Happy Thursday Stiletto Gals!
I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Kim Thomas of Jen and Kim Shoes a few weeks ago. We reached out to one another on Instagram and the day we met, it was like meeting my Shoemate! Kim is the designer side of Jen and Kim Shoes. These amazing ladies design custom made shoes that are made right here in California. Below is her story and tips on starting a shoe business.
Stiletto Gal: How did you get started in the shoe business?
Kim Thomas: My best friend (who is now my business partner) called me upon graduating from F. I. T. and proposed that we start a shoe collection. We had NO IDEA what we were doing but a friend who had been in the footwear industry for a while helped us to get some samples made. It was a crazy experience and afterwards, we realized that we had to gain better training. I found the footwear design professional study program at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles and with a desperate need to get out of NY winters, we both headed west. I studied for 9 months and after graduating, began working at a shoe factory in Sun Valley, CA. While school prepared me with the formal knowledge of building and designing shoes, the factory put that knowledge to use. I would spend half of my day working through administrative duties with the other half working on the factory floor learning how shoes were made. It was an amazing experience and if anyone wants to know the best way to get into the shoe business, the answer is to work at a factory.
SG: Who inspires you and why?
KT: I am most inspired by those who are going after their dreams. Jen + Kim Shoes was a dream until we made it a reality and started selling our Made in California, custom shoes so I know what it means to follow your heart. To say it is HARD sometimes is a huge understatement. In the end though, the reward of happiness is worth the financial and emotional risks. Meeting other people who live that mantra inspires me everyday. Inspiration is contagious so when someone really let's their true self shine through into their work and life, (whether it be fashion designers, artists, musicians, writers or neighbors) I am inspired. It's that feeling that hits you in your throat and makes you smile because you are in the wake of someone else expressing their soul ~ that's inspiration.
SG: What was your biggest mistake in business and how did you overcome it?
KT: You know when you look back a situation and think about all of the things you could've said in that one moment when someone made you feel a certain way? My biggest regret was being too scared of my career trajectory to say what I should've said to a terrible, sexist boss. I don't think of this so much as a mistake though because it shined a light onto a dark part of my industry and made me aware of how important it is to stand up for yourself. I was a bartender for years prior to getting into the footwear industry so obviously I had been exposed to a certain level of, how shall we say, "Objectifying comments". But when you are behind the bar you hold the upper hand; you can take away their alcohol and have them removed from your establishment. When it is your boss and they hold your paycheck, your mentality suddenly changes ... I hope that young women starting out in their careers, when exposed to such things, honor thier truths and speak their mind. Growth is learning from every situation in life and for me the lesson gained from this one is that sometimes the biggest motivators in life are the ones who are trying to hold you down.
SG: How do you handle conflict?
KT: The only way to handle conflict is with a level head and honesty. As a consultant and middleman between designers and factories, conflict is bound to arise but you have to maintain neutrality and try to understand the situation from all angles in order to handle it accordingly.
SG: Can you give 3 business tips to women who want to get into your field?
1: See the answer to question #3 😉
2: DRAW. Sketch as many shoes as you can in any time you have. Don't judge them, just keep going. I am lucky to have a natural talent in drawing, but when I first started, my shoes were all drawn like cartoons: Not technical at all, very elongated and abstract. But with proper training and PRACTICE, the drawings got better ... so will yours.
3: Learn the technical side of the business. Before I stepped foot in a factory, I would draw crazy shoes. Shoes that could never be built. That is a good exercise in creativity and one that I still practice to get my creative juices flowing, but if you don't know what can't be produced and you hand that crazy sketch to a pattern maker, you give them the perception that you don't know what you're doing. And believe me, it's important the pattern maker takes you seriously. There is a time to push the pattern makers and production team to realize your vision and that time is when you're giving them a reason behind your design. It's the difference between saying "I want it this way because it will look good" and "I want it this way because it will work." When you've proven you know what you're doing, a lot more gets done. ALWAYS.
SG: What kind of shoe are you and why?
KT: I am a REALLY high heel. Some days I am a wedge, somedays a stiletto. Mainly because in my human form I am short ~