by Anna Streule
Whether you believe in astrology or not, you have to admit that sometimes the stars really do seem to align in a very particular way. When people say they met “by pure chance” I always smile. See, I don’t believe in “pure chance”. Anyway, whatever it was that day in January, I had the great fortune of meeting a wonderful woman who lead me to Lucy Choi, only one of THE iconic entrepreneurs of today. And a mother of two and always in heels, and, as it turns out, pretty much like the rest of us, after all.
You may or may not have heard of Lucy Choi, but I bet you have seen her shoes, perhaps even without knowing it. And although this story is not about him, you are sure to have heard about Lucy´s uncle, Jimmy Choo.
So what is it like growing up with such a legacy, being Jimmy Choo´s niece? Do you join the family business or do you stay the hell away? Do you do something completely different or try and learn from one of the best in the business? Well, Lucy sort of did all of the above. Read on for a fascinating story of heritage, craftsmanship and a wild passion for fashion:
Anna: When did you know that you one day wanted to become a shoe designer?
Lucy Choi: I always knew early on in my life that I wanted to do something for myself in the fashion world, having been around my uncle and the art of shoe making from an early age. I could have chosen an easier path and joined the family business but decided that I wanted to work in the financial world first, before following my heart into the fashion world.
Anna: Dare one ask, why the financial world?
Lucy Choi: I studied Business at Birmingham University and steered my career towards the City, spending more than eight years in the corporate world. I then joined French Sole, becoming the company’s MD and expanding the brand internationally. It was in the City and at French Sole where I learned invaluable lessons in finance and how to manage every aspect of a business. After 10 years there, I felt it was the right time for a change. The development of my own brand Lucy Choi London was a natural and logical step for me to take. I had been lucky enough to learn first-hand from my uncle Jimmy how to design shoes, and it was at this turning point in my career that I felt I had accrued enough other skills in business and finance to set up my own venture with confidence. I took a big risk, using up all my savings and even selling my flat, to launch my company.
Anna: What makes a really good shoe?
Lucy Choi: When designing my shoes it is all about the 3 C’s – Comfort, Craftmanship, and Character
Anna: How long does it take to make a pair of shoes?
Lucy Choi: From sketching to the production of the shoes it takes me six months. I am lucky to be sample size 37, so I try on every single sample shoe to make sure the fit is comfortable and the design is right before it goes into production.
Anna: Do you remember your first pair of high heels? What was the occasion?
Lucy Choi: I was eighteen years old when I wore my first pair of heels at my graduation ball after my A-levels. I had an amazing red dress and wore black suede court shoes, which were very uncomfortable and unusually classic in design for me!
Anna: What do you love the most about the shoes that you design?
Lucy Choi: I love the quirkiness and one of a kind designs my shoes have and the rock and royal theme – you can be a yummy mummy or a rock chic and wear my shoes or both depending on your mood!
Anna: The relationship women have with shoes is an interesting one. I read somewhere that you have 500 pairs of shoes in your wardrobe. Why do you think shoes play such an important role in a woman’s life? What is it about women’s obsession with shoes?
Lucy Choi: Shoes really can give you that sense of empowerment and that you are ready to conquer the world when you have a great pair of shoes on. The boardroom, that party or simply your personal runway, they are the final touch to any outfit.
Anna: You have observed the way women purchase fashion accessories for years and now for five years you are running your own company. What do you think the modern woman is searching for when she goes shopping today?
Lucy Choi: The modern woman today is looking for something timelessly classic but with an edge. Something she can wear with not just one outfit, a shoe that will last for many seasons but still have a designer look and feel at an accessible price point.
Anna: Do you perceive yourself as a rebel: Slightly Rock and Royal? You didn’t do what everyone expected from you by joining the family business, instead you created your own company. How much of your character is reflected in the Lucy Choi collections?
Lucy Choi: I am definitely a bit of both! There is a little bit of me in all my designs, whether this be in the colour, the heel or the playful textures and designs I use. I do not like to follow, I prefer to do what feels right. I remember someone once said to me – “you are always outside of the box Lucy”, to which I replied, “it is not me to keep within the box!”
Anna: You are a Mum in Heels, literally and figuratively, you run your business, family and you are a creatively inspired person, who pursues her dreams and writes her own rules. Do you believe that a woman can have it all?
Lucy Choi: I do think it is harder as a woman to have it all. We are the ones who have to adapt and change, trying to juggle so many different things, being a good mother, a good partner, and being successful at work at the same time. There’s such a mix of emotions, and contrasts between being a mummy and being a businesswoman, you almost have to be two people at once! I faced one of the biggest challenges of my career when I launched my label in 2012 and gave birth to my first child around the same time, and then I opened my flagship store in August 2015 and gave birth to my second son just five months later! I never do anything by halves, and really do believe in just going for things and never looking back. I know many other women have had to do the same if they’ve wanted to climb up the career ladder and have a family at the same time.
Anna: Family and Business, how do you make that work for you?
Lucy Choi: Like every working mother it is never easy. I work just as many hours as I did before I had children, but I have had to become more efficient and work on less sleep! Whatever happens the night before I will always make sure I walk my son to school and I try and spend most evenings with my family and dedicate some quality time with my sons before their bedtime every night. My weekends are also precious time spent with my family.
Anna: How do you define success?
Lucy Choi: To me, being successful and happy is continually working on having a balanced work life and contented family life. To make any business work you have to have a strong, reliable team in the office, and a strong partnership at home. My husband and family’s support has allowed me to be both a businesswoman, wife and mother. Being able to combine these most important parts of my life makes me feel fulfilled.
Anna: Did you have a mentor who helped you in the first years of building your business? Who was your biggest support?
Lucy Choi: No I did not have a mentor, I just used my own expertise and knowledge which I have built up over the years to help set up my own business. But I have had wonderful support from my husband and the encouragement from my Uncle Jimmy.
Anna: Being your own boss, how does that work for you? How do you deal with fears, self-doubt and self-criticism?
Lucy Choi: As a business owner you have to always follow your own gut instincts. It is not easy and you have to take everything good or bad and learn from it. I think that is the key. Always follow your heart and always learn.
Anna: What qualities do you think a woman needs to have to become a successful woman with a successful business? Or what would she need to work on?
Lucy Choi: Believe in your vision, make sure you have a solid business plan and be prepared to work hard as success does not happen overnight. There will be many challenges and setbacks along the way but do not give up on your dreams.
Anna: The best business lessons you’ve learned?
Lucy Choi: Never stop learning, you learn from your mistakes and the daily challenges you face – these will make you stronger!
Anna: How do you celebrate successes?
Lucy Choi: I am a foodie, so any celebration would involve good food, family and friends.
Anna: Describe one day in your life and the shoes you wear throughout your day?
Lucy Choi: The shoes I would wear all day need to be quirky but comfortable so I can juggle all my daily tasks from the school run, to a press launch and then onto a design meeting. I am currently wearing the Buchanan shoes.
Anna: How do you start your day?
Lucy Choi: I always start the day with a shower to clear my head and prepare myself for the long day ahead. I think of a million things I need to do for the day, it would be great to have a waterproof notepad to capture all my visions and strategies! I also have to have a mug of luke warm water every morning to cleanse my system before I head off on the school run.
Anna: What makes you laugh?
Lucy Choi: Being with my family, friends and of course my sons. They are 5 and 2 and can always put a smile on my face after a tough day!