How This SeaVees Executive’s Fondness of Footwear Landed Him His Dream Job in Shoes

A job in footwear was destined for SeaVees CEO and chief designer Steven Tiller. After discovering a love for fashion in college and a stint as a buyer for Cole Haan, Tiller would land at the Pentland-owned SeaVees, a once-slumbering company that’s now alive and well.

Here is how the exec delivered on his footwear business dream and the best advice he’s ever received.

First job in the footwear industry:

“I worked in retail growing up, and I’d always find myself gravitating toward the footwear department. I eventually became a buyer at Cole Haan for my first job in footwear, and from there, I dreamed of running my own business in the footwear industry.”

Career preparation:

“I went to the University of Oklahoma and had an interest in writing and started college as a journalism major. [Then] I spent a summer in Paris, and my focus shifted to becoming a fashion writer. However, as my studies progressed, my interest in fashion surpassed writing, so I changed my major to business marketing.”

My leadership style:

“Natural. Over the years, I have found that you can’t force people to follow. People follow because they truly believe in something, whether it be a person, business or product. It starts with you leading and guiding by example.”

The hardest part of my job:

“Letting go. For so long, I’ve been involved in all parts of the business, and now that we’re growing, I don’t have to be.”

Proudest moment of my career:

“Finding and taking SeaVees, which had been dormant for over 40 years, and breathing life back into it.”

How to keep a team motivated:

“Ownership. We are all working toward a common goal — to sell shoes — but it’s important to remind the team that we’re in this together. We’re a small team, so everyone plays a major role in the brand’s success.”

What I look for in employees:

“Passion, first and foremost. I look for people who love what they are doing and, in my case, love the brand and shoe industry.”

Best advice I’ve received:

“Go out and do it. There came a time in my life where I came to a realization that I wasn’t getting any younger. I always had the goal of owning my own company and living the California dream. During a yearly trend-spotting trip to Tokyo, I found an abandoned pair of SeaVees in a thrift shop and, after some research, found that no one at the time actually owned it. I knew right then and there that it was my time to make my dream a reality. In 2010, I relaunched SeaVees and moved my family to Santa Barbara, Calif., and haven’t looked back ever since.”

My greatest mentors:

“Cole Haan execs Dick Braeger and Franco Fieramosca for showing me the ropes around the sample room. Vince Camuto for instilling the relentless pursuit of great product. Stanley Silver for his encouragement to believe in myself.”

What keeps me up at night:

“I’m not generally kept up at night by problems or worries about my business. What keeps me up is an inner fire and excitement on how to be better — how to grow my business and evolve and be smarter.”

Biggest challenge facing the shoe industry:

“With the rise of social currency and ‘need it now’ mentality, consumers are driving the business. Brands need to be nimble, so a healthy brand ecosystem is more important than ever. Every consumer touch point, from social to retail, needs to be consistent and memorable.

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