Sofi Newmyer of Ma’am: “Know your strengths (and weaknesses)”

Know your strengths (and weaknesses). Before starting Ma’am, I’d never designed shoes and I felt like a bit of a fraud. Early on, I was nervous that I would be found out as a first-time designer. But rather than try to cover up my shortcomings, I decided to lead with them. When I looked for […]

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Know your strengths (and weaknesses). Before starting Ma’am, I’d never designed shoes and I felt like a bit of a fraud. Early on, I was nervous that I would be found out as a first-time designer. But rather than try to cover up my shortcomings, I decided to lead with them. When I looked for the best manufacturer to help make our shoes, I told them what I didn’t know about the manufacturing process upfront and made sure that they could fill in expertise where I was lacking.

As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sofi Newmyer. Sofi spent the last decade of her career at TOMS, building the original One for One shoe company. In her most recent role as Chief of Staff, Sofi led TOMS’ innovation strategy, catalyzed partnerships for the business, and incubated new initiatives with Founder Blake Mycoskie. Previously, Sofi was Director of Partnerships + Experiential Marketing at TOMS where she managed brand collaborations with Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, Teen Vogue, Goop, Rock the Vote, Yara Shahidi’s Eighteenx18, and more. In 2019, Sofi led TOMS’ End Gun Violence Together initiative, the largest corporate campaign to support gun violence prevention in the history of the United States.

In the fall of 2020, Sofi founded her direct-to-consumer luxury footwear brand, Ma’am, which offers elevated, everyday shoes for modern women. Every pair is comfortable, stylish, and sustainably made in Los Angeles. Sofi is a native Angeleno and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Ben, and their puppy.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve worked in the footwear business for the last decade and started my career at TOMS shoes right out of college when it was a small startup. I was able to be a part of TOMS during a period of unbelievable growth and change. What was so unique about TOMS was the culture of taking risks, not settling for what’s easy, and striving to push yourself and the product to the next level. At a young age, I was able to see firsthand the importance of taking risks and what happens when you don’t. In my last few years at TOMS, I spearheaded partnerships for the business including supporting the Malala Fund, voter education, and gun violence reform, among others. These partnerships weren’t typical of a shoe company, they were bold and certainly pushed the business outside of its comfort zone.

At the same time, I’ve worked in the footwear business for a long time, and still after a full day of work, my feet hurt. I couldn’t find the right pair of shoes that were stylish and comfortable. I decided to be the risk-taker that TOMS taught me to be and push myself. I needed to walk the walk. So I designed shoes I actually wanted to wear. Shoes that last. And shoes that don’t take such a toll on the planet. I thought this was a pretty simple task and knew I couldn’t be alone.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?

I started Ma’am for women who had a lot to balance — jobs, partners, friends, kids, etc. I made shoes for this busy woman who I thought I was. Then one week before launch, I found out I was pregnant and suddenly Ma’am Shoes went from the shoes I wanted to the shoes I needed. Between finalizing designs with my factory, meeting with influencers, learning about supply chain, managing morning sickness, trying to cook dinner most (okay, some) nights, I was always wearing my Ma’am Shoes. They were the constant I relied on since no matter how exhausted and drained I felt, I still had to put on my shoes and keep going.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Creating a shoe company for women “on-the-go” during a pandemic when everyone is stuck at home is a tough sell. I had “on-the-go” written on every piece of marketing collateral, Instagram post, shoebox, email blast, and suddenly, women were going nowhere. So I learned to be nimble since there’s only so much you can control, and I pivoted. I scrambled to change how we talk about Ma’am Shoes to focus on comfort and versatility for modern women. These shoes became as much about making you feel good at home as well as out and about. As much as you can follow style predictors and every industry authority figure, we can’t live in a silo. Fashion is an art, not a science.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

As women, we’ve been made to believe that the higher the heel, the more powerful the woman. But with stilettos comes blisters, twisted ankles, achy arches, etc. While sky-high shoes may look good, they come at a cost. At Ma’am Shoes, we reject the idea that taller is better and that women need to have throbbing feet to be powerful.

I believe that women can and should feel good in their own shoes without compromising style. At Ma’am, we spent a long time crafting our shoes through carefully selected materials, thoughtful silhouettes, and attention to detail. We analyzed and tested every part of the shoe to create something durable, comfortable, and stylish for our customers.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Re-watching The West Wing has been my secret to avoiding burnout. In 2020, when seemingly everything feels scary and unknown, diving into another world led by trustworthy and decent leaders feels deeply comforting and reassuring. And when there’s something in that other world that seems to work, I try to bring it into the confusing reality we’re in today. For example, take the brilliant, fiercely loyal, and fast-talking CJ Cregg from The West Wing and name a shoe after her!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As a business, our goal is to nurture and grow sustainable manufacturing in Los Angeles. From the very beginning, we’ve built Ma’am Shoes to be committed to working with production facilities that pay fair wages, reduce waste and recycle as much as possible, and provide a healthy working environment. By focusing on LA manufacturing, we’re hoping to help grow local craftsmanship and industry and dramatically cut down on the environmental impact of cargo shipping.

Additionally, every season we partner with different women-led organizations and brands to create a unique product that supports progressive causes. This fall, we partnered with I am a voter to create a limited-edition collection that supports and spreads awareness about voter engagement during this historic election.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

Measure twice, cut once. I am a chronic double, even triple, checker. I’ve had too many “almost mistakes” that would have been expensive and wasted a lot of time if I didn’t take the extra hour or two to make sure I am making the right call.

Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

Right now, we’re seeing the prioritization of comfort for customers. While we’re working from home, workwear and loungewear have totally merged. We’ve been spoiled by wearing sweatpants for the last nine months. As the world starts to come back to a new normal (whenever that may be), we’re going to need comfort to be versatile and find clothing that we can dress up and dress down. My hope is that Ma’am customers won’t have to choose between work shoes and comfortable shoes.

What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.

Be your own customer. Make the products you want to wear. I wear Ma’am shoes every day and really never take off our shoes when wear-testing before release. After wearing a pair of shoes for a few weeks and thinking I fully understand the ins and outs of them, there’s always more to learn. Sitting in the car for another hour, wearing a new pair of pants, changes in weather, etc. all shed new light on a pair of shoes. At the end of the day, I need to still feel good in the shoes I’ve been wearing, or we shouldn’t be selling them.

Know your strengths (and weaknesses). Before starting Ma’am, I’d never designed shoes and I felt like a bit of a fraud. Early on, I was nervous that I would be found out as a first-time designer. But rather than try to cover up my shortcomings, I decided to lead with them. When I looked for the best manufacturer to help make our shoes, I told them what I didn’t know about the manufacturing process upfront and made sure that they could fill in expertise where I was lacking.

Sweat the small stuff. Remember the best assistant you’ve ever had and be that for yourself. When I started Ma’am, I thought about all the best social media managers, accountants, and PR coordinators I’d worked within the past and realized that suddenly I wouldn’t have a built-in team supporting me and I’d have to start doing this stuff myself. I learned so much from the people I worked with and now, as a result, appreciate them so much more. They mastered what some call the small stuff, but what I think of as the fundamentals. If you can’t do the fundamentals of a business — the Instagram post, expense reports, marketing emails — the other stuff just doesn’t matter.

Question anything and everything. Of course fake it until you make it, but don’t do yourself a disservice by not learning as much as you can. I am continually surprised by how many people whom I thought were either my competitors or too busy, have been actually happy to talk to me, answer my questions, and act as a sounding board for things I assumed they would think I ‘should’ know.

Don’t be rude. It doesn’t matter how proficient someone is at their job, the only people I want to work with again are those who are kind. Take the time to get to know the people that you work with. Not everything is an exchange, and when you treat people well, everything is easier. At the very least, remember that this is a small town, and everything that goes around comes around.

Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?

I would love to see the fashion industry take a bigger stand against fast fashion. This will require our customers to change their mentality and expectation, to focus on owning fewer things that are responsibly sourced and are likely more expensive. It’s a big ask for our customers. And as an industry, we need to place an emphasis on a streamlined closet with timeless pieces that last and avoid the trend-chasing that we see so much of these days.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe in the power of business to be a force for good as long as businesses are bold enough to take action and do so with authenticity. I had the privilege of leading TOMS’ End Gun Violence Together campaign, the largest corporate initiative to support gun violence prevention in American history. We launched this campaign not after doing a bunch of consumer research, but because we cared and felt a sense of urgency to act quickly. We knew TOMS had a voice that could help push the movement to help end gun violence and acted because it was the right thing to do. There was a lot of internal concern if TOMS as a shoe company had the credibility to take a stand on this issue. The truth is, we had all the credibility to speak out because we had a large reach and consistently used our platform to shine a light on the important organizations doing the work. Showing up gave TOMS credibility and I hope more businesses are willing to follow.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@MaamShoes on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest

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