FN Summit: Let’s Talk Shoes

Photo by John Aquino, WWD
Tabitha Simmons, Alessandra Lavin, and Laurence Dacade are three of the most prominent women in footwear today (if only Charlotte Olympia has been there…) and all three of them love luxury.
Photo by John Aquino, WWD
Tabitha Simmons, a former model and a fashion stylist for magazines such as American and Italian Vogue, is making a serious impression on the fashion industry, especially since she just won the CFDA Swarovski award for Emerging Talent in Accessory Design. Since launching in 2009, the brand has grown into quite an impressive luxury business that makes genuinely beautiful yet cool shoes, which are sold at over 6o locations. She is careful to grow her business slowly and “organically…one step at a time.” Her biggest challenges, though, in the business are “production, and getting it into stores on time.” She ultimately would love to have a store, because “then you really connect to your customer.” She loves collaborating with designers, like Creatures of the Wind, for runway shows, as it’s “fun, and a great way to grow with them. You support each other, it’s nice.” Nice indeed, almost nicer than that CFDA award.
Photos Courtesy of Aperlai
Alessandra Lanvin believes that female shoe designers have an advantage over their male counterparts, since men tend to fantasize more about heels, and not take into account a woman’s comfort, while women do. Alessandra founded Aperlai (named for the ancient Lycian city), a luxury accessory line, almost three years ago, though she holds degrees in Political Science and Art History. It is fitting, then, that most of her inspiration comes from Artists; favorites include Picasso, Pollack, and Mondrian. The modern styles of these artists are clearly represented in Ms. Lanvin’s shoe designs- her shoes often include such elements as graphic lines, asymmetries, and contrasts. She often uses exotic skins such as python and pony, and all her shoes are made in Italy. Her main focus will always be on footwear, though she is open to expanding, but just a little bit. “Aperlai is a small brand, and we want to remain as such,” she stated, and added that with all the big luxury shoe companies out there, it is hardly wise to try and compete. 

Photos Courtesy of Laurence Dacade
Laurence Dacade is certainly the envy of most everyone, for she has collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. That’s pretty much the ultimate. She likes Karl a lot, and likes that he “knows exactly what he wants, he’s quick, he’s talented, and professional…” she shares in a thick French accent that she actually apologized for, which made her Parisian charm that much charmier, “everyday it’s a great moment (with him).” So though she loves him, and who wouldn’t love working for Chanel? She doesn’t just want to be known for her (amazing) collaborations. She wants to be known for her own line as well, she wants the client to be happy, and she wants to “fight for the idea that you don’t have to fight to wear heels,” that is, they should be comfortable. I’m liking her more and more. She loves designing, loves to work on the heel, the proportion, the fabric, and loves shoes in general. She went into footwear because, plain and simple, she loves shoes, and she gives them everything she’s got.
These three women were so inspiring, they are successful, beautiful, talented, and all around pretty amazing.

FN Summit: TOMS

Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, is not only philanthropic and giving and all that jazz, he is absolutely adorable. For such a successful guy, he is so down to earth, and so excited about giving, which not only “feels really good,” but is also a really great business.

Photo Courtesy of WWD

In case you didn’t know, Blake Mycoskie founded TOMS after a trip to Argentina in 2006, where he saw that nearly every child was lacking shoes. Often, in less developed countries, a child needs shoes in order to go to school. Blake told the story of a woman with three sons, who would share one pair of shoes, so each could only go to school every three days. The woman was so excited by the shoes, and that her sons would all be able to get an education. Before that experience, Blake had no idea just how big of a change he was making, he was trying to make a self-sustaining business so he could continue with his software company. Every time you buy a pair or TOMS, a pair is donated to a child in need.

Photos Courtesy of TOMS

But today, Blake talked about the business that has skyrocketed since it’s inception in 2006. He stressed the importance of a story. The story of TOMS allows the company to differentiate from other shoe companies, and has since the beginning. He told a story of when he was at JFK, and not wearing TOMS. He saw a woman, a total stranger, wearing them, in red, so he asked her about them. Which is something I would totally do too, if I saw my product on someone. What better way to get the truth? Unless you don’t want to hear it… When he asked her, she told him, and seemed upset that he wasn’t more interested. So she apparently grabbed him and started yelling about how great they were! And why didn’t he understand?! Every time someone buys a pair they give a pair away! He told her who he was, probably to get out of her death grip, and she responded by asking why he had cut his hair. The point is, the TOMS story sticks with people, so much so, apparently, they yell about it in airports. Which is actually, pretty cool.

Blake also stressed how important it was to see your brand out there, in the stores, with the people, which makes it necessary to have employees who can fend for themselves while the chief sole giver is away on business. He once went on a road trip and made 82 stops in 94 days, so his employees were by themselves for about three months, but ‘management by absence’ is one of the most important parts of his business.

Though TOMS is extremely successful, they have a had a few things that didn’t work. Blake explained that when he first started out, he wanted to be the company that got rid of shoe boxes. He hated them. So he shipped out the first batch of shoes in canvas bags, and he “thought it was brilliant.” But then, like all strings do, they got themselves all tangled, and the TOMS were trapped. So the shoe boxes returned.

His super popular white TOMS you paint yourself were also made by accident. He accidentally ordered 15,000 pairs of white TOMS, and “who want’s white TOMS?” Umm…Me! So he convinced people that getting white TOMS and decorating them yourself was the collect thing in the world. And it was all just to get rid of them, but they have become one of the most popular sellers, especially for birthday parties.

TOMS Glasses

And, just in case the shoes aren’t cool enough, TOMS recently launched eyewear, and have started distributing the shoes on Indian Reservations in North America.

And finally, for your viewing pleasure, here we are- smiling kind of awkwardly…but oh well. Just look at him, he’s who this post is about, after all.

FN Summit: Stuart Weitzman

I just want to start with Stuart Weitzman by mentioning that my first heels were Stuart Weitzman, My Prom shoes were Stuart Weitzman (I wore the same pair twice) and I generally love Stuart Weitzman. He has been in business for 25 years now, and is both a businessman and a designer. A perfect combination of right and left brains, which he states is “an advantage, not a challenge” and although “not necessary, it is an asset.” He believes that “the first hero every girl meets is a shoe,” and the best advice he can give to young designers is that they have to love the business and be passionate about what they do. He visits his factories, all 13 of which are located in Spain, frequently, and enjoys playing ping pong. And he didn’t even mean to be in the business.

My 15-year-old self and my 18-year-old feet at various proms

Stuart Weitzman has owned his business since 1986, but he has owned all his factories since 1976. He wasn’t going to go into the family production business, but when his father died, he helped run the factory, and loved it. He has been known to be at the trade shows in person, and stay until 10 or 11pm. And it’s been that way since he was 21, he’s hooked. Yet, he still refers to it as just a hobby.

His designs and shoes, some courtesy of younger designers (probably one of the reasons his shoes are still current) are some of the most popular, and he is always careful to think through the business side of a design. How will it be made? Will it sell? And one of his most important rules is that a shoe must be comfortable, because why not?

Two current faves- the Capsize and the Review

Stuart Weitzman has an international presence, but when he first started selling in other countries, he wasn’t even thinking about globalization, because the term hadn’t really been invented yet. Weitzman asked his brother, who lived in Spain, to put some of Stuarts’ shoes into his (brothers) store, and it grew from there. Weitzman credits his brother with teaching him that the U.S. wasn’t the only place to make shoes. He learned what the rest of the world could offer, and he was just trying to improve his brand image, not conquer the world. He does sell the most shoes in London, however, and sees Asia (and the internet) as the biggest places for potential growth, though he seems perplexed by the bought of online shoe shopping- “I just wonder, how can you buy a shoe that fits online?” Well, personally I just ballpark it, and probably waste a lot of money on shipping and returns.

Courtesy of Vogue

Weitzman recently launched his higher end line, SW1,which features more exotic skins and higher heels. Literally just launched a few days ago, so nothing to buy yet, just to dream about. Weitzman stresses that to make a good shoe and sell it, it has to work, it has to fit, and it has to repeat-able. SW1 still adheres to those principles, but with just a few more centimeters or a more cutting edge design. And he’s still going.