Sophia Webster: How To Build A Successful Footwear Brand

Since launching her debut collection for spring/summer 2013, Sophia Webster has become one of London’s most familiar and well-liked footwear designers. With over 200 stockists worldwide, the brand has become a go-to for women looking for feminine, well-made shoes with a hint of playfulness, with fans including Blake Lively and Diane Kruger. Having just opened her second London store, following her debut opening on Mount Street in 2016, Webster offers her insights as to what it takes to become a successful shoe designer.

Courtesy of Sophia Webster

Get as much experience as possible

“You need to get out there and absorb as much as you can from working for someone else. I’d suggest working for a small brand is better than a big corporate one, as within a small team you will have the opportunity to see more of what goes on behind the scenes.”

Make an effort to learn about business

“Having your own brand is so much more than just the designing part. You need to understand the production, the marketing, the digital/e-commerce, wholesale, legal and business sides too, even management skills. You need to have a solid general understanding across the business. For me, I learnt that side of things along the way, I didn’t know it all when I started, I still don’t! I’m learning new skills every day.”

Inside Webster’s Sloane Street store. Courtesy of Sophia Webster

Acknowledge that achieving a work-life balance is a struggle and try not to feel guilty

“When my daughter was tiny, the bonus of being your own boss was that I could to take her everywhere with me. But once she became more active and independent, I put her in a nursery near the office which she loved. I have always tried to take Fridays off to spend with her to have a day that’s just for us two and always plan something nice to do together. I think there is always an element of maternal guilt that I inevitably feel when I don’t make it home to put her to bed and read her stories. I have twin girls on the way now too so the work/life balance is going to become even more of a challenge.”

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Don’t take anything for granted and listen to others

“Paul Smith met with my husband Bobby and I after we won the Vogue Fashion Fund, he told us his motto is ‘Never assume’. You would not believe the amount of times his motto rings true. I often turn to Bobby (CEO, Sophia Webster) for advice, because – as with most creatives – I can be quite emotional and unpredictable. He’s definitely a good influence; his advice is always balanced, logical and fair.”

Authenticity is key to social media success

“For me it’s always about being authentic; I’ve been on Instagram telling our story from day one, it came hand in hand with when I launched. We reflect everything we do across our social channels, from the products, to what our customers wear, our team in the office, photoshoots, events, my family, even our dog Rio – it’s all there.”

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Solve problems with your head, not heart

“There are new challenges all the time. I have learnt the best way to deal with them is to look at the situation with a pragmatic view and not an emotional one. That said, always stay true to yourself and what you believe in.”

Find a USP that works across different categories

“I started off with maximalism as one of my signatures, but as we’ve grown, we’ve taken on feedback from what our customers say they want – flats, mid heels, sneakers, boots etc. It’s about taking my design aesthetic and adapting it to suit other silhouettes. It’s very easy to design maximalist show-stopper heels, but not so easy to create a real commercial product that still has your design DNA and stays true to you.”

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Be prepared to put different hats on

“No day is the same for me. I’m up early with my daughter Bibi; she likes it when I get in her bed for a chat and a snuggle. Then she’s off to pre-school and my husband and I drive to the office. Every day is different, spanning design meetings, reviewing new prototypes, range planning with the merchandising team, planning photo shoots, brainstorming new projects with graphics and digital teams, board meetings, interviews, or travelling to see our key partners. There’s always a lot going on at once!”

From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK