From drug addict to multimillionaire: 10 business lessons from Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon

From drug addict to multimillionaire: 10 business lessons from Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon

She went from being a “functioning addict” to running a global brand, going through three private-equity deals, surviving a hostile takeover and finally helping sell Jimmy Choo for £525 million ($A767m).

Mellon tells all in her book, In My Shoes, and sets out 10 lessons for entrepreneurs:

1. Have a business plan but be prepared to be flexible

While recovering from a stint in rehab Mellon came up with the idea of producing a line of shoes with Jimmy Choo, a renowned couture cobbler who had designed shoes for Princess Diana among others.

Her business plan was simple although lacking in detail.

“Jimmy would design a line of exquisite shoes, and I would find a factory to make them and manage the sales and marketing,” she says.

“We would open stores and start a wholesale line to be carried in high-end stores all over the world, and we both would become incredibly rich.”

Things didn’t exactly go according to plan, but Mellon did achieve her dream of Jimmy Choo being carried in top stores around the world.

2. Be careful who you go into business with

Mellon chose Choo to found a business with because of his top reputation as a shoemaker and says “anyone who’d ever shopped in London knew about Jimmy Choo”.

The deal struck was that Choo would design the collection and retain his couture business.

Mellon and her father provided the start-up money, management and business expertise, with each party, Mellon and her father being one and Jimmy the other, owning a 50% stake.

But despite his reputation, Mellon claims Choo was not the creative genius she had hoped and she was forced to drive most of the design process.

“It dawned on me that Jimmy was a cobbler, and he really had no interest in becoming a designer,” Mellon says.

“I had set up with a ‘creative head’ who, in fact, had no creativity.”

3. Trust your instinct

Mellon stresses the importance of trusting her business and design instincts.

“I also had strong instincts, a certain entrepreneurial skill and an incredible work ethic,” she says.

“Almost every mistake I’ve made in business has come from not trusting myself. But now I know that if something doesn’t work for me, it’s not going to work for the customer.”

Mellon designed the first Jimmy Choo collections based on things that had caught her eye.

“The lovely part of it was that the things that struck me, and that I related to emotionally, other women related to as well,” Mellon says.

4. Be prepared for failure

Jimmy Choo’s first collection of shoes was a failure but Mellon did not let that deter her from pursuing the business.

“The factory left them covered with black scuff marks, glue was visible along the seams, and the stitching was awful,” she says.

“They were so bad that we absolutely couldn’t use them.”

Instead Mellon learnt that she needed to pay attention to detail.

“In terms of manufacturing, this meant only the best components and an obsessive attention to detail,” she says.

“In terms of design it meant vintage ideas reconsidered, exotic fabrics and extras, and sex appeal that was also sophisticated and never cheap.”

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