Tamara Mellon On Creating a Brand from Scratch

Tamara Mellon
Tamara Mellon
Steve Eichner

Tamara Mellon knows that launching a brand isn’t easy — and she’s learned a lot in her first year.

“Things don’t always happen as quickly as you think they’re going to. It definitely takes time,” said Mellon, who debuted her collection of shoes, ready-to-wear and bags in late 2013. “It really takes about a year for everyone to get aligned and understand the vision.”

The designer isn’t new to the game, of course. She spent 15 years at Jimmy Choo, playing a leading role in elevating the label to star status.

After an acrimonious breakup with her private-equity owners in 2011, Mellon wanted to strike out on her own — and do things differently than the rest of the fashion industry.

“The world has moved and changed since I founded Jimmy Choo,” she said of her decision to launch a buy-now, wear-now concept.

As she tweaks her wholesale distribution — the line is stocked at Nordstrom, Net-a-Porter, Shopbop.com and Saks Fifth Avenue, among others — Mellon focused on additional growth avenues for 2015, especially online.

An e-commerce site launched last year, and the company plans to open two retail stores, either pop-ups or permanent locations, in 2015.  Mellon also plans to host a series of shopping events, including lunches in the showroom where guests can purchase the product.

Here, Mellon talks candidly about obstacles, revamping retail and why she’s determined to do things her way.

What is your outlook for 2015?

TM: We’ve only had product on the floor for a full year. Launching with three categories was certainly aggressive, and every startup has its challenges and stumbles. But now, we’ve actually [gotten past] the teething problems. The product is the strongest it’s been so far.

What are some of the biggest contrasts between your vision for your namesake line and Jimmy Choo?

TM: I have a very different business model, and that is the key. We are building a [collection] around the modern consumer. She can find something new every month that can suit her lifestyle at that time of the year. Nobody thinks four months ahead anymore. I know as a customer myself, I need to buy something today and wear it tomorrow.

What are a few of the main obstacles you face?

TM: The focus of my business has its challenges for the wholesale market. So I’m pushing more of my business to e-commerce.

Who is your target consumer?

TM: She’s pretty much the same as she was at Jimmy Choo. We are not really targeting a demographic. It’s an attitude. I have women who are 18 and women who are 75 [buying my product].

Any lessons learned from your past business?

TM: When I speak to students, I always say there are three things to remember when they start their own brand. One, they should have a magic number: [Own at least] 51 percent. Two, have a good financial controller, but don’t ever let the accountants run your business. Three, don’t let anybody tell you who you are.

What was the experience like starting your line here versus in London, your home for many years?

TM: It’s slightly different [in terms of] the manufacturing process, but we still work with the same factories in Italy. It’s a longer flight. I go every season, and I have my production teams there now.

What is your retail strategy?

TM: We do much better online than in brick-and-mortar stores, and now we know what we’re up against. Our biggest account is Net-a-Porter. [This year], we will focus people there. We have two stores rolling out in 2015. We will also [focus] on omnichannel. My goal is to make the business 80 percent digital.

What are some of your main sources of inspiration?

TM: When I was decorating my Hamptons house, I used geometric prints from artists in the 1960s and ’70s. For spring footwear, [that led] to a mash-up of what we called tribal mixed with electronic festival. There was an exhibition at Pace Gallery called “Mingei: Are You Here,” [which sparked the idea].

What excites you most about the shoe industry?

TM: There is so much more choice than there ever has been.What is interesting to me is the business model and how everything is going digital.

You’re active on social media. How is that changing the game? 

TM: You have direct access to your consumer instead of going through a third party. Sometimes, I’ll put up a picture that I think is a great inspiration photo — Helmut Newton in the 1970s is my obsession, everybody knows that. The other day, I put up a video of my fireplace in my bedroom on Instagram. It got double the amount of likes than anything else. Maybe because it was inside my room and was something very personal.

Who do you keep up with on Twitter?

TM: Loads of people. I follow Arianna Huffington, and I like news tweets from Tina Brown.

Is category expansion on the horizon?

TM: Since we launched three [lines] at once, I’ll stick with that. Once the core business has grown, I have a vision for makeup, fragrance and for lingerie. I’ve already created mood boards.