Hopefully you’ll recall last year’s Getting Dressed With interview series, which dissected the shopping habits of stylish fashion insiders. I loved taking a virtual tour of other women’s wardrobes, but found the most exciting part was learning about their different career paths. So, for 2015, I’ve updated the format and am now focusing entirely on the 9 to 5. Each month I’ll profile an inspiring woman making a mark in her field – whether that be fashion, food, sport or even space travel (there are no limits – literally).
And that brings us to the first instalment of the My 9 to 5 series, featuring British footwear designer, Lucy Choi. Lucy launched her namesake label in 2012 – selling her flat to finance the brand – and in a short space of time her her “affordable luxury” shoes have won legions of fans! Here’s how she did it…
When did you first know you wanted to become a footwear designer?
I grew up watching my Uncle [Jimmy Choo] making exquisite shoes and knew from early on that shoes are in my genes and I would eventually turn to shoe design.
Were you ever tempted to join the family business along with your sister [Sandra Choi, Lucy’s older sister is Creative Director at Jimmy Choo]?
Yes, I could have chosen an easier path and joined the family business, but I decided to get corporate experience first. I studied Business at Birmingham University and started my career by spending eight years working in the IT, financial and business worlds, before arriving at French Sole in 2002 to help the brand grow both in the UK and internationally. Eventually I became French Sole’s MD and oversaw every aspect of the business, including retail, online, wholesale, marketing and PR. It prepared me well and I gained a sound knowledge of the mid-price shoe market and its customers.
Launching a new label in a crowded market is no easy task. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?
The most challenging aspect at the start was finding excellent factories. Quality and craftsmanship are key, and if you have good production processes in place the rest will follow. I invested my own money in the business and even sold the flat I’d owned for 10 years, which was very daunting. However, my previous experience in business and fashion – combined with my shoe heritage – gave me the confidence I needed to start my own collection.
What made you decide to focus on “affordable luxury”?
I spotted a need in the market for stylish, affordable, comfortable shoes for women of all ages. I love to mix boutique brands with designer labels myself, but noticed that many high street stores had started charging over £200 – sometimes even £300! – for a pair of heels. At Lucy Choi London I want to champion craftsmanship and create beautifully made shoes at an accessible price point [£150-£300, rather than the standard designer price of £500 upwards].
The brand has grown so quickly, it’s amazing! When did you have your first “pinch me” moment?
When I saw our very first collection arrive. It was the culmination of a considerable amount of hard work, energy, time and money.
What does your typical workday look like? If such a thing exists…
Busy! I start each day with a long shower, as it’s where I get time to think. I need order and routine, so I like my days to be planned, although I can happily work around problems as they arise. I find it hard to delegate, but this tenacity is quite important now I’m running my own label, because I’m involved in every aspect of the business (designing, liaising with factories, looking after the budgets, forecasting, recruitment, sales, events, logistics, marketing and PR). One day I could be meeting with buyers or press to talk about the new collection, the next I could be in Hong Kong, Spain or Italy overseeing production. It constantly changes.
How to you unwind after a tough day at work?
I love to spend time with my family, with my husband and our young son. Seeing them after a long day in the office makes it all worthwhile!
Which other women working in the fashion industry inspire you?
I am constantly inspired by other female entrepreneurs like Natalie Massenet and Jo Malone. We have an all female team in the office and we regularly brainstorm new ideas or designs, but my husband is still the main person I go to to bounce ideas off.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Think big and don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t settle for less. Be prepared for challenges and don’t give up as there will be setbacks along the way that is part of life.
And, finally, what advice would you give to other women hoping to start their own label one day?
Believe in your vision, make sure you have a solid business plan and then stick to it! Or, if you’re not naturally business savvy, make sure you’ve got a team that can support you. Be prepared to work hard as success doesn’t magically happen overnight. And don’t underestimate the value of work experience – I think companies should provide proper work experience because it’s where you learn the most. I’m so passionate about education; it opens your mind and your eyes.