This is a follow up story for TANYA HEATH Paris. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 3 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi! My name is Tanya and I’m the founder of TANYA HEATH Paris. My goal is to create innovative footwear and accessories that allow women to navigate their busy days and climb the corporate ladder without having to sacrifice comfort for allure.
I created a unique line of multiple-height shoes with interchangeable heels that a woman can customize with the click of a button. By changing heel styles and heel heights my clients are always wearing the best pair of shoes for whatever life is offering them at this moment. We have a complete line of footwear that includes pumps, boots, sandals, bridal, and a growing vegan footwear line too.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Currently, my business is shrinking. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and I make shoes for women who travel, who go to the office, who are getting married, or who go out in general. These things just are not happening amidst global lock-downs.
You have found the strength and the moral to believe in tomorrow and to keep placing those building blocks that will ensure future growth.
As a result, I have put my company in bankruptcy protection so that I can restructure. We are also taking measures to grow once the pandemic is over. We have distribution in the US and Canada, two very important markets and I am working with a brand new team for Italy! The US has a very cool business model that relies on digital sales with personal stylists throughout the country. This means clients can still try on shoes and learn about our technology, but they can do this on-line or from the comfort of their own home. We are also doing something we didn't do before. I’m selling shoes to multi-brand boutiques so we will have physical stores in Paris, and we are working on Italy. Our partner in Canada does have a boutique and a website, and I am confident that we are taking the right steps to survive the pandemic and be ready to start selling when it's over.
What really astonishes me, to be honest, is that we are selling anything at all. As I mentioned our boutiques are closed, and the drivers that would lead to a sale simply don’t exist at the moment, yet women are still ordering shoes online. And about 30% of those orders are coming from first-time clients! Also, I have people who have requested catalogs because they want to stock our shoes. It's not worth mentioning till it happens but it's a strong sign of encouragement.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
To find a balance between despair and being the person that I believe I am. I did not create the pandemic and my business really got hit hard. As an energetic person who is accustomed to taking control of her own life, it has been hard to acknowledge that at this particular moment it's not really my fault, and there isn't all that much I can do.
But on the other hand, there is no use feeling like you are being hit by a Tsunami, so you have to find the strength and the moral to believe in tomorrow and to keep placing those building blocks that will ensure future growth.
Emotionally it's hard because you are alone and you are dealing with incredible challenges. In my case product development took about 3 years, and involved 14 engineers; I had believed when we finally sold our first shoe after all of that R&D and bootstrapping that I left the stage of waiting for the future and that I had really started to grow my business. Let's just stay that I have to be focused on the fact that growth has been postponed. However, I did it before and I will do it again. This time I know what went wrong so I won’t waste my time trying to get my shoes in department stores or trying to attract venture capital. I will devote my time to things that pay off.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Like everyone, I am re-doing a new site in Shopify.
We are changing our business model from selling through TANYA HEATH Paris branded boutiques to selling online, through stylists, and multi-brand retail so I need to create the tools and processes that enable this shift.
We are also reeling from changes on the supply side. When I first did Starter Story my shoes and heels were 100% made in France. During the pandemic, virtually everyone went out of business, even my warehouse. So I have shifted production to Portugal. The benefit of this is my new suppliers all know each other so they will be able to coordinate more quickly and more effectively.
As for my long-term vision. In the past 2 years, my business has survived the French Yellow Vest movement, which brought knife-wielding protestors into my boutiques and shut us down for about 30 Saturdays; the French transport strikes which lasted 1 ½ month and made it impossible to reach my boutique; and now, 1 year of confinement/restrictions. I will not plan for 5 years ever again, as current events sweep your best plans aside. I just don’t see the point. I still want to create a fashion brand that can rival Jimmy Choo or Stuart Weitzman. This ambition drives me and despite it all, I still believe I will.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I myself was sick for 6 weeks with Covid in March 2020, but I never really got better. I am what is called a Covid long-hauler. One of the things that I am having trouble with is my memory.
When I first made it back to work on the 11th of May, I could not remember the names of my shoes or my clients. In the past year, I have read several books. But I can only remember the books I have read since December 2020. It was l’eduction european, or in English A European Education by Romain Gary. I loved it! It's about a young Polish resistant who survived WW2 and came out alive and with a future. I know this is a metaphor for my company.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Life is a series of ups and downs and both are 100% normal. At the moment you read about pivots or shifts and I think that is essential. My company is doing both! But I also think it comes down to grit and believing in yourself even when you might be the only person in the world who does. I recommend taking strength from other stories of resilience and of beating the odds.
This will sound ridiculous but when things get hard for me I think about 2 works of fiction. The first is the exchange between Brienne of Tarth and Jaime in GOT, where Jaime loses his hand and Brienne tells him that it's just like a rich kid to not know how to deal with hardship; and LOTR, with Frodo, is just struggling through Mordor, oblivious to what is happening with the rest of the fellowship yet against the odds he does succeed in destroying the ring of power. This is certainly unorthodox and probably ridiculous, but it helps me.
Where can we go to learn more?
Yes, the last time I did Starter Story I was submerged by web-marketers, Facebook ads specialists, SEO experts, and every kind of fashion tech application vendor that you can imagine who wanted to work with me!
Obviously, I can’t pay for any of this.
But, if someone truly loves the concept and wants to contribute their digital skills in exchange for a 30% commission on the sales they have generated, please do get in touch with me. For the rest, I’m afraid that at this moment I won’t be able to respond.
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