Focus on having a great product and being innovative. Competition in the fashion industry is fierce. Your product needs to stand out and provide something unique, something that truly makes a difference. One of my friends has worked for years with the family of one of the best design houses in the world. Early on, she told me to ‘focus on the product, and the shoes will sell themselves’. We spent over two years developing the first collection because I wanted to make sure our shoes were beautiful but also comfortable. We tried the prototypes on twenty women with different foot shapes to understand their needs and how to improve the fit. Good design and prototype testing is essential.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erika Carrero
Erika Carrero is an Entrepreneur, Founder, CEO and Creative Director of Elizée. She is a former Silicon Valley Tech Executive and CFO. Erika is a proud board member of Friends of Generación, a non-profit organization that supports street children and teens in Peru.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always had a love of fashion that dates back to my childhood. I grew up in Peru where people are very aware of what they wear and how they want to present themselves to the world. Dressing well is really ingrained in our culture. My mother and grandmother were very fashionable; they even ran errands in high heels and pencil skirts! My grandfather was a banker and my grandmother used to throw lavish parties. She would always be dressed in beautiful gowns.
When I was at school, and early in my career, I would design my own clothes for special events and work. I loved choosing the fabrics and style. I remember taking one of my grandmother’s velvet gowns to alter into a mini dress. I have always admired my mother and grandmother for not just fashion, but as strong, independent women who would do anything for their families.
As much as I enjoyed fashion, I didn’t always know this was something I would do as a career, at least not until a few years ago. My motivation came later in life from my personal experience as a busy Finance executive traveling for work. I visited countries like Sweden, the UK and Mexico: places where people dress up more. There were long days — meetings with auditors and clients where I needed to dress professionally. In the evenings we would go out to dinner with clients and go out for drinks or dancing with the team. I was constantly in pain from wearing heels all day, and sometimes had to change into sneakers or flats by the evening. I couldn’t find shoes that were both stylish and comfortable and realized that there was a gap in the luxury shoe market.
Given my busy, full-time career, creating my own shoe line started out as a hobby. I had worked on a shoe line in my free time for more than 6 years. On my vacation time, I attended a combination of virtual and onsite classes in London and Los Angeles and finally decided to travel to Milan and attend Arsutoria, a leading school for shoe and bag design. Milan is where I connected with my current team. I was lucky in that everything aligned, my last role as CFO and partner at a tech startup, when the company was successfully sold, I finally had the time and resources to launch my passion project, Elizée. Once I decided to begin a shoe brand in earnest, my experience working in finance roles for start-ups in the heart of Silicon Valley proved useful. In my finance career I was heavily involved in high-level operations — starting subsidiaries, working internationally with remote teams and driving work when you’re not there in person. That operations experience also gave me a solid base for launching a company, because I’ve worked in different industries where I learned to be very resourceful. Now I use the same skills in a new industry. It’s been great combining the analytical, business side of things with the fun and excitement of the fashion world.
As for how I came to work specifically within this shoe niche, I wanted to meet the needs of the modern woman with a dynamic lifestyle. And this is what Elizée shoes does. What’s more, I am on a mission to prove that style and wearability are not mutually exclusive. As women, whether at work or on vacation, we need shoes that look great but are comfortable too!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
During one of my first seminars, a week-long session in Los Angeles, I was still learning about the industry. I had taken a week off to attend this seminar and was surrounded by seasoned shoe designers and shoemakers with extensive industry experience. It was an intense class from 8–5 with a 30-minute break. I loved every minute of it!
Initially, I thought I would be lost in class, but I was intrigued and energized. I was asking so many questions because I actually knew more about the industry than I had given myself credit for. The time flew by. After class, I would go to dinner with my fellow classmates where we continued to talk about shoes and what we had learned. It was at this moment I thought this might be an opportunity to combine my desire to be an entrepreneur with my love of fashion and shoes. It took a few more years from that point in time to when I incorporated the company, but it was definitely an “aha” moment. It was here that I realized my hobby was more meaningful to me than I ever could have imagined. Transitioning from finance to being an entrepreneur has been an exciting and rewarding experience.
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?
Yes! It happened at a meeting with a boutique to show my collection. It was still early on while we were waiting for the inventory to arrive in the US. Since I didn’t have a professional sample case to transport the shoes, I brought a carry-on suitcase to the store. It was a little worn out from traveling the world with me! When I got to the store, the owner asked, “Do you have your samples there or are you traveling somewhere?” I was slightly embarrassed but laughed it off and continued the meeting, which went great. The lesson I learned was that when you’re ready to show your product and start making those first connections, you should do it. This part is so important for a new brand. I could have waited to buy the proper sample case, but I decided to meet right away. To me it was more important to talk to a potential customer soon, because even thought I didn’t have the case, I had a product that I felt could be a great match with that store’s customer base.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We offer gorgeous styles combined with ultimate comfort, and that’s not something you can say of every shoe brand. Our high heels are sophisticated, flattering and feminine, and keep a woman comfortable on her feet all day.
Craftsmanship is very important at Elizée. Our shoes are produced in small batches by Italian artisans in a family-owned factory near Milan that has been producing couture brands for generations. This is very different from the norm, as most shoes in the world are mass-produced.
As I’ve mentioned, comfort is important to us, which is we took over a year to develop our innovative comfort technology, in the form of our signature Plush Contour insole. It uses a dual layer system of medical-grade cushioning to absorb impact, hold the body in proper alignment and reduce pressure in the forefoot — the primary cause of discomfort when wearing heels.
Of course, we’re about supreme elegance, not just comfort, and our designs are truly sophisticated. What’s more, our styles are intelligently shaped to hold the foot securely.
In a world where fast fashion is a major industry, we have chosen to bring women the opposite, quality that lasts a lifetime. By combining timeless design with the finest quality materials and impeccable craftsmanship, we create heirloom-quality shoes made to be cherished forever.
Positive customer feedback really underlines where you truly stand out, though. The other day we were delighted to hear from a fashion magazine editor who sent us a message saying she had worn the shoes in New York City for over ten hours and she loved them. This was the best compliment, because she captured our value proposition so well: a dynamic woman, walking all day in the city with comfortable shoes, and she was happy and empowered throughout the day.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
To somebody with a fashion start-up, I’d advise you have a business plan and measure your results against that plan on a quarterly basis. This will allow you to take a step back and look at the business objectively, allowing you to see what’s going according to plan or not and what measures to take to readjust and pivot. Next, I recommend tapping into your network and consulting with mentors. Always, work hard, but make time to celebrate accomplishments. Think about where you were when you founded the company, think about your journey so far and you will realize how much you have learned and how far you’ve come since then. Be proud of yourself. Finally, know you’ll make mistakes but that you learn from mistakes, so don’t regret them: embrace them for what they’ve taught you.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I love this question because I truly believe in philanthropy. I am so blessed with what I have accomplished, and it is
important to get involved with the community, give back, help those in need. I support a non-profit in Peru called Casa Generación. We provide housing, food and education for street children. Our group homes provide a safe, secure, and loving environment to address the immediate needs of children and adolescents at risk in the streets of Lima. Not only do our homes cover basic needs while providing protection and therapeutic services, they also create a loving space to call home, and one of the houses is dedicated to helping girls saved from sexual exploitation. I am a Casa Generación board member and besides raising funds for the organization, my role is to be attuned to the needs of the houses, talking to the operators in Lima, understanding their challenges, mentoring the kids, and visiting them so they feel that they are listened to and loved.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote would be something that my dad always says: “A seguir para adelante,” which loosely translates into “Keep moving forward.” He uses this phrase as encouragement during hard times but also as praise for accomplishments. Our motto as a family is to work hard and to remember to be humble no matter the circumstances. This quote definitely inspired me while working on the collection in 2020.
Launching a shoe line during the Covid pandemic proved challenging given the travel restrictions, supply chain issues, and cost of freight. Throughout the course of the pandemic, a great deal of work was completed remotely. Although I was just in Milan, I wish I could have been there more during the launch of our line. Working through all these challenges to successfully launch the company is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Throughout all those times, my father’s voice was very present, saying, “A seguir para adelante.”
While working on a shoe line during those times with so many unknowns, including the virus itself and the uncertain economic environment, we were betting that the world would continue to move forward and that things would get better at some point. We pressed on with the launch knowing that we are resilient as human beings, and business would go back to where we were before. In particular, the fashion industry has been hit hard during the pandemic. But we are all looking forward to the end of the pandemic and a time in the near future when people can safely start gathering, going to parties, dressing up, and wearing heels. We are ready for when the world is ready to go back to pre-pandemic life.
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?
Artificial intelligence. We will use AI to predict trends, making the most of this technology to develop collections informed directly by the customer’s preferences and what she purchased before. This will help us to predict trends and needs. Artificial intelligence is incredibly powerful and I think that using it to understand consumer behavior is going to change the industry. For example, there are companies that use image recognition on social media posts to extrapolate what’s trending. This data translates into colors, shapes, prints, and preferred fabrics.
We can also use AI to forecast production. Imagine a world where we instantly have access to data that allows designers to plan the right styles and quantities for their upcoming line in a timely manner. This concept of just-in-time production powered by AI not only streamlines operations from an organizational standpoint but gives consumers the products they want when they want them. Thanks to AI, companies now know what’s selling and they can adjust production and future collections. This also avoids overproduction and waste.
Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.
- Focus on having a great product and being innovative. Competition in the fashion industry is fierce. Your product needs to stand out and provide something unique, something that truly makes a difference. One of my friends has worked for years with the family of one of the best design houses in the world. Early on, she told me to ‘focus on the product, and the shoes will sell themselves’. We spent over two years developing the first collection because I wanted to make sure our shoes were beautiful but also comfortable. We tried the prototypes on twenty women with different foot shapes to understand their needs and how to improve the fit. Good design and prototype testing is essential.
In the case of Elizée, having a great product also meant being innovative. We wanted to make sure the product was unique, that we were using the best high-tech materials to have a new take on luxury while reshaping the industry in combining the craftsmanship and heritage of Italy with the start-up, high-tech world of Silicon Valley. So far it has paid off. The feedback has been extremely positive in terms of comfort.
- Network. Your brand needs visibility and credibility. Network with fashion editors, other complementary brands, and influencers. This is the lifeblood of the fashion industry. Finding mentors is also important. I started my journey by reaching out to my contacts to build a network of professionals in the industry. I think it’s always important to be connected, no matter what industry you’re in, and I love LinkedIn. You’re an email away from connecting with someone. Over time, I’ve connected with a few mentors. For example, I got in touch with the retired executive of a shoe brand known for comfort. I picked his brain, because I believe you shouldn’t be afraid of asking questions. In the UK I also connected with one of the former owners of a British company that makes shoes for the Queen. I met him at his London pad and saw pictures of the Queen everywhere. His advice was “don’t do it. It’s a very hard business and competitive.” I didn’t take it as bad advice. It was great — I knew it would be difficult but I wanted to do it anyway. With this knowledge, I was able to recruit a team both in the U.S. and Italy to get the business up and running.
- Prioritize Customer Experience. Be attuned to your customers’ needs. Understand your demographics, what they look for in the brand. Feedback, whether positive and negative, is essential to understanding what your customers want. Customer experience means thinking about the customer journey from beginning to end. This expands to more than just your product or service, but also the entire consumer journey. For example, how user-friendly is your website? How does social media connect to your online store? Do you offer free shipping and easy returns?
A great customer experience also means you need to be hands on. No matter how big your company gets, you should be close to your products and customers. Invite people to your showroom, see their reactions when they try their shoes. Constantly ask yourself what you can do better to enhance your customer experience. For example, we recently got a message from a local customer who thought the strap of her shoe was a bit too loose for her perfect fit. I asked her to bring the shoe in and we would fit her again and customize the strap for her. She was so happy with the personal touch that she brought in her friends to try on the shoes.
- Define your Brand Identity, and Have a Strong Social Media Presence and Analytics. If you want to grow and be relevant, your brand needs a strong social media presence, and you need to learn about analytics. Over the last ten years, social media has been incredibly important in the fashion industry. As more and more consumers look to social media for reviews, trends, and new brands, social media keeps becoming more influential. If you want people to recognize your brand, you need to use the power of the different social media platforms. Social media not only helps your product get noticed, but it also helps to increase traffic to your website, boosts sales, creates a medium for instant communication, and lets you invest in targeted ad campaigns. We meet with our digital marketing analyst every two weeks to understand the analytics behind our social media. This allows us to really use our data to our advantage. For example, what ads had the most return? In understanding these metrics, we can retarget as needed.
- Hire Great Talent. Make sure you hire somebody that complements your skills and expertise. If you’re business savvy but not a designer, you need get a good designer on board, and vice versa. It’s important to find someone whose know-how and experience round out your own; somebody who will challenge your ideas.
Apart from our amazing team of artisans, our marketing director has many years of experience in the fashion industry, specifically in women’s footwear. We work so well together. She understands the brand and what we want to communicate and comes up with fresh ideas on our branding. She is based in Italy, so she is also an amazing resource for communicating with the production team. She provides the styling inspiration for photoshoots and I direct and produce them. We’re a dream tag team. But it’s not always straight forward finding the right talent. First spend time thinking about what skills you need and elaborate on the job posting so you can get the right resumés to begin with.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
Given the state of the global climate crisis, the fashion industry needs to look ahead to a more sustainable future. This includes moving away from mass production and producing small quantities of quality products to avoid waste. The industry can also get on board with emerging technologies to predict trends and buy only the materials needed for production. As consumers becomes more aware of carbon footprints and the damage caused by overproduction, we are seeing them drift away from “fast fashion.” Instead, they are looking to buy from brands that are mindful about the environment; brands that produce quality products that are going to last.
At Elizée we are conscious about not overproducing. We choose factories with lower minimum quantities. Not only is this more eco-friendly, but these smaller quantities save on the initial upfront investment costs. Sustainability also includes being aware of your current inventory. You do not want shoes sitting in a warehouse. Smaller inventory allows your brand to try the market to see what sells and what doesn’t. In general, we can be more nimble. For example, we can order more of the styles that work well for everybody to avoid overproduction and potential waste.
Additionally, sustainability is one of our core values. Our leathers are sourced exclusively from Italian tanneries that receive the highest grade from Italy’s Institute of Quality Certification (ICEC). Our leathers are a by-product of the food industry from sustainable European farms, and the tanneries’ production and labor practices are held to the highest standard of social and environmental responsibility.
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 empowering women from a young age. Girls need to learn to be assertive. They need to be taught from early on how to be leaders and to be proud of who they are. Most importantly, they need to know that they can be successful in any career they choose, and their choice does not have to be determined by gender.
I envision a movement offering leadership classes at all schools designed for girls, starting in first grade. These classes would include public speaking, participation in STEM activities, and lessons in the history of women to understand local, regional, and global inequalities. Most importantly, these classes would connect young girls to mentors and role models who have achieved great things in their lives. Having these tools and connecting with other successful women will empower young girls to become strong women, and this will help with gender equality.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find us on Instagram and Facebook: @elizeeshoes
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!