I am the founder of boutique shoe label Lucy Choi London which I launched in 2012. I decided not to go straight into the shoe industry, but instead began my career by spending 8 years working in the financial, business world. I then joined French Sole in 2002 to help them to build the brand and grow the company, both in the UK and internationally. I eventually became the MD and oversaw every aspect of the business including the retail, website, wholesale business, plus the marketing and PR. It prepared me well and I gained a sound knowledge of the mid price shoe market and its customers.
What inspired you to start a business?
I am the niece of the legendary shoemaker Jimmy Choo, and my Uncle has always inspired and mentored me. Growing up, I was in the enviable and fortunate position of seeing how a top designer makes hand-made shoes and I truly understand that both quality and style are paramount in a shoe. Shoes are in my genes and have always been my true passion. When the time was right I followed my heart into the shoe industry.
What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?
I faced one of the greatest challenges when I launched my label as I also gave birth to my son around the same time, so I have had to become more efficient and work on less sleep. I also don’t have the time to waste on negatives. I measure my success in many ways, but to me being successful and happy is having a balanced work life and contented family life, which is a reward in itself. To make any business work you have to have a strong, reliable team in the office and a strong partnership at home. My husband’s indefatigable support has allowed me to juggle both the birth of my business and our son. Being able to combine the two most important parts of my life makes me feel fulfilled and is the way I measure my success. As the boss of my own company, I have the chance to pass on valuable experience and skills to my team and interns, who can get a first hand experience of working in the fashion industry. I really appreciate the fact that I can give back to interns the experience that I have so fortunately gained myself.
What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures.
Believe in your vision! Make sure you have a solid business plan and stick to it! Or if you’re not naturally business savvy make sure you’ve got a team that can support you. Be prepared to work hard as success doesn’t magically happen overnight. Don’t underestimate the value of work experience. I am passionate about education; education opens your mind and your eyes. I think companies should provide proper work experience; it’s where you learn the most and can decide on the right career for you. Think big and don’t sweat about the small stuff! I think it is so important to learn from your mistakes and to then move forward with an optimistic and positive attitude.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?
From the beginning of owning my business, I endeavoured to find a good team to support me, who understood my vision and brand strategy. I employ around 10 staff and I look for passion, loyalty and staff who are not afraid to work hard. Success does not magically happen overnight and you need to put the hours in. As a young brand I need my team to have a lot of energy, initiative, and to be really hands on. I now have my dream team!
Financing is a big hurdle for new ventures too. To start my brand I invested my own money in the business and even sold my flat I had owned for 10 years, and whilst that was very daunting, it is also what drives me forward to make my business a success.
How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?
I am close to my Uncle and learnt many lessons from watching him at work, especially his strong work ethic and values. I learnt early on that nothing in life comes easy and you must give 110%. To succeed you need a combination of knowledge, experience and financial know-how and you mustn’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! I learnt and absorbed a great deal from watching him work. From an early age, in teens to my 20’s, I saw how he worked extremely hard and stayed true to his belief in himself and in his workmanship. He inspired me to aspire, to follow my dreams, and to ensure I always deliver my promises. He gave me my values.
What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?
Yes, I think it is vital to network. It helps us to bring ideas and share knowledge. I try and go to as many talks and events as time allows. I also listen to our customers’ feedback, which is very valuable to me, so it’s important for me to hold regular events where I can meet my customers face to face and listen to them.
What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?
When I joined French Sole I was working on business development and PR. I eventually become the MD. I helped the brand grow from one store into a global business and it demonstrated to me that anything is possible if you have a good product, you work hard, and you have drive and determination. I also made good contacts. It prepared me well and I gained a sound knowledge of the mid price shoe market and its customers.
Thanks to my business and finance skills, I am now able to deal with every aspect of my own business from dealing with the customers, to forecasting, overseeing the factories and wholesale business to working with the press. To me these skills are essential and relate to any industry. This knowledge has helped grow the business successfully, and manage and forecast growth in the future. Ultimately, good business skills are the core of any successful business. You need to have a clear vision and strategy and stick to it and not focus on negatives.
What does the future hold for you?
We have just opened our very first store in London on Connaught Street and I hope to open more boutiques in the future!