A few weeks ago I went to the Lucy Choi event at her shop, it’s basically Wonka Land for shoe lovers. While there as ever I pushed my luck and asked for an interview with Lucy as she is one of the brightest talents in the industry and a personal fave. We talked shoes, business, advice to young people starting out, oh and of course all my usual off track musings.
Do you have the cutest shop in London?
Yes I certainly think so! I love the area and the community spirit in Connaught Village. I wanted the boutique to reflect my own personal style, as well as the brand’s philosophy of craftsmanship, comfort and character. I wanted to create a true shoe-candy heaven for my customers – it’s every girl’s dream boudoir and I hope it offers a luxurious, welcoming space where clients can come in, relax and enjoy personal service and a truly special shopping experience. I spent a considerable amount of time seeking just the right location, as I wanted to create a beautiful, calming environment and an inspiring space for our customers to shop in.
For most creatives they go from designer to business, you went the other way. Were the years working in business roles a huge help when you started Lucy Choi London?
Yes. Both my business background and 10 happy years I spent as the MD at luxury flat specialist French Sole prepared me so well for launching my own fashion brand. I value what I learnt in the city so highly, as it taught me how to be business savvy and to have a thick skin! When I felt it was the right time to move on, it was a natural and logical step for me to take to fulfill my desire of launching my own shoe label. I had a turning point in my career when I felt I had enough skills in business, finance and fashion to set up my own venture with confidence. I have always been creative and so I wanted to harness both business skills and fashion experience before becoming a designer in my own right.
For a shoe designer which would be bigger?
- A) Mentioned in Sex In The City – Definitely A
- B) Being name checked in a hip hop track
- C) being asked to collaborate in a big LFW show
What made you change paths, it’s quite a leap to say I’m going to swap careers?
It wasn’t so much of a change of paths, as I do think shoes have always been a part of my DNA! With my uncle Jimmy as such an inspiring mentor and role model for me from a young age, I knew that I would eventually follow my heart and family into the shoe industry. But I did learn the hard way! I could have chosen an easier path by joining the family business, but instead I decided to gain my own experience in the business & fashion worlds first and so I had to make a leap between the city and the fashion world! It may seem a big leap, but there are definitely overlaps and it taught me such valuable lessons that I know I will carry forward with this next chapter of my career.
I recently attended the Cordwainers National Student Footwear Awards, what advice would you give to the amazing young designers that attended?
I would tell them to believe in your vision. Make sure you have a solid business plan and 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. Don’t sweat the small stuff as there will always challenges along the way. And whatever happens don’t give up on your dream, it really is true that only you can make it happen.
Running the business, designing collections, shows across the globe, and a new mum, you must have some excellent tips on time management?
Yes, I have had to become good at juggling! (Or working with less sleep!!) I gave birth to my first son the same year as I launched the brand and then gave birth to my second son just months after opening my first boutique in London! I do always say I love a challenge!
I can’t deny that it is difficult, almost impossible! But my tips for other working mums would be that it’s very important to have balance. Don’t focus on negatives and look for solutions. I am happily married with two young sons and it is tricky to switch off when you run your own business, but I make sure I’m home to see my sons in the mornings before work and in the evenings after work, and at the weekends I love to relax by turning my phone off (for two hours a day at least!!), walking around London, playing tennis, exploring new places, and spending time with my family.
It’s so vital to have family time to unwind, talk and connect. To make any business work you have to have a dedicated and reliable team in the office and a strong partnership at home. My husband’s support has allowed me to juggle both the birth of my business and our two young sons. I really feel so lucky that I can have both a happy family life and business at the same time. Being able to combine the two most important parts of my life, my family and my career makes me feel fulfilled and is the way I measure my success.
What changes do you think the industry needs?
I think the industry needs to recognize that you can create quality and craftsmanship at an affordable price point. Fast-Fashion dominates our high streets and is damaging the quality and sustainability of products. As customers are becoming more discerning they will be looking for fashion that ticks many boxes – items that will last, are affordable, look stylish, are comfortable, but are also ethically produced. The Lucy Choi London woman is savvy and looks for this quality but at the best possible price point. My ethos is focused on my 3 C’s – Comfort, Character and Craftsmanship – and so I am hoping that I have found a good gap in the market. Why should you always feel you must spend hundreds of pounds for a beautiful pair of shoes!
What was the best business lesson you learned?
To trust your instinct! But I am also really lucky in that I have good experience behind me to help guide my decisions. For me, I really have learnt how important it is to take a risk and believe in your vision.
What was the hardest business lesson you learned?
There will always be problems running a business – sometimes when it rains, it pours! But I’ve learnt that the most important part is resolving matters in a calm manner. There is always a solution to any problem. One of the most challenging aspects of launching my label was finding factories who met my criteria for design and craftsmanship and also had ethical working practices. Quality is key and if you have good production processes in place, the rest will follow.
Finding the right team was also an obstacle at first, but I am delighted to say that now I am reaching my fifth year I have a solid team who really understands my philosophy and shares my vision. I invested my own money in the business and even sold my flat I had owned for 10 years to launch the label, and whilst that was very daunting, it felt like a natural step and made the process so much more real and personal. I gave absolutely everything I had to the company. I believe in my vision and took the risk! A huge risk, but a risk I am determined to make successful!
The footwear industry is often seen as a tiny part of British fashion, do you think designers and businesses get enough credit?
I personally don’t see the footwear industry as a tiny part of British fashion, as shoe designers can become household names and are known across the world! I do see that the fashion market is increasingly competitive and more saturated, but I think that is what gives fashion its unparalleled excitement and energy. There are always new designers, whether they are in the footwear industry or in other markets, and it is this constant competition that I think drives us all forward.
One of the shoes in the collections is called Bowie (my hero) how do you name them, is it from the inspiration or do you look at them and then think this should be called . . .
When I design the collections each season, I see the character of each shoe developing early on. It’s really the materials I find when I’m developing the range that inspire me, from unusual leathers to textures and the trims. From there it becomes quite easy to choose the names, as each shoe has its own character and sense of wow factor.
Which is harder, naming a baby or a shoe?
Definitely naming my two babies! For both babies it took at least a month to name them so for the first month they were baby with no name!!
The mens world record for the 100m in heels is 13.56 seconds, will you help me design a pair to beat this?
I’m sure I could – though I can imagine that was quite a feat. I expect a woman would have run it in a much faster time!
Catherine De Medici is often credited with making the first high heels, who inspires you if its not notorious 16th century royalty?
Every time I design a pair of shoes I think of our motto “Rock and Royal”, which to me is typified by the two Kates – style icons Kate Moss and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge. Some shoes represent the edgy and iconic Kate Moss, other shoes the elegant and classic Kate Middleton, and many are a combination of the two! They will always stay in an affordable price range, but they must always have that wow factor!
You can find the Lucy Choi boutique at 18 Connaught St, London W2 2AH or online at her site.