Footwear Entrepreneurs Weigh In on Social Media and Sustainability at FN CEO Summit

Starting a new company is never easy, especially launching a shoe brand in the midst of a global pandemic. But some emerging designers have found solid footing, and they shared their experiences on Aug. 3 at FN’s CEO Summit in New York, which was sponsored by FDRA, NuOrder by Lightspeed and Aetrex. In a panel talk about emerging talent, Tina Bhojwani, chief executive officer and cofounder of Aera; Marina Larroudé, chief creative officer and cofounder of Larroudé; Will Cooper, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s shoes, handbags and accessories at Saks, and Amina Means, creative director and founder of Nalebe, sat down with FN style director Shannon Adducci to talk about the big factors impacting their businesses, from social media and sustainability to keeping the momentum going in fashion’s diversity push.

Below are highlights from their conversation.

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On the importance of social media in business:

“It’s about bringing in consumers behind the scenes to see some of the processes that we use to produce our shoes and building that personal relationship,” said Means. “For Instagram and Facebook, we get tons of feedback, and that really guides some of our design inspiration, which tells us what the woman out there is looking for. And we look for ways to provide added value to them by making them feel heard.”

“It’s a huge asset as a retailer,” said Cooper. “We absolutely find brands and that’s what’s fun because all different ages of executives are finding different things constantly.”

On launching a new brand during the pandemic:

“For us, it was an opportunity to launch during a time where everyone was escaping. And so for me, I always see the bright side,” said Larroudé.

On how retailers and the industry can support emerging brands:

“We like tons of feedback and working practically, on what is working, what is not working and what plans are happening,” said Larroudé. “I think a lot of the designers, they don’t have that business counterpart. So they don’t even know where to start in terms of logistics and everything else.”

On pushing diversity momentum forward:

“I think it’s important if you’re leading an organization and you have power and the ability to effect change and make an equitable organization to create that, so I think anyone leading a team of people has to keep that top of mind and use their influence to make sure that’s a constant,” said Bhojwani.

On climate change and fashion’s impact on the environment:

“There’s something we can all do, and there’s a very simple one, and I think it’s around overproduction,” Bhojwani said. “And you know, and that’s one piece and also, just looking at one area of the packaging, [or] transportation, change one material — I think we have to start somewhere.”

“What gives me hope, though, is actually people are more aware of these issues, and they’re beginning to look into it more,” Bhojwani said. “Thank you, Gen Z, for being acutely aware and pushing the conversation forward. But I’d also like to say that our industry is remarkable to me, because in the few years that I’ve been doing this, what’s happening in innovation and technology and material science and creativity — which our industry is full of — I think we have a very bright future when it comes to addressing the issue of sustainability.”

“Sustainability is actually one of our grand theories as well, because it’s just so important to have responsible production,” said Means. “When we all know the disadvantages of waste and what it’s doing with climate change, I think it’s really important to have those core values in your brands, make sure every day you’re taking a step to do the right thing.”

On consumer interest in sustainable products:

“The customer is definitely more interested in [sustainability],” said Cooper. “I think there are consumers that only want things that are fully sustainable. And there are a lot of customers that find products they love, and they are thrilled to find out that it’s sustainable.”

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