On Monday, November 7th, 2016, please join us for a one-of-a-kind creativity workshop hosted by ‘it-shoe’ company – Margaux. With a focus on personal expression through shoe design, this Birdwatch aims to educate and inspire.
We sat down with hosts Sarah and Alexa for an interview on the ins and outs of their direct-to-consumer business model, taking chances, and Sweetgreen.
Take some time to get to know these inspiring entrepreneurs before tuning in LIVE for our Birdwatch Workshop, on our Facebook page.
Alexa: “So Sarah and I met freshman year at Harvard and then became roommates. We lived together for three years and were best friends. I think that’s lucky and very rare that we had this foundation of friendship to start with. We both majored in History and both minored in Government. We have a lot of time together as friends in a working relationships in class, but also as roommates. It allowed us to have a wonderful, full foundation of friendship first and I think we’ve carried that into our partnership as co-founders. That’s a wonderful notion to have no matter what happens.”
Sarah: “Gosh, so many moments. There’s little wins every day and every week, but definitely an amazing moment for us was Fashion Week of 2016. February, we did a collaboration with a brand called Tome. We designed a shoe that was our first pointed-toe silhouette. It was an exclusive design that we did for their runway shoe. And to sit in the seats and watch every model walk down the runway in our shoes was a real incredible moment.
You know every day is a rollercoaster for sure. I think that’s what we’ve learned more than anything. There are highs and lows that can happen within the span of 15 minutes. And I think we’ve been able to weather them easier as we’ve gotten more used to the rollercoaster that is being an entrepreneur.”
Alexa: “I remember there was one particular moment that we shared when we were finishing a tour of Texas, where we stopped in four cities in five days to host four events. We then flew to LA and were going to host another event, while Sarah was trying to get a rental car.
I was trying to get these two gigantic black trucks off the belt and we just got that one email that kinda just puts a needle in you and we both shared a special moment where both of us felt that this is it. This is the lowest. And a few minutes later we looked at our phones and an email came through from Cheryl Sandburg. Through the grapevine she had read an article where we explained that she was the impetus behind us starting Margaux.
She spoke at our graduation and asked the crowd, ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ and it was in that moment that Sarah and I knew that this is that thing we would do. We kinda made this silent commitment that we would take that leap. So in the lowest of low at LAX came also the highest of highs that we will remember forever. There were tears of distress and then there were tears of happiness.”
Sarah: “Yes. Absolutely. So when we originally started Margaux we believed, designed, and curated the brand to appeal to the modern, millennial woman. All along believing our customer was going to be that millennial woman. And much to our surprise and delight we ended up having two, completely different profiles of customers that are equally important to the brand.
One is the millennial who is working. She is on the go – often living in cities. She just needs a great pair of flats that she can wear all day. And the other is the millennial’s mother who is say 45+ and really just needs a great fitting pair of shoes that can also carry her throughout the day. And with that customer especially, our made to measure and custom-fit really resonated with her because she struggles to find shoes. Her feet have changed over time and there are so few brands that offer different widths or styles that are designed for comfort and sleek. And she really loves the product.”
Alexa: “We launched with a fitting kit that has everything you need to measure your feet and make your order online. We felt that the fitting kit was really important because as a digital brand, this is our first interaction with our customers. This is our first hello. We’re meeting you in your home and we’re introducing ourself. So we spent a lot of time thinking about this fitting kit. We launched with a minimal kit to see how people reacted to it and people really enjoyed the tactile experience because so much of the rest of the process happens online.
The kit has now gone through a lot of iterations – to the point that we are really proud of it. It now even has suede swatches so you can lay them all out and decide what color you want! We designed a fitting device that makes measuring really easy. You can do it by yourself; you don’t even need a friend. We have postcards. We have a sense of the brand. There’s a fitting guide. And now there’s a little dust bag so you can keep it all together.
And that’s been fun since it encourages sharing. So now someone can order it online and throw a fitting party or pass it along to a friend. We found that if we can make this a special experience, it turns into something interesting and thoughtful, but also something you can share.”
Sarah: “Well they are kind of one in the same. The aesthetic of the shoes, the aesthetic of the brand, as well as the site that The Charles has designed are all consistent. There are two bits, one that’s timeless and sleek to bring about a high-end feel and to what we feel is an attainable price point for our direct to consumer model.
At the same time, we like to celebrate color and want customers to have fun in the colors that they selected for themselves – the colors that they purchase. Because we feel that color is a way to express oneself and it can bring that little bit of pop to make an outfit work. There is just something that brightens up your day and we personally love color. Especially at a time when many people are moving away from color and towards a minimalistic aesthetic, we just love the emotion that comes with selecting a color.”
Alexa: “So we launched online. Our website was and is our flagship. We were committed to that because it allowed us to grow and grow quickly and reach more people that we could have otherwise. From there we have tested a lot of different marketing approaches. Social media is probably our strongest channel. We spent a lot of time with Instagram and Facebook. We’re currently diving more into Google. But also appreciate the value of the offline experience as well. So as much as we are thinking about optimizing our online experience, we think there is real value in creating an offline experience as well especially with our product. Coming in and getting fitted with a custom pair of shoes is a really unique experience. So right now we’re trying to juggle both and do both, so the next year will be about pursuing both aggressively, doing digital marketing, doing some exciting pop-ups offline.”
Sarah: “We have several brands and companies that we admire. One that we’ve been talking a lot about in the past two days since a conference, ironically is Sweetgreen. First and foremost is that they have a product that is not necessarily completely novel in it’s presentation, but there experience is really unique and special. And they’ve done an incredible job in creating and maintaining this idea and intimacy at scale. So there’s certain subtleties they’ve added to their production line for your salad so that you feel a connection to the person that’s making it.
And while it’s very different for us while making shoes, we’ve found the the greatest value comes from our total dedication to customer service and providing this concierge approach. You have this point person when getting a pair of custom shoes. We ask how you like them, how do they fit, how can we make them better. If they aren’t perfect, than we can adjust them. And having this dialogue creates this intimacy that not all brands offer or focus on, especially in a very noisy digital world where it’s almost lonely in one’s interaction with brands. So we really admire them and their holistic approach to this service and branding. I think we’ll continue to be inspired by them.”
Alexa: “When we create a new product it becomes a marriage of both engineering and fit, form and function. And also on the flip side, design. So, on one hand we’re looking at artists for examples of color or textures that we’re feeling inspired by. We’re looking at runways, keeping an eye on what’s relevant and what feels of the moment.
We firmly believe in creating classic products that just work day in and day out. So a lot of times we look towards archival collections and troll vintage sites to find that perfect shoe that was made 10 or 15 years ago – one that somebody hasn’t made since. Fit is really where a lot of the legwork happens – where we’ll prototype a shoe five, ten, or sometimes even more because we’ll just adjust the pattern a millimeter here, a millimeter there until we find the perfect fit.”
Sarah: “It really depends. For us a new silhouette is one of the biggest undertakings since we’re so focused on fit. We’ll go back and forth and back and forth with Spain, which takes a while, on every millimeter just to make sure it’s hitting the foot where we want it to. We’ve spent as long as five months on a single silhouette, but it can also move as fast as six weeks if we know what we want on color and texture. We’ve spent as long as even six months on a pattern to find the perfect balance.”
Alexa: “I think the most important thing for being able to maintain creativity is to find a way to unplug and step away from your work on a regular basis. For us, we’re constantly traveling, and unfortunately don’t have regular weekends. But what we do find is that you need to take Sunday afternoon or Saturday, put your computer away, put your phone away, and spend time with friends. It gives you that piece of mind and quietness that you need to come back that Monday feeling refreshed, ready to go and your creative energy restored.”