Veteran British designer Tamara Mellon—who founded Jimmy Choo in 1996—is hoping her latest venture proves as successful as Choo: In October, she relaunched her namesake label, which forced her into bankruptcy the first time around. This time, she’s doing things differently.
Rather than offer styles across a wide range of categories, Mellon is focusing on two lines of luxury shoes, Collection and Lab: The former is a collection of classic, timeless styles, and Lab is made up of limited-edition, one-off statement shoes, which are released each month. All are sold direct-to-consumer through Mellon’s website. The new approach isn’t far off from that of her first launch in 2013—then, she attempted a see-now-buy-now approach to selling clothes and shoes through wholesale in department stores. However, the see-now-buy-now model didn’t work with the department store setup, as the stores were operating on the traditional fashion calendar. The mismatch was one of the main contributors to her bankruptcy, she said.
Another factor had to do with Jimmy Choo, which she left in 2011: She is suing the company because, she claims, it boycotted the Italian factories she was working with. In an email, a spokesperson for Jimmy Choo said the case is without merit and will be vigorously contested.
But this year, Mellon raised $12 million in Series A fundraising and has since been rebuilding her brand. Glossy caught up with the designer to find out how she’s changed her business strategy and how she’s using data to cater to her customers.
What’s different about Tamara Mellon 2.0?
I pulled out of wholesale and have gone direct-to-consumer. This allows me to deliver product when I want to. There are no set collections, and the new products are season-appropriate. By pulling out of wholesale, I’ve cut my retail product in half—so I’m selling the same quality product for half the retail price.
You’re just focused on shoes now?
When I launched the first time, in 2013, I had an idea for ready-to-wear in my head. At that point, after Jimmy Choo, it would have been natural progression—but it was a matter of executing it. With a start-up, it’s better to focus on one product—otherwise, it gets too confusing. It’s better to let people focus on what I’m known for and then go into other product categories.
How are you using data?
We can see customer shopping trends immediately; the data allows us to see the pockets of the business that customers are interested in—and we’re able to reorder shoes straight away. Before, it would have taken six months to a year to get feedback; today, we can have a pair of shoes re-ordered in six weeks.
What has the data told you so far?
There’s a huge business in the fringe sizes. Normally, companies don’t order a lot of small or large sizes—but we’ve discovered a whole business on the fringe sizes, particularly sizes 36, 41 and 42. Because of the data and customer feedback, we are able to go back to the factory and order those sizes.
Is the business structured differently?
My business is very different than Jimmy Choo and even what it was three years ago. A traditional business would have sales people and people who manage wholesale clients and merchandise, for example. In my team of 10 today, I have one in-house engineer and a consulting engineer, who code the website — one is focused on what customers see and feel on the website, one is engineering the back of house. I have someone who manages all our social media, and my CEO is not from a fashion background (Jill Layfield came from Backcountry.com, an online retailer for outdoor clothing and equipment). The only traditional job I have today is designing shoes, which is me and one other person.
Opponents to see-now-buy-now say the model kills creativity. How has the it impacted the way you design?
For me, it’s been a time where we can be much more creative. We are designing three to five new styles a month—we’re not creating giant collections four times a year. At Jimmy Choo, we were designing 60 to 80 new styles four times a year. We’re doing smaller amounts more frequently, and it gives me a lot of breathing space.
Does see-now-buy-now require a shift in thinking for designers?
It really does, because you have to design in a very different way. At Jimmy Choo, we’d design a year ahead, then we’d make samples, then show to buyers six months ahead, then they’d place the orders and we’d get the shoes made. With see-now-buy-now and direct-to-consumer, we’re able to put up shoes that are new and appropriate for this season.
You’ve decided not to incorporate sales.
Customers wait for sales because the markup is so big. With direct-to-consumer, the customer doesn’t need to wait for a sale because I don’t multiply the cost by six. My retail price is the same as a sale price at a store that has markups. We used to consider markups a hidden secret, but brands like Everlane, Warby Parker and Casper, for example, are beginning to lift the lid on that.
How have the conversations between brands and customers evolved?
There’s a much more honest dialogue that happens now. Luxury brands used to think about creating these dreams and images that were unobtainable, and designers never had a dialogue with consumers. Being a new brand, I’m very honest about my experience and my relaunching, and we get engagement from customers because it’s authentic and real; it’s a real story they can identify with—the ups and downs—rather than just a glossy pictures on the outside.