My Road To Success: Bionda Castana’s Natalia Barbieri

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, Bionda Castana creative director Natalia Barbieri shares her story.

What I thought I’d do in life:

I worked on the foreign-exchange trading floor in London for three years — it was my first job out of university. But my dream job was to be creative and develop my own brand in the fashion industry. But it had to have the right balance between creative and business — which is what my degree is in. The ability to develop a product from start to finish, be a part of its production, brand it, bring it to market, see it perform at retail, as well as all other elements involved, is truly the ideal.

The moment that changed things:

When I was 15, my brother Alberto bought me my first pair of designer shoes. They were by Sergio Rossi — blue crocodile-stamped leather court shoes, single sole, 10-centimeter stiletto heel with a thin tie crossover ankle strap. This opened my eyes to the world of luxury shoes, and it’s where my obsession began. I analyzed and analyzed the shoes, which made me start sketching.

My biggest obstacle in the shoe world:

Finding a loyal and capable production facility. That is the key part of any business — without a fantastic, quality product, you have nothing.

Advice for my younger self:

I probably would say “enjoy it more” — not that I didn’t. Things get tough, but you learn how to deal with it all in time. There are a lot of hats to wear, so to be honest, all the mistakes made were part of the learning process.

Would I do anything different?

For the first six years, it was only me and

[co-founder] Jennifer Portman in the business.

It would have been great to have had more

hands on deck. Hiring staff earlier would have been [a good idea].

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