My Road To Success: SeaVees’ Steven Tiller

Steven Tiller
SeaVees' CEO and chief designer Steven Tiller.
Kate Copeland.

The road to success is rarely a straight line, but some footwear entrepreneurs’ routes took especially winding turns. Ambitions that started in one place ended up somewhere very different.

Here, SeaVees CEO and chief designer Steven Tiller shares his path.

What I thought I’d do in life:

I worked my way through high school and college selling clothing and footwear at a better men’s store, so I had an early interest in fashion. But I started college as a journalism major to become a travel writer. After spending a summer in Paris, I wanted to be a writer for a fashion magazine.

The moments that changed things:

After another summer in Paris, my interest in fashion surpassed my writing interest, so I changed my major to business marketing. On the retail selling floor, I’d gravitate toward the footwear department and spend most of my paycheck there. We carried Cole Haan at our store, and I related to the brand. Eventually my interest led to a footwear-buying opportunity [at Cole Haan]. But I always dreamed of running my own business. That opportunity presented itself when I discovered a pair of original SeaVees shoes in a vintage store in Tokyo.

My biggest obstacles in the shoe world:

[When I first entered the industry], I fell for the seduction of design and development, but it seemed the only way to learn was on the job. You had to be allowed into the club and shown the ropes by the elder shoemakers. I was very fortunate that industry legends like [Cole Haan execs] Dick Braeger and Franco Fieramosca gave a young sponge a chance to tag along and learn.

Advice for my younger self:

Establish a blueprint for how you want to build your career, then see it through. Be courageous in your creativity and genuine in your ambition.

Would I do anything different?

It would be easy for me to say now that I wish I’d taken the entrepreneurial leap earlier in my career, but every step was a necessary means to an end.