The Powerful Female Trio Behind Steve Madden’s Success

Steve Madden Karla Frieders Gabriella Weiser
Karla Frieders, Gabriella Weiser, Amelia Newton Varela.
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Each day in June, FN is highlighting female forces in the industry as part of our Women in Power series.

To kick off the series: Here, the dynamic female trio behind of one of today’s most popular fashion footwear brands — Steve Madden — reflect on their critical career moments, overcoming challenges and pushing more women through the ranks.

Amelia Newton Varela

President, Steve Madden

Amelia Newton Steve Madden Amelia Newton Varela in the Steve Madden showroom. George Chinsee.

What was the biggest breakthrough moment in your career?

“The biggest breakthrough moment was when I realized I had a voice and people were actually listening to what I had to say. When I started at Steve Madden, I was in my early 20s. One day, I was in a management meeting with all men and I was surprised to see that as I was speaking, they were listening. Not only did they listen but they also implemented my suggestions. I remember being surprised. ‘Wow, I have a voice,’ I said to myself, ‘Now what am I going to do with it?’ And I just took it from there and ran with it.”

Anything you would have done differently?

“Throughout my career, I never took the time to acknowledge my accomplishments. Instead, I was always focused on what I could have done better. Looking back, I wish I could have given myself a break or a pat on the back rather than always being so hard on myself.”

Do you think women do enough to support other women in the workplace?

“Women are the ultimate multi-taskers. They [often] have so many different roles to manage — mother, daughter, wife, employee, boss.  It’s a lot to handle for any one person.  Together, we need to be more supportive and compassionate in understanding the daily challenges we all face within [our] workplaces as well as our personal lives.”

 What is the biggest challenge you faced in the last year and how did you overcome it?

“As my son gets older and school requires more of my involvement, I am trying to find the balance of being a mother and managing a big business. It’s been very challenging and stressful to figure out how to be present for everyone who needs my attention.  How do I be a lunch mom, attend school field trips and still manage my role at Steve Madden?  It’s a work in progress but I am figuring it out by getting support and advice from other moms who are in the same boat I am in.  And, [I am] also looking at my team and hiring additional strength to support me and the growing responsibilities of the business.”

Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?

“Take more time for yourself and don’t be so harsh and demanding — on others, or on yourself. Laugh as much as possible — because when you laugh, you are living. Try to find more balance and live life with no regrets.”

Gabriella Weiser

VP of Marketing, Steve Madden

Gabriella Weiser Steve Madden Gabriella Weiser Courtesy of Steve Madden.

What was the biggest breakthrough moment in your career?  

“When I started at Steve Madden, I was fortunate to be given a lot of responsibility at a fairly young age. I loved the challenge but I didn’t have all the tools that come with years of experience. One of my biggest breakthroughs came at a time when I was feeling overwhelmed. I was working and traveling 24/7 and one day I woke up and realized that I couldn’t do it all, but for the first time in my life I didn’t equate this to failure or weakness. The business was growing and there were only so many hours in the day. I had to embrace reality and come up with a game plan. It was then that I began to understand the difference between ‘achiever’ and ‘leader,’ and how you are only as good as your team and the people who surround you. I realized that while sometimes the easy, quick fix is to do it yourself, the long-term solution for success is to build and develop a strong, talented team to work alongside you.”

Do you think women do enough to support other women in the workplace?

“Many women I know have high expectations of themselves — we tend to be perfectionists and set a high bar for success, which oftentimes makes it difficult for us to ask for help. I’ve been very fortunate to work with an incredible team of supportive women and what I do know is that together we are stronger.  When you know other women have your back, and you have theirs, when you want them to succeed at every level professionally and personally, sky is the limit to what you can achieve together.”

What is the biggest challenge you faced in the last year and how did you overcome it?

“Balance is an ongoing, very real challenge for me. We spend a lot of time and consideration at work on how we can grow our business, be more effective, and hire the right people to do the job. I’ve had to learn that it’s equally — if not more — important to do the same in your personal life so that you can be the best version of yourself, both at work and at home. Whether it’s making time for health and wellness, comedy, adventure, or hiring a financial adviser. It’s as important to take care of ourselves in the same dedicated and passionate way that we care of our business.”

Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?

“I know it’s cliché but ‘stop and smell the roses.’ In our business, we are always moving so fast. It’s about what’s new, what’s next, next season, next year. Today, this moment, is just as important — enjoy and connect with it. Never be too busy to say ‘hello.’ Talk less, listen more, smile more.”

Karla Frieders

Chief Merchandising Officer, Steve Madden

Karla Frieders Steve Madden Karla Frieders Courtesy of Steve Madden.

What was the biggest breakthrough moment in your career?

“I spent the majority of my career in the retail division of Steve Madden. When I became CMO, it felt as if I was starting from scratch. It was a scary move because I felt my expertise was as a retailer but it became a very exciting and rewarding experience. Not only did it rejuvenate my love for the business, it also taught me so much. The best part was realizing my retail experience strengthened my skills in the new role.”

Anything you would have done differently? 

“I would have found a more distinct balance between life and work.  I had aggressive goals for my career and I put everything I had into work. Looking back, I believe I could have accomplished the same things that I have today even if I had given myself a little more time for things outside of the office.  With experience, you learn that stepping away from work can actually make things clearer and you become better at your job. Today, I am able to find a clear balance between the two worlds, although it will always be a challenge.”

Do you think women do enough to support other women in the workplace?

“Today, I see women supporting women in the work place more than ever before. Speaking from my own experience at Madden, we are all faced with the same challenges — creating a balancing act that works for each of us and we learn daily from each others’ experiences. If one woman succeeds at balancing it all, essentially we all succeed.”

What is the biggest challenge you faced in the last year and how did you overcome it? 

“My biggest challenge is a daily [one]: you are only as good as your last good shoe. We are in a very competitive market and we have a duty to deliver the best product to our customers at lightning speed. I feel I have a responsibility to Steve and the business to make sure we stay relevant and keep delivery to our hit shoes. I work with an amazing team of people and we all share the same goals, it makes it easy to overcome any barrier when you can do it together.”

Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?

“If only I could go back and have a sit down with myself. I would really throw it down. Always use your voice and share your thoughts. It is one thing to sit on the sidelines and learn, but speaking up will bring you to a higher level of education. Ask questions and don’t stop asking. Come in everyday doing what you love and soak it all in. Seek teachers and look to learn something new every day. Be aware of your value but keep a kind heart. Take time for yourself and lastly don’t let fear slow you down.”