Fivestory’s Claire Distenfeld Reveals Her Retail Instincts and Greatest Challenge

Each day in June, FN is highlighting female forces in the industry as part of our Women in Power series.

Though she had zero experience in retail, Claire Distenfeld five years ago opened the doors to Fivestory, her whimsically chic Manhattan multibrand boutique and quickly became a destination for the Upper East Side’s less cookie-cutter denizens. Since then, this millennial store owner has given herself a crash course in business, buying and figuring out exactly what women want — Aquazzura, Sergio Rossi, Santoni plus Dorateymur shoes and all.

Footwear News chatted with Distenfeld about her retail instincts, take on feminists causes and overcoming inevitable challenges.

You just celebrated a five-year anniversary at Fivestory. Anything you would have done differently?
“I think the charm of Fivestory is its true sense of authenticity. If I’d had changed anything (like taking any type of business class, or buying or planning or basically had any retail experience) it wouldn’t feel as real as it does. It’s all about making mistakes, learning from them, and if they don’t kill you, having them make you stronger.”

Do you think women do enough to support other women in the workplace?
“Yes. I think women are empowering other women everywhere you look. The problem to me is that because of this, men are doing just the opposite. I think it’s a false sense of a shift forward — I can go into this a lot deeper, but I think men feel like they can sit there and watch this woman’s empowerment movement and it gives them the license to do just the opposite. Listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast “Revisionist History: The Lady Vanishes”, — he talks about moral licensing and describes this way better than I will ever be able to.”

Claire Distenfeld Sergio Rossi
Fivestory founder Claire Distenfeld for Sergio Rossi.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Sergio Rossi

What is the biggest challenge you faced in the last year, and how did you overcome it?
“I think when you’re a small, self-funded business, it’s very hard to figure out how you grow, and where you grow … where you [spend] money and what to focus on. I decided in the last year that while I had all these ideas of where I wanted to grow and what departments I wanted to get into, focus would be my best friend. That I had to focus on one or two goals for the year (not five or six) and do them well. They say ‘all things come to those who wait.’ I very much believe that now.”


Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?
“Fake it till you make it. Self-confidence is key. If you believe it , you can make anyone believe it — and if you believe it and everyone else believes it, that’s when everything is possible.”

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