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Jimmy Choo Co-Founder Is Changing the Fashion Industry Again

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Tamara Mellon transformed luxury shoe brand Jimmy Choo from a small London boutique into a global phenomenon with 115 stores in 39 countries and $900 million in sales. Mellon, a former accessories editor at British Vogue, borrowed money from her father in 1996 to start the company with Jimmy Choo, a Malaysian-born cobbler living in London who was known for the bespoke shoes he designed for London’s high society. Mellon left the company in 2011 after a tumultuous 15 years and a reported $135 million payout. In her new memoir “In My Shoes,” Mellon recounts in detail the hardships, frustrations, discrimination and bad business deals that occurred behind the scenes of one of the fastest growing shoe brands in the world. Mellon visited The Daily Ticker studio to share her stories about the shoe business and give advice to entrepreneurs.

Looking back at the company she co-founded:

‘I still think [Jimmy Choo] is a fantastic company,” she says. “It will keep growing. It’s got great products and I hope I left them with a winner in their hands.”

How “Sex and the City” helped build the Jimmy Choo brand:

“It was something where the stars just aligned,” she explains. “We never pitched for it, we never knew it was coming. Years later I spoke to Candace Bushnell (the best-selling author of ‘Sex and the City’) and she told me she went to the store in London and loved the product. ‘Sex and the City’ turned Jimmy Choo into a household name. You reach a much bigger audience than you would through glossy magazines. It may not be the audience that can buy your core product but when you go into other categories like fragrance and sunglasses -- more aspirational products -- consumers can buy into part of the dream.”

On her new fashion label “Tamara Mellon” (the line's shoes, handbags and clothes will be available this fall at high-end stores like Bergdorf and Neiman Marcus):

“I’ve done a business model that’s season-less,” she says. “I am going to do monthly fashion drops. I am producing a real luxury product but I am taking a lower margin so I can deliver an amazing product to my customer at a better price. On ready-to-wear, it’s a high contemporary price so it’s $800 for a dress, $500 for a skirt, $600 for a jacket.”

How the global banking crisis changed consumers’ shopping habits:

“I think the financial crisis had a lot to do with people’s psychology when shopping,” she notes. “Women used to be ashamed to say, ‘I bought that in the high street.’ (i.e. Top Shop, Zara) And now they look smart when they mix something from the high street with something from luxury.”

The changing dynamics of the fashion industry:

“It’s a completely different world from when I started Jimmy Choo,” Mellon says. “There are no rules in fashion anymore. And I think the consumer is way ahead of the industry. With fashion shows going online, the public can view the product for six months before it goes into the store, which leaves you with the sense of ‘eh, it's kinda boring’ by the time it gets to the stores. The fashion industry now needs to catch up."

On the lessons she learned when building her business:

“Don’t give up control…because what happens is you end up feeling like a guest in your own house,” she says. “Then you see things happening to the product that you’re not happy with. Speaking up is very important. When you’re young and particularly for women, sometimes you don’t know how to find your voice. It’s very important to speak up. And the most important thing is instinct. You have to trust your gut. Every time I’ve gone against my instinct, it’s been a mistake.

When I founded Jimmy Choo I was focused on making beautiful shoes. And I didn’t realize that I was going to be dealing with the financial world. As a woman you can be discounted, diminished and not receive equal pay. It made me realize, as a woman we really have a lot to do.

My new company is going to be a very different corporate culture. I want a culture that really supports women in the workplace. What’s really important for women with families is flexible hours. And being able to bring your kids to the office without it being an issue. I am making sure all the women that work for me are paid properly."

On how many pairs of shoes she owns:

"After 15 years I’ve lost count but in the region of 3,000,” she says with a laugh.

Why expensive shoes are worth the money:

“There’s a different quality of leather and hand work,” she explains. “There was a lot of hand work in what I did. I worked with the best factories in Italy.”

And yes, the first thing Mellon notices about people are their shoes:

“You can really tell a lot about a person by their shoes," she says.

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