For those looking to start a footwear business, success hinges on developing a strong team that can execute your vision for the long term. And that’s no easy feat. Who you partner with, how you structure your organization and where you apply your resources are both vital and challenging decisions that designers must consider on the road to entrepreneurship.
Which is why it’s one of the major topics that FN x FIT explores in the “Footwear Business Foundations” educational program powered by Yellowbrick.
In the first module of the series, “Footwear Entrepreneurship and Intrapreneurship,” which is available online now, FIT educators and footwear insiders share key advice about team building, including why diversity and inclusion should be fundamental in your decision-making. Other topics covered during the initial module include the evolution of the industry and a primer on shoe production and financing.
Below are three important insights on developing your organization:
1. Size May Change, But the Work Doesn’t
“Your team may be large or small depending on the size of your company, yet the process is going to be the same whether it’s handled by two people or 20,” says Sarah Mullins, assistant chair of Footwear & Accessories Design at FIT, during the course. “You still need to do the research, you need the design period, you need the technical product development side.”
In larger brands, employees often are more specialized with titles such as design director, technical designer and even 3D designer, but in smaller businesses, staff members tend to be more generalists taking on multiple tasks. Though, Mullins notes that for those types of lean organizations, production partners can fulfill some important roles. “You might be a small office where you are the designer, and you have a factory that really supports you on all of those [technical aspects],” she said.
2. Being of Two Minds
Michael Atmore, chief brand officer of Fairchild Media Group and editorial director of FN, points out that the secret to success for many creatives in the footwear industry is finding the right partner.
“If you look through the history of the successful designer-driven lines, they’ve always had a business mind behind the creative mind. And the best combos are really that creative-meets-business,” he says. In order to make those partnerships work, Atmore adds, the two parties must have a mutual trust and understanding of each other’s point of view and their responsibilities.
Meeta Roy, assistant professor in the Fashion Business Management Program at FIT, explains that the business partner is responsible for conducting market research and coming up with a business plan that establishes the pricing, distribution and promotional strategies. That leader also may be tasked with presenting to investors and negotiating with vendors.
While the creative and business minds behind a brand typically are separate, in some cases one leader naturally has a talent for both. “I would give Stuart Weitzman that label,” says Atmore.
3. Creating a Diverse Team
Matt Priest, CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, notes that over the past two years the footwear industry — like the rest of the world — has been more actively engaged in addressing diversity within its ranks to ensure that the brands represent a variety of points of view. “Because, guess what, our consumers are diverse and represent a variety of points of view,” he says.
Recruiting diverse people to your team has numerous benefits, including bringing different competencies and perspectives, explains Todd Blumenthal, assistant professor at FIT and a veteran of Nike, Reebok and Polo Ralph Lauren. It also can challenge your brand’s ability to function well and collaborate.
“When people are different, they sometimes don’t get along,” says Blumenthal, adding that the key to ensuring a cohesive work environment is a strong corporate culture. “People can shadow a leader [and adapt to a culture]. But if the leader hasn’t created a culture and clear pathway for how the company runs and what the guidelines are for the culture, regardless of how diverse you are or how you’ve organized the team, people are not going to know how to work together.”