Closing The Gap

Tamara Mellon on building a 'female-led' company that understands women

Tamara Mellon founded Jimmy Choo in 1996, when she was 27 years old. At the time, men's names dominated the most prestigious premium women's shoe labels.

Now it's Mellon's name that's on the label and the door. Two years ago she launched her own direct-to-consumer shoe business online. Empowering the women who are her employees and customers is central to her mission, and her efforts are evident in everything from the way she designs and markets shoes to how she runs her company, which just raised $24 million to expand.

"As a woman designing for women, I feel their pain literally on a daily basis," says Mellon. "If you think about it, most shoe designers are men, so they don't really know what it feels like. So I think a lot of shoes are designed for shelf appeal, without actually knowing how women feel in them. So what I do, is I do all the fit trials myself."

She says after trying on all the shoes she makes technical tweaks herself, to make the designs more comfortable and ensure customers can wear them all day.

Mellon runs the company in a very different way than she ran Jimmy Choo, which she says was more hierarchical. She brought in Jill Layfield, former CEO of outdoor retailer Backcountry, to serve as CEO. And to make all of her employees feel invested — literally — the company issues shares to everyone.

"I decided I wanted a very different culture this time," says Mellon. "I wanted a culture that was very supportive, that was female-led. We sit all open-plan, which I never used to do at Jimmy Choo. I would sit in the corner office with two assistants outside like guard dogs, and that doesn't happen anymore. I sit with everybody on the floor and we listen to everybody."

Mellon's employees don't look like the average staff — 24 women and one man — so equal pay is not an issue for the company. But it is a topic that Mellon is passionate about, posting from the company's social media accounts about the importance of closing the pay gap and empowering women. She's also spoken out to raise awareness around breast cancer and immigration, making these issues core to the company's social media presence and brand campaigns.

She says she wanted to take a stand on issues that are of particular interest to her and many other women, even though she knows it may alienate others.

"I think we're braver, I don't believe brands should be silent anymore. People don't want to be part of a community where they know their values are aligned with your values," says Mellon. "I think they don't want brands to be silent anymore, and so that's how we are building our community. What we do internally also resonates with what the customer wants."

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