Marcia Kilgore was born to be an entrepreneur.
“I found it very difficult to take direction from other people, … and I always found it difficult to work in places where the standards of the person who was running the place were, from my perspective, mediocre; it would frustrate me to no end,” she said on the latest episode of the Glossy Podcast.
Plus, her personality traits are befitting a successful entrepreneur, she said. Among them: “being super curious, being solution-oriented, loving to experiment, having solutions for any kind of hurdles or roadblocks that come along, and being tough enough to never give in.”
Based on her track record, she’s used that to her advantage. Kilgore sold her first business, Bliss Spa, to LVMH in 1999. That was before starting the “masstige” beauty brand Soap & Glory, which she sold to Walgreens Boots Alliance in 2011. In the years since, she’s launched Soaper Duper, Beauty Pie and FitFlop, the latter of which she described as a groundbreaker among footwear brands.
“I had this idea for a shoe that would align your body when you walked in it and give you energy [by] rebounding the energy from the ground up,” she said. “Shoes had always just been drawn [by designers]. No one was thinking about how the shoe affects the person walking in it. … [FitFlop] is really an engineering company.”
Kilgore said her entry into the footwear category, after building her career in beauty, made sense given that she’d been “very into reflexology” while running her spa business. As a one-time personal trainer, she was also into wellness. The shoe “connected the dots,” in terms of her experience, she said.
Since first launching through the retailer Sweaty Betty — through which one customer email sold 8,000 pairs of its shoes — FitFlop has taken off internationally. Now, having opened the brand’s first U.S. store, in SoHo in April, Kilgore is charting its stateside growth.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation which have been lightly edited for clarity.
“[The company] was self-funded pretty much the whole time, until a little bit post-Covid. So, Covid was a bit of a nightmare — only at the beginning, because all the factories shut down. Plus, they also had put a bunch of product onto boats. So we had about $30 million or $40 million worth of shoes on boats that were coming across to our various distributors, retailers, etcetera. Of course, all the distributors, retailers, etcetera said, ‘We [want to] cancel our orders.’ So, we had $40 million worth of shoes on boats, we had factories that wanted to get paid, and we had no revenue coming in. Nobody knew that everybody would go home and start shopping on the internet. But they did, thank God.”
Opening stores in the US
“We have one U.S. store in [NYC’s] SoHo that just opened before summer. And so we’re experimenting with getting the merchandising and the display right for the American market. … We will be very careful about how we expand to make sure we get it right. I always call it firing bullets before you fire cannonballs. You want to [first] have one and to polish it up, and to make sure that it’s perfect and that you’ve got all the systems down and that you’re doing it right. It is so much easier to sell online — however, people do need to try shoes on. People’s feet are so different — and one size six is not another size six. So it is great to have that retail [channel]. … Once we get everything really humming and we know that we’ve got the merchandising right for where we are, then we’ll roll out more [U.S.] stores.”
Reaching Gen Z
“Most of our customers start at [age] 35, because the product is a little more expensive. So, when you get to a certain age, you will pay for comfortable shoes. When you are 25, you don’t need them; there’s nothing wrong with your feet and nothing aches yet. But you get to be a little bit older and you think, ‘I don’t have time to be hurting.’ So you will put $100 down for a really great pair of comfortable sandals — whereas, you’re gonna buy the cheap ones when you’re 18. What we find, however, is that the moms buy them and then their daughters steal them.”