Q&A

The Australian - The Deal - - News - In­ter­view by: Glenda Korporaal Glenda Korporaal was a guest of Dell at the Ber­lin con­fer­ence

Shoes of Prey founder Jodie Fox tells how she’s tak­ing the brand global

For­mer Bris­bane lawyer Jodie Fox founded Shoes of Prey in 2009 with her then hus­band Michael and friend Michael Knapp. The com­pany that al­lows women to de­sign their own shoes online is ex­pand­ing into the mar­ket in the United States. The Deal spoke to Fox in Ber­lin where she was a speaker at the Dell Women’s En­tre­pre­neur Net­work con­fer­ence.

Why did you move to the US?

We were get­ting good or­ganic growth from our web­site in the US. We also took $5.5 mil­lion in fund­ing from a ven­ture cap­i­tal group in Cal­i­for­nia last De­cem­ber. We also did a deal with re­tailer Nord­strom to open in six of their stores in the US. Hav­ing such an in­vest­ment in phys­i­cal re­tail space re­ally re­quires a pres­ence there.

Where is the com­pany based now?

We have taken a big chunk of our team to our head­quar­ters in Santa Mon­ica in Cal­i­for­nia. There are 25 of us there in­clud­ing Michael Fox. The E-3 visas to the US have also made it much eas­ier for Aus­tralians want­ing to work there. [E-3 visas per­mit Aus­tralian na­tion­als to go to the US to work in spe­cialty oc­cu­pa­tions.] We have about 200 staff, most of whom are in south­ern China where we have just opened a new fac­tory. We still have our flag­ship store at David Jones in Syd­ney and have peo­ple on the ground in Aus­tralia. Aus­tralia will al­ways be our home and where our heart­beat is.

You ini­tially founded your busi­ness with your hus­band Michael Fox.

Michael Fox, Michael Knapp and I all stud­ied law in Queens­land. We met through the Queens­land Law So­ci­ety. The boys went to work for Google – Michael Knapp was a soft­ware engi­neer and Michael Fox was in advertising sales. I worked as a lawyer and then worked in an advertising agency on build­ing brands. The boys were al­ways in­ter­ested in do­ing some­thing en­tre­pre­neur­ial. They wanted to start some­thing but they needed a clever idea. I was get­ting shoes de­signed for me by a man in Hong Kong and my friends all wanted me to get some shoes made for them. And, so the idea of de­sign­ing my own shoes and e-com­merce came to­gether.

You and Fox have since di­vorced but still work to­gether?

We broke up in 2012. It was a re­ally sad time for both of us. But it was very am­i­ca­ble and we have still kept work­ing to­gether. There was never a ques­tion that ei­ther of us would step away from the busi­ness. And I am lucky that I still have my best friend in my life. We have tricky days but we are still great busi­ness part­ners.

How do you al­lo­cate roles be­tween the three of you?

Michael Knapp is based in China at the mo­ment at our new fac­tory. With the open­ing of our six stores in the US we have had a lot more trac­tion than we had forecast. He is over there ramp­ing up the fac­tory so we can re­ally push out sup­ply. Michael Fox has al­ways been in the busi­ness de­vel­op­ment side of things. He is the num­bers man. My strength is in brand­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and be­ing a cus­tomer ad­vo­cate.

How has busi­ness in the US been?

It has been good. It is early days. We opened our first store at the Nord­strom flag­ship store in Seat­tle in Novem­ber and our sixth store in Chicago in May. (The oth­ers are in Washington DC, New Jersey, San Fran­cisco and Los An­ge­les). It takes 12 to 18 months for best-in-class re­tail stores to break even. We are on track, which is great. The re­cep­tion has been fan­tas­tic and we couldn’t have picked a bet­ter part­ner than Nord­strom, which has a her­itage in shoes. Cul­tur­ally, the US is a good fit for us.

How is the US mar­ket dif­fer­ent from the mar­ket in Aus­tralia?

Aus­tralia as a whole is very sim­i­lar, na­tion­ally and cul­tur­ally. Amer­ica is more like Europe where ev­ery state has its own cul­ture and its own ap­proach to things. Places can vary in terms of style and lan­guage. The

mar­ket­ing has to be much more frag­mented than the way you ap­proach the mar­ket in Aus­tralia.

You were cho­sen to be one of 200 women at the an­nual Dell Women’s En­tre­pre­neur Net­work con­fer­ence and were listed on the pro­gram as be­ing from the US. What dif­fer­ence do you see in the en­vi­ron­ment for en­trepreneurs be­tween Aus­tralia and Amer­ica?

There is a real op­ti­mism in the US about en­trepreneurs. There is a cel­e­bra­tion that – “Hey, you are giv­ing it a go. Let me in­tro­duce you to…” It is such a nat­u­ral process. Ev­ery­one un­der­stands and will help you on your way. I don’t see that hap­pen­ing as much in Aus­tralia. It’s def­i­nitely some­thing that we can learn from – the de­vel­op­ment sys­tem for en­trepreneurs in the US. That said, we are lay­ing some amaz­ing foun­da­tions in Aus­tralia. There are some reg­u­la­tory changes such as the em­ployee-share scheme tax changes this year, which are help­ing to foster a bet­ter cul­ture. There are also things like open­ing up more shared workspaces and other in­fra­struc­ture that makes it eas­ier for en­trepreneurs to have a go.

How com­pet­i­tive is the mar­ket for your prod­uct now?

We don’t have any di­rect com­peti­tors in the US. There was a com­pany called Milk and Honey started by two sis­ters, but they sold out to a Lon­don com­pany. I just had a chance to meet one of them at the con­fer­ence, which was ex­cit­ing as we shared so much of the same jour­ney. Over the past 12 months, brands such as Prada, Jimmy Choo and Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo have all be­gun to of­fer be­spoke shoes. Not to the same ex­tent that we do, but they will take a cou­ple of their styles and of­fer cus­tomers the abil­ity to de­cide on the heel height, colour and tex­ture of the shoes. That’s re­ally ex­cit­ing for me be­cause Shoes of Prey is not a lux­ury brand. Shoes of Prey is an ac­ces­si­ble lux­ury brand. When we start to see those gi­ant brands dab­bling in this space it helps to raise the aware­ness of the busi­ness as a whole.

What’s the fu­ture for Shoes of Prey?

Shoes of Prey is not about shoes. It is about giv­ing peo­ple ex­actly what they want, when they want it. It is not about fast fash­ion, it is giv­ing peo­ple a hand in the cre­ative process. We want to go into hand­bags, lifestyle prod­ucts and cloth­ing. We want to get into boots first. It’s colder in the US so boots are more im­por­tant there. Af­ter we have be­come es­tab­lished in the US we will take the team to Europe and then to Asia. We are open­ing up our next fund rais­ing so Michael is very fo­cused on that at the mo­ment. He is find­ing it good to be based in the US rather than hav­ing to travel from Aus­tralia for the meet­ings. He has al­ways been a bit of a beach per­son so he is en­joy­ing be­ing in Santa Mon­ica as well.

“Prada, Jimmy Choo and Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo have all be­gun to of­fer be­spoke shoes. When we start to see those gi­ant brands dab­bling in this space it helps to raise the aware­ness of the busi­ness as a whole.”

– Shoes of Prey founder Jodie Fox

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