Stacey Bendet is focused on keeping the Alice & Olivia girl happy and fashionable from head to toe.
Ten years after launching a collection of printed pants that became a full-fledged line of separates and flirty cocktail dresses, Bendet has found success again with her footwear offering. Available at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Shopbop.com, the shoes have seen sales increase more than twofold since launching for spring last year. The sky-high platforms, pop-color pumps and snake-print sandals retail for $200 to $500.
With a short-lived collaboration with Payless ShoeSource and one-time project with Keds under her belt, Bendet had little previous experience in the footwear industry before launching her own line. Still, she insisted on keeping the shoes in-house.
“We talked about [going with a licensee], but we wanted to put the mark on these shoes,” she said. “With every dress I design and fit, my touch is on it. I wanted to be able to do that with the shoes, too.”
From the start, Bendet’s footwear impressed buyers, though it wasn’t a home run immediately, due to quality issues and limited quantities. Tracy Margolies, now VP and DMM of women’s shoes at Saks, was Bendet’s first buyer at Bergdorf Goodman when she debuted ready-to-wear.
“The first [shoe] collection had a tight assortment of great pieces, and with Stacey’s design and passion, we knew it would be a matter of time before it became just as strong as the ready-to-wear collection,” said Margolies.
This spring, Alice & Olivia footwear made its mark abroad, debuting in 26 international stores including Harvey Nichols in London and Excelsior in Milan. Bendet has four to six branded U.S. shops planned for before the year’s end. And late last month, Alice & Olivia bowed a pop-up shop in East Hampton, N.Y., for the summer season.
Here, Bendet sounds off on diffusion lines, social media and her own personal style.
How does your taste influence the line?
SB: The original shoes were all about me and what I like. But I wear all high shoes, and as the collection grows, we need different heights. This girl still wants to look sexy in her jeans, but she might not want to wear 5-inch heels. We’ve been playing with variations … but in a way that’s wearable for [all] women.
How is your business online compared with brick-and-mortar?
SB: We knew we were on the right track with what we were doing with dot-com before we saw [the line] pick up in the department stores. With the first collection, we would ship two or three styles to a department store and [they were difficult to find], but then we would ship to Shopbop.com, Saksfifthavenue.com or Neimanmarcus.com and see it blow out.
Having previously worked with Payless on a shoe collection, where do you stand on diffusion lines?
SB: I don’t believe in diffusion lines in categories you already design. The reason is that I’m not making $10,000 gowns; I’m making dresses and clothing that are accessible. We work really hard to make beautiful clothing at [reasonable] price points, so I don’t want to see cheaper versions of the things I think are so beautiful. It’s the same thing with shoes right now. My whole goal is to have all our shoes retail for $200 to $500. That’s a price point I don’t want to diffuse.
Has social media had a big impact on your shoe collection?
SB: Everything from Instagram to Twitter has been fantastic for us. It’s so funny because on Instagram, when we photograph the shoes, we’ll get 2,000 likes a minute. It’s crazy. And at one point I took a picture of a shoe we were about to drop — it was a little bit of a crazier shoe that hadn’t been picked up yet — and I put it on Instagram and it got 1,000 likes in 30 seconds. I was, like, “I told you we needed to keep this one!”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since entering the shoe industry?
SB: Hard work pays off. It would have been a lot easier to do a license, but there is a big learning curve. We had to do everything from scratch and make relationships with factories in a completely different industry. The first couple of years, when I started designing pants, I had to learn about patternmaking and tech and production, and I have this same kind of exciting feeling again with the shoes.