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