5 Questions for Sole Society’s Andrea Wasserman

When Andrea Wasserman joined Sole Society last year, she wasted no time delving into the nitty gritty of the business.

“I’m curious,” the CEO said of her approach to work. “I ask a lot of questions.”

She started by emailing 2,900 customers, including the most prolific users on the brand’s e-commerce site, requesting feedback on their experiences. She received 600 replies. “That’s a really high response rate,” noted Wasserman, who previously served as national bridal director at Nordstrom Inc. “I personally wrote back to all of them and had ongoing conversations. Responding to customers truly became my after-hours project. It was such an amazing opportunity to be able to talk one-on-one.”

The exercise was also a useful planning tool. Sole Society aims to use the knowledge gleaned from those interactions to cast a wider net over the next few seasons. The company offers women’s footwear priced at $29 to $90, along with bags and other accessories, but Wasserman suggested there is room for growth.

“We are focused on creating a collection that will take our customer from day to night to weekend,” the CEO said. “She’s busy and doesn’t necessarily want to think about having separate shoe and accessory wardrobes that she’s constantly changing.” To that end, new categories such as flip-flops, cold-weather styles and rainboots are in the works.

Sole Society also launched a redesigned website, revamped logo and a new blog in March. A social media component went live on the site in April.

The 3-year-old firm, which counts Nordstrom, Camuto Group and Insight Venture Partners among its investors, sells directly through its own site and via its sole wholesale partnership with Nordstrom, where it is available in 60 doors.

“Some customers want that physical store experience [as opposed to shopping online], so they might go to Nordstrom to try it on and talk to a salesperson about the brand,” said Wasserman. “Others will stumble across the Sole Society table on the shoe floor and end up looking us up. Having a place on the shoe floor adds a lot to our brand, in terms of introducing it to customers and providing the credibility that comes with being in Nordstrom.”

The company also has partnered with a few complementary labels to add more variety to the site. French Connection, Lucky Brand, Vince Camuto and Matisse have signed on. A capsule jewelry collection, with brands including Sylca Designs and Just Mel, launched in May.

Here, Wasserman reveals her take on leadership, what women want and the other shoe labels she loves.

How are market trends influencing your plans for spring ’15?
AW:
We [have been focusing on product for] that transitional period from summer to fall. We know [the customer] wants to buy something over the summer that she can keep wearing into fall, and a lot of designers are moving toward that. There’s a practicality to it. She doesn’t want to buy something in July and have to wait until September to wear it, but if she buys it in July, she still wants to be able to wear it in September.

How would you describe your management style?
AW:
I’m transparent about my thought process, which is critical for engaging and empowering a team. I always want to be challenged by the people around me. I look to them as the experts in their respective areas. I want to understand the “why” behind their recommendations. Above all, we win as a team. I have very high expectations for people and I invest heavily in helping them grow and succeed.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
AW:
Making choices among all the great options we have for growing Sole Society: whom to partner with, where to market, what technology to invest in, how to spend my time and, of course, which product to offer our customers.

How does Sole Society’s partnership with Camuto Group work?
AW:
They do most of our shoe manufacturing, and we work with them on everything from [design] inspiration all the way to putting the shoes on our site. They allow us to do a lot of what we do and offer great quality for the price.

Beyond Sole Society, which footwear labels do you personally admire?
AW:
Prada makes some of my favorite basics and some of my favorite fashion styles. It does both ends of the spectrum really well. I’m thankful to Lanvin for nailing the plain ballet flat I can walk in for miles. The reinvention of the Converse brand is very creative and engaging. I also admire companies innovating around the shoe space, such as Solemates.