My work on a fashion site that focuses on showing fashion trends on two generations-a genX and millennial partnership- gives each of us access to fashion sites, news and trends that we might otherwise miss or write off as not being "appropriate" to our ages. Of course, it also forces me to evaluate, on a whole new level, how personal style changes (or in my case doesn't really change) as time marches on.
One such site I was introduced to by my millennial parter Melanie, was the indie shoe e-tailer Ashbury Skies. My inner 19 year-old spirit jumped for joy as I scrolled through the wide assortment of one-of-a-kind funky styles, but my 40 year-old inner critic said, "You will look ridiculous."
When I first slipped on the Acie (pictures on me here and on Melanie here), I had quite an inner debate about whether or not the over-the-knee cut-out boot was really ok for my age. Sure, plenty of fortysomething fashion icon moms are wearing them and looking hot in a chic and not slutty way, but can this sexy trend translate to a suburban mom? Eventually, I decided sexy is not something I need to discard just because I have three kids, a snack filled SUV and some extra lines on my face.
Plus, Ashbury Skies is owned by two dynamic women-Yvette Turner and Mary Sue Papale-both former Bebe executives left the corporate world to follow their passions and start their own business. They are breaking some glass ceilings along the way as the first e-commerce shoe site owned and operated by women. They were nice enough to answer a few questions about starting their company, why age doesn't matter, and they even give some great advice to women looking to start their own businesses.
*We were not compensated in any way by Ashbury Skies and have no financial ties to the company
You both worked at Bebe together, what made you decide to start Ashbury Skies?
We started Asbury Skies to give a voice to independent shoe designers. We both shared a love for indie fashion and shoes and we felt it was underserved online. We also wanted to take advantage of the huge niche marketing opportunities in ecommerce. Yvette's expertise was online marketing and mine was shoe buying and merchandising. We are both business women; we saw an opportunity and went for it.
Melanie and I both love your collections. Do you find this age range among your Ashbury Skies shoppers?
Our collection is more about an attitude than an age. We have customers from all over the world and we connect through indie fashion. We think of ourselves as building an on-line indie shoe community.
We are not about just pushing the trend du jour but hope that a women can find that shoe that will let her express herself. You and Melanie are a perfect example of this concept. You two understand fashion and that shoes are an emotional purchase. I love the way you style the same shoe or same trend so differently yet so perfectly to fit your own fashion DNA.
We find shoes on your site that we don't see anywhere else, is this what makes you different from other online fashion sites?
Our exclusive collaborations with indie designers and our highly curated one of kind shoe assortment is quite different from other online sites. Selling shoes online is not new but featuring our unique assortment of hard to find indie collections is new. The other thing we are really proud of is that as far as we know, we are the only women-owned online shoe store.
Why do you think there are so few women in the shoe business?
The glass ceiling is alive and well in the shoe business. When I go to shoe shows, I walk down the aisle and see a large proportion of men in the booths. I have been in the business since I got out of college and I know a lot of these men and know how the industry runs. Truthfully, with some exceptions, I have never found it to be a very welcoming place for women. In fairness, I have observed over the years that a good percentage of the influential men in the shoes business came from shoe biz families. This is a huge advantage as one can learn all facets of shoe making. Whether it is design, merchandising, manufacturing or sales, this is a craft that one learns over many years. One does not walk out of design or business school and flourish in the shoes business. It takes years and years of training. Also, most design, development and manufacturing is in Asia now so to learn the shoe business, one spends a good percentage of their life sitting in samples rooms in not very glamourous places in China. I think these conditions allow the old boy network to thrive in the shoes business.
How do you and Yvette deal with this?
Because Ashbury Skies is an e-commerce business, we think the playing field is more level. We don't have to depend on relationships to get our products into major retail chains. What's happening with online marketing and social media right now is game changing. As far as we can tell there are no old-boy networks or barriers-to-entry, that can get in the way of us growing. It is a may-the-best-man-or-women win mentality. This is where Yvette and I have our advantage.
What is the deal with Cold Feet, your wedding collection?
This is an exclusive collaboration we do with Jeffrey Campbell. We noticed a big shift in the world of I Do's. More and more couples are choosing to get hitched in backyards, urban gardens, on beaches and mountainsides, and on the steps of City Hall. Yvette pitched a wedding line to me but I knew it had to be really out-side-box to work. I approached Jeff about this idea and he was up for it. We both felt that with our ability to tell a story, and Jeff's street fashion sensibilities we could hit refresh in the wedding shoe category. These are not fussy wedding shoes. We have lace booties, wedding sneakers and flats and wedges designed for outdoor venues in mind.
What advice do you have for other women entrepreneurs, who want to follow their dreams of starting their own company?
Validate your market. Make sure you are entering one that is growing. It is very tough and you need the wind at our back to succeed. Expect to spend more money and more time than you think you will spend. This is a hard reality. But, if you prepared, it is incredibly rewarding. We both had heavy corporate jobs and neither of us we would never want to go back. Ashbury Skies just had its two-year birthday. We are really happy with our growth, but know we still have challenges ahead of us. We love what we do and are good at it. We believe that this, along with creative thinking, a lot of hard work, and a little luck will get us where we want to be.
Can you give us a sneak peak at any new / exclusive upcoming products?
Oh yes, I would love to. We have some great holiday party shoes we are doing with just for Ashbury Skies. One is a party sandal, called the Soiree Glow. It glows in the dark and lights up. It really makes no difference what you wear with the Soiree as it will be all about your shoes! We also have a suede corset thigh-high boot, the Enable. This one is night-on-the town worthy and speaks to the huge trend in over-the-knee that is happening right now. Both of these were made just for us, by Jeffrey Campbell.
We are really excited about a new designer out of London that we just added to our collection for Holiday. Irregular Choice is a London Designer known for fearless designs and really creative carved heels. We have the US exclusive on the Santa Baby. For the Christmas obsessive, this one is a must have.
Here is how I would style all three Ashbury Skies over-the-knee boots:
Me in the Acie
Me in the Silve