Monday Motivation from Kara Mac and Ann Peyton Merin, Co-Founders of ShoeCandy by Kara Mac
Mondays can be rough and, sometimes, we can all use some motivation. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from industry leaders and some of the most creative entrepreneurs out there.
We sat down with Kara Mac and Ann Peyton Merin, Co-Founders of ShoeCandy by Kara Mac, is a line of high quality, designer shoes and hand-crafted, mix and match accessories that you can combine to create your own, heel to toe, shoe designs in a flash. They discuss the tedious process of protecting the company’s IP, disrupting the fashion industry for accessibility’s sake, and their mission of convenience without sacrificing style.
What inspired you to start your business?
Kara: Like many other entrepreneurs, I started my business because I was trying to solve a problem for myself and felt that other women experienced a similar challenge. At that time, I was a commuter from my home in Westchester to my job as a fashion designer in New York City. This meant that I had to anticipate anything I might need for the day and bring it with me – this was particularly challenging with shoes. I tried wearing commuting shoes and changing into one of the dozens of extra pairs of generic work shoes under my desk. If I had an evening event, I’d have to bring another pair with me in my already overloaded shoulder bag. Traveling, which I did often for work, posed a similar challenge. I had shoes to go with every outfit, but not enough room for them in my luggage. Like many women, I loved how I felt when I was in just the right pair of shoes, but most of the time, those “right” shoes were sitting in my closet at home. Eventually, it occurred to me that I could design a solution and I came up with a new type of women’s footwear where multiple parts of the shoe, including the heel, could be customized instantly. One pair could become a dozen pair by simply swapping out the accessories which I could easily carry in my bag and fit in my suitcase.
Ann: Kara and I have known each other for years so, when she mentioned that she was coming out with something new in footwear, I was very excited. She sent me one of the first designs – a short boot with an instantly customizable heel, and I was blown away at the idea, the execution and the quality of the product. At the time, I was doing a TV show on TLC about wedding beauty and style and had to be photographed on a lot of red carpets which meant I had to have a lot of different shoes. I’m also a shoe enthusiast but I quickly found myself running out of room in my closet for all these shoes that I could only wear once so I completely related to the problem Kara was trying to solve. I quickly offered to invest and help build out the idea and ShoeCandy was born. Now we have 9 different shoe styles and over a hundred different accessories that we sell online (www.ShoeCandy.shoes) and at Pop Ups around the country.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Kara: One of the biggest challenges is protecting the intellectual property which takes an incredible amount of time, effort, research, and money. We knew that once we launched our website and put images on social media, the idea was there for anyone to see and possibly try to copy. I realized, early on, that I hadn’t just designed something, I had invented something and, like any other inventor, I had to protect my creations. In fact, it was another inventor – someone referred to me through the SBDC – who connected me with our IP lawyer.
Ann: One of the things that made me want to invest in Kara’s concept was the work that she had already done to protect the company’s IP. She’d already filed utility patents for several of the key customization technologies; however, I still recognized that it would be a long and laborious process. Mostly because the wheels of government turn slowly and it could take over a year for a USPTO examiner to even get to an application. Even after a file is examined, there is a lot of back and forth which could go on for years and requires additional fees at almost every step. In December of 2016 we received word that the first patent we’d applied for, the one that protected our customizable heel technology, had been granted. Our other three patents are still going through the process, which means they are “patent pending.” I should add that we also trademarked our name, ShoeCandy which was a process just slightly less challenging than patenting.
What’s been the greatest reward?
Kara: For me, it’s the reaction women have when they first see us demonstrate the product. They literally freeze in their tracks and their jaws drop open. In those moments, I can almost hear them mentally apply my solution to the very same problems in their own lives that I was solving for myself. And I love to watch these women, often busy, high achievers, experience sheer joy as they start to really play with the product and become their own shoe designer. It harkens back to a time, in many women’s childhoods, when playing dress up or imagining they were a fashion designer was just pure fun. We sometimes say that ShoeCandy is the ‘Lego’s for Ladies’ and those women get that right away.
Ann: And, apparently, the joy extends beyond the ShoeCandy wearer. We’ve heard from many of our customers that people around them, friends, family, coworkers, etc., want to get in on the fun and help them try out different “candy” combinations. One customer who is a teacher even had her art class draw some ideas for new accessories and then sent them to us to pick the best one. It’s a very interactive and fun product.
What is the biggest thing you’d like to see changed in your industry, and how are you working toward making that change happen?
Kara: Like RTR, we are disrupting the fashion industry to make fashion more accessible and convenient for the customer. Traditionally, the fashion industry makes money by selling you as many pieces of clothing, shoes, and accessories as they can. Fashion industry traditionalists really don’t concern themselves with solving any convenience issues for their customers. What we’ve found, as we’ve gotten ShoeCandy in front of people all over the country, is how receptive women are to solutions that make their lives easier and ShoeCandy proves that you can offer convenience without sacrificing style. We hope the rest of the industry will start to recognize that.
Ann: I think because I didn’t work in the fashion industry like Kara, I see our approach as even more revolutionary. I love fashion but recognize that the traditional approach to selling clothing and shoes is pretty disempowering for the consumer. Because it takes so much lead time for an item to go from concept to store shelf, the customer has little ability to affect what gets produced. For example, a shoe designer sketches a black pump with a red heel but it will be at least a year before the customer can really express her opinion about that design via her pocketbook. In the meantime, the manufacturer and the retailer have to guess how many women will want a black pump with a red heel and if they underestimate, which happens often, the demand exceeds supply and the customer loses out. We don’t have this kind of limitation. We keep our shoe styles classic and reflect seasonality and trends via the designs for our attachable accessories which can be produced quickly enough to respond to our what our customer is telling us. If more customers end up wanting to wear a black pump with a red heel, we can simply produce more red heels. We don’t have to start from scratch and make a whole new shoe. I think the fashion industry needs to recognize that the customer wants to have more say in what is offered to them. They want more of a 2-way conversation.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
Kara: My biggest motivator is my business partner Ann. She had been an entrepreneur in the past and has run successful businesses and has a story to trump all of mine. When things get tough for me, I like to think about it for a while, talk about it and then put on my big girl pants and deal with it. Being an entrepreneur, especially for someone like me who has worked for someone else my entire career, brings new and unseen issues almost daily. There are high highs and low lows but most days it’s somewhere in the middle.
Ann: Kara and I are lucky because we have different skills that are also very complimentary and we both appreciate what the other brings to the table. The balance and mutual respect in our relationship provide the engine that propels us forward when things are challenging. In my experience in business, that is a rare thing.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to another entrepreneur just starting out?
Kara: Budget prior to starting out, stay lean and bootstrap as long as you can. Subway over taxi, economy over business class, cook instead of eating out and Rent the Runway Unlimited instead of buying new clothes. We also barter whenever we have the opportunity and have gotten a lot of necessary help for a pair or two of shoes. Reach out to resources directed towards small businesses and startups like the SBDC and SBA.
Ann: Seek out advice from others but balance that against your own instincts. Test your basic assumptions in the most meaningful way you can. However, try to stay flexible in case one of those testing data points proves less predictive than you anticipated and you need to adjust your approach.
What do you do every Monday morning to prepare and motivate yourself for the coming week?
Kara: I have at least five, sometimes seven Mondays in my week. Mondays are no different to me than any other day. Alarm off at 6, kids on the bus at 6:40 and I am at my desk at 6:45. I do like to challenge myself to see how much work I can get done by 9 am. I do that because when I worked full time and commuted to Manhattan, I would arrive to my desk at 9. Now that I am working from home and making my own schedule, I’m excited about all I can accomplish during the time I used to spend commuting.
For more #MondayMotivation, check out our interview with Amanda Patterson, Founder and CEO at The Call List, a live video participation platform that connects educators, performers, and brands with their fans and followers across the globe. She discusses the need for her platform, the challenge of fundraising, and the spirit of friendly competition inspired by Project Entrepreneur.