woman salon at Far East Plaza in 1987.4


As a teenager, Chew was rebellious and pulled pranks in school. A delinquent made good, she credits her parents for teaching her the importance of giving, and believes that this grows a person. Chew attributes her active contribution to the community to her teacher who helped her find direction and hope at a time when she felt lost.5

77th Street
Chew identified a gap in the market for affordable and trendy streetwear through her customers at the hair salon. Her dressing reflected the funky and punky British culture at that time and her customers often asked where she got her clothes and accessories from.6 As they were unavailable in Singapore then, Chew started importing these clothes and accessories and selling them on the side. In 1988, she opened the first 77th Street store in Far East Plaza. 77th Street succeeded as the punk-rock movement took off. By 2004, the number of 77th Street outlets had expanded to 18, and the chain recorded a turnover of more than S$12 million.7 In the same year, 77th Street became Singapore’s first retailer to set up an underground shopping mall – 77th Street Plaza – at Xidan Cultural Central in Beijing, China.8 In 2006, the chain increased its outlets to 20 – 15 in Singapore and five joint-ventures in Malaysia.9

In 2015, 77th Street exited the China market after its lease was up.10 Back home, the chain had been gradually shutting down its outlets; it closed its final store in July 2016.11 Chew cited high rental, manpower shortage and the changing retail scene for the closures. She had, in the meantime, turned her business focus to logistics. She started a courier service and launched an application called FastFast with Adrian Ng in 2015 to support the business. FastFast courier service provides job opportunities for retirees and people who have been retrenched or are between jobs.12


Youth outreach
Chew’s background as a rebellious teenager motivated her to reach out to youths shunned by society as rebels or delinquents.13 She mentors and gives motivational talks to youths to help them channel their energies more purposefully.14 Chew is also noted for co-founding the Singapore Street Festival in 2001, a non-profit organisation and annual event that serves as a platform for youths to express themselves and showcase their talent.15 Chew also established a loyalty-card programme, Get A Life, to provide youths with a direction in life, within a clean and fun environment.16

In 2003, Chew co-founded The Young Entrepreneur Mastery (TYEM), a mentoring organisation aimed at encouraging entrepreneurship in youths.17 In 2004, the organisation launched My Voice, a collection of 77 anonymous letters penned by troubled youths sharing things they have not divulged to anyone.18 A second collection of 70 letters titled My Voice: Breaking Free was published in 2006. Chew believes that the publications will bring about awareness, reflection and acceptance in society. Sales proceeds from the second edition were channelled to fund programmes by TYEM, which impart life skills, innovation, communication and selling techniques.19

With her business success, Chew helped to build churches in China, India and Indonesia, and also adopted three abused children from New York’s Metro Ministry.20 77th Street also sponsored children from World Vision.21

Social entrepreneurship

Chew is credited for taking eight budding entrepreneurs under her tutelage in 2004, enabling them to subsequently run three retail stores at China Square Central shopping mall.22

In 2006, Chew established the Social Innovation Park (SIP), a non-profit, non-government organisation that aims to “incubate entreprenuers” and “help them build solid foundations and sustainable business models which in turn reap social dividends”. She feels that business skills and abilities can be shared and taught to the community.23 Through the SIP, Chew helped set up PaTH (Pop and Talent Hub) at VivoCity in 2006. The initiative provides a space for individuals from marginalised groups to sell arts and crafts.24

Contributions as board member
Chew has contributed as a board member to various public service organisations as well as youth and community groups. These include World Vision, *SCAPE, School of the Arts and Action Community for Entrepreneurship.25 She has also served as a member on the National University of Singapore’s board of trustees.26


In 2011, Chew chaired the New Hawker Centre Public Consultation Panel which looked into the ways new-generation hawker centres could continue to meet the needs of residents.27 She has been a member of MediaCorp’s board of directors since July 2010.28

Awards

2001: Fashion Award (Street Style Awards) / Most Promising Woman Entrepreneur Award (ASME; Association of Small and Medium Enterprises)29
2002: Mont Blanc Business Woman Award30
2003: 2002 Her World Young Woman Achiever Award / BP International Mentoring Foundation-Research Communication International Leader-Mentor Award (joint award)31
2004: Singapore Promising Brand Distinctive Award (Singapore Promising Brand Award by ASME and Lianhe Zaobao)32
2010: Forbes Asia Hero of Philanthropy33
2011: Public Service Medal (Pingat Bakti Masyarakat)/Special Award of Commendation (Young Outstanding Singaporeans Awards)34



Author

Perpetua Neo



References
1. Koh, T. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 99. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
2. Kolesnikov-Jessop, S. (2016, March 28). Tackling social issues in business: ‘You should make money for a purpose’. International New York Times. Retrieved from Proquest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
3. Soin, K., & Thomas, M. (Eds.). (2015). Our lives to live: Putting a woman’s face to change in Singapore. New Jersey: World Scientific, p. 63. (Call no.: RSING 305.4095957 OUR)
4. Long, S. (2005). Difference makers: Stories of those who dared: A collection of interview columns. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 303.48409049 LON); Alphonso, J. (2005, October 10). $treet-wise. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Long, S. (2005). Difference makers: Stories of those who dared: A collection of interview columns. Singapore: World Scientific, pp. 3, 4. (Call no.: RSING 303.48409049 LON); Kon, D., Maryam Abdullah, & Yeo, C. M. (Eds.). (2004). I’m a volunteer too!: 40 heartwarming Singaporean stories. Singapore: National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, and Beaumont Publishing, p. 105. (Call no.: RSING 361.37095957 IM)
6. Soin, K., & Thomas, M. (Eds.). (2015). Our lives to live: Putting a woman’s face to change in Singapore. New Jersey: World Scientific, p. 64. (Call no.: RSING 305.4095957 OUR)
7. Long, S. (2005). Difference makers: Stories of those who dared: A collection of interview columns. Singapore: World Scientific, pp. 5–7. (Call no.: RSING 303.48409049 LON)
8. Koh, T. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 99. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN)
9. Koh, T. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 99. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN)
10. Wong, S. Y. (2016, April 7). 77th Street founder turns to logistics amid retail shake-up. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
11. Leong, W. K. (2016). Streetwear shop 77th Street to close by end-July. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 2016, July 30 from Channel NewsAsia website: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/streetwear-shop-77th/2914902.html
12. Wong, S. Y. (2016, April 7). 77th Street founder turns to logistics amid retail shake-up. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Proquest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
13. Kon, D., Maryam Abdullah, & Yeo, C. M. (Eds.). (2004). I’m a volunteer too!: 40 heartwarming Singaporean stories. Singapore: National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, and Beaumont Publishing, p. 103. (Call no.: English RSING 361.37095957 IM)
14. Long, S. (2003, March 14). From dropout punk to wizard of 77th Street. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Soin, K., & Thomas, M. (Eds.). (2015). Our lives to live: Putting a woman’s face to change in Singapore. New Jersey: World Scientific, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 305.4095957 OUR)
16. Long, S. (2005). Difference makers: Stories of those who dared: A collection of interview columns. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 303.48409049 LON); Singapore Street Festival. (2016). About. Retrieved 2016, July 30 from Singapore Street Festival website: http://singaporestreetfestival.com/about/
17. Soin, K., & Thomas, M. (Eds.). (2015). Our lives to live: Putting a woman’s face to change in Singapore. New Jersey: World Scientific, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 305.4095957 OUR); Soh, W. L. (2003, March 11). Mentor network offers faster helping hand. The Straits Times, p. A17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. My voice. (2003). Singapore: The Young Entrepreneur Mastery. (Call no.: RSING 305.23095957 MY-[SRN]); Teh, S. C. (2005, July 31). Bookends. The Straits Times, p. 25; Chew, J. (2004, February 24). Cries for help. The New Paper, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. My voice: Breaking free. (2006). Singapore: The Young Entrepreneur Mastery. (Call no.: RSING 305.23095957 MY); Yip, M. (2006, December 11). New voices of hope. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Long, S. (2003, March 14). From dropout punk to wizard of 77th Street. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Wu, D. (2004, September/October). Rebel with a cause. Salt, 5(11). Singapore: National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre. (Call no.: RSING 361.763 S)
22. Ng, G. (2004, September 17). They’re in business, thanks to Elim Chew. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Soin, K., & Thomas, M. (Eds.). (2015). Our lives to live: Putting a woman’s face to change in Singapore. New Jersey: World Scientific, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 305.4095957 OUR); Lie, M. (2006, May 5). Social entrepreneurs join hands. Today, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Tan, J. (2015, October 24). Elim Chew’s new app aims to have ‘social impact’. Retrieved 2016, July 30 from The New Paper website: http://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore-news/earn-money-fastfast-new-courier-service-app
25. Wu, D. (2004, September/October). Rebel with a cause. Salt, 5(11). Singapore: National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre. (Call no.: RSING 361.763 S); Soin, K., & Thomas, M. (Eds.). (2015). Our lives to live: Putting a woman’s face to change in Singapore. New Jersey: World Scientific, p. 63. (Call no.: RSING 305.4095957 OUR)
26. Almenoar, M., & Liaw W.-C. (2006, April 1). Trustees will have bigger say in running NUS, NTU. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Tan, D. (2012, September 21). National Environment Agency: 19 members appointed to the New Hawker Centre Public Consultation Panel. Singapore Government News. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
28. Mediacorp appoints three new directors. (2010, July 22). Singapore Government News. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Bloomberg. (2016, August 4). Company overview of MediaCorp Pte Ltd. Retrieved 2016, August 4 from Bloomberg website: http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/person.asp?personId=53140766&privcapId=26472463
29. Boey, D. (2001). Biker boy wins. The Straits Times, p. 7; Quek, E. (2001, December 15). Shelley powers her way in red and gold. Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 99. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
30. Koh, T. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 99. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Alphonso, J. (2005, October 10). $treet-wise. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewsaperSG.
31. Tan, W. (2003, March 4). Two businesswomen who showed daring. The Straits Times, p. 3; Soh, W. L. (2003, March 11). Mentor network offers faster helping hand. The Straits Times, p. A17.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Press Holdings. (2005–2016). Timeline: 2002. Retrieved 2016, July 30 from Her World Woman of the Year website: http://womanoftheyear.herworldplus.com/2002-elim-chew
32. Yeo, L. (2007, August/September). Eye on Asia – SME’s international role is growing in importance. Foreign Direct Investment. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Lin, R. (2004, July 13). Here’s a toast to six champagne brands. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. 77th Street founder wins commendation. (2011, January 6). The Business Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Government of Singapore. (2015, October 29). National Day awards. Retrieved 2016, July 30 from Prime Minister’s Office Singapore website: http://www.pmo.gov.sg/national-day-awards/search?name=elim+chew&year%5Bvalue%5D%5Byear%5D=2011&field_award_tid=All; 77th Street founder wins commendation. (2011, January 6). The Business Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 4 August 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Businesswomen--Singapore--Biography
Social entrepreneurship--Singapore
Chew, Elim Soo Gim, 1965-
Personalities
Personalities>>Biographies
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
People and communities>>Fashion and grooming
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Retail and wholesale
Business, finance and industry>>Business start up>>Initialization of business enterprises