When it comes to shoes, Carol Lim knows no boundaries.
The Opening Ceremony CEO and co-founder, with Humberto Leon, scours the globe each year to create a merchandise mix centered on the country of their choosing. (For 2013-2014, the duo selected Belgium and featured emerging names alongside established designers from the country, including Dries Van Noten, Raf Simons and Veronique Branquinho).
“[Choosing a geographical theme] often starts with curiosity about the country and our desire to travel to that place,” said Lim, who, along with Leon, juggles her Opening Ceremony duties with the separate role of co-creative director at Kenzo. “We love all aspects of culture — music, art, film [and] food — so it’s easy for us to be excited by new projects and ideas.”
Most recently, Opening Ceremony presented its first solo New York Fashion Week runway show, which took place at Manhattan’s Pier 57 on Sept. 8. It also bowed a multibrand pop-up marketplace, called Opening Ceremony BTW, open through Sept. 12 at the same location.
If that wasn’t enough, design partnerships are always afoot for the 11-year-old label. “Collaborations are part of our DNA,” Lim said, although she did not reveal the next designer to join the roster, which has included Adidas, DKNY, Chloë Sevigny and Soludos. “We are always very interested in the storytelling of both brands.”
Opening Ceremony has seven stores throughout New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo and London, and all locations carry the men’s and women’s footwear collections. The brand also is sold at more than 400 other retailers, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Shopbop.com in the U.S. “There are still tremendous [growth] opportunities in [this country], as well as internationally,” said Lim, who worked in finance and as a merchandise planner at Bally before launching Opening Ceremony. “We are still growing very strongly in Europe and in Asia.”
Here, Lim weighs in on Opening Ceremony’s footwear-merchandising strategy, how her background has helped in her second career and the advice she’d offer aspiring footwear executives.
How important is Opening Ceremony’s shoe collection to the overall brand?
CL: The footwear collection is an extremely important part of our brand. There are many [wholesale] accounts that [initially add] the brand through the footwear, as well as customers who discover the brand at specialty stores that carry only the footwear portion of Opening Ceremony.
Your retail stores also carry outside labels. What do you look for in a footwear partner?
CL: We look for a distinct point of view, quality and fit. Our customers are savvy and have many options, so it is important to offer them something of value.
What are the challenges and benefits of selling your own shoe label simultaneously with other brands?
CL: The challenges are always inventory levels. If space were not an issue, we would be buying more styles and brands. [It is rewarding to] be able to introduce our customers to new brands each season.
How has your background in finance helped you in your current position at Opening Ceremony?
CL: Being a consumer and loving fashion made the transition from finance easier — [and] fashion has always been a part of my world. The experience of having worked in a very structured and corporate environment was also helpful when Humberto and I started Opening Ceremony. It helped us stay organized in managing our own company finances, but also in ensuring that we created a positive environment and business for what was then our new venture.
What advice do you have for young people who want to design footwear or open their own retail store?
CL: To succeed, it is extremely important to have a well-considered point of view. You need to be able to convey this to your audience through not only your collection but also through the store and online retail experience.