I am not the type of person to be dazzled by designer products – the quality of how something is made is what matters to me, regardless of the tag. But during my wedding even I couldn’t resist the siren call of Jimmy Choo – and while shoe shopping, found myself slipping one of their silvery, glittery heels on my feet.
Just to try it, I told myself.
What made me eventually buy £300 shoes when I was desperately trying to stick to a budget?
It was an intangible, shifting collection of things: owning a piece of footwear that was made iconic when Carrie Bradshaw uttered: “I lost my Choo” in Sex and the City, possessing something so seriously beautiful that I wouldn’t be able to justify it again, and being part of this global, power shoe collective that radiated quality and glamour.
That Jimmy Choo shoes stand for all of this isn’t a coincidence – it’s down to one very outstanding woman, Tamara Mellon, who built up the business from scratch with Jimmy Choo, the cobbler. Tamara has just released her memoir In My Shoes, and very compelling reading it is too, charting her addiction to cocaine and alcohol, then getting herself clean to set up the business.
After 15 years working as the company’s chief creative officer, Tamara decided enough was enough, and set up her own eponymous fashion brand, which is due to put out its first collection.
The memoir is an addictive read, and proves that being born into privilege, doesn’t necessarily a happy life make. (Well, unless you’re one of the incorrigible Rich Kids Of Instagram twats.)
Tamara gives a brutally honest account of her relationship with her mother Ann Yeardye (she makes Flowers In The Attic’s Corinne seem like mother of the year), and then more interestingly, how hard she grafted to set up Jimmy Choo.
Over the years, she has had a reputation for being high maintenance, which she says is a myth, perpetuated by the men in charge. One thing is clear, is that whatever you choose to believe about Tamara, Jimmy Choo’s success is her own, and if you can’t respect a woman moulding a multi-million pound company through sheer determination and business nous, what can you admire her for?
At 46, with an 11-year-old daughter Minty, Tamara has learned some valuable lessons that she plans to apply to her new business.
Recently, she has been very vocal about women in business, and how we need to stop from ‘flatlining’. HuffPost UK Lifestyle caught up with her to see what she had to say, and to find out what she’s like as a boss.
What are some of the lessons you've learned between Jimmy Choo and launching Tamara Mellon?
That it is so important to keep control of your company. I’ve learned that the hard way. What that whole experience (Jimmy Choo) gave me was that when I started the business, my focus was to make beautiful shoes. I had no idea about the gender challenges I would face.
I’ve learned a lot about women in the workplace. I’ve learned how to find my voice a lot more – which is a challenge for women.
In what ways is it a challenge?
There is a general attitude of discounting a woman’s opinion, a diminishing lack of respect and a lot of myths about what a woman needs to be like in business.
If you’re not behaving in a way a man wants you to behave - even if you feel it’s not right – you’re called a bitch, or people say she’s difficult, she’s not a team player. These are such low shots at women that are all false.
We have research that says that women are much more collaborative and when a woman negotiates a deal she’s happy for everyone to win, and isn’t just out for herself. Companies are also much safer with women in terms of risk.
Tamara with her OBE
There’s a saying that a man will look at the 20% of the job he can’t do and think ‘yeah! I’m amazing, I can do 80% of my job’. Whereas a woman will worry and only focus on the 20% she can’t do, doubting herself. Do we have a hard time believing we can be top dog?
Even if a woman can do 100% of the job, she still suffers from imposter syndrome. She doesn’t have that internal resistance, that internal self-belief – that needs to change. That’s an issue. A woman will sit in the corner and work herself to death and hope to get noticed, whereas a man will be very vocal and will demand what he thinks is his. We need to speak up.
How can things change?
It’s a conversation we have to involve men in – there is no point preaching to the converted. A very good practice is now that whenever I’m hiring another company – let’s say a consultant company – I always ask who’s the woman at the table. I’m not talking about the secretary – I want to see a woman in charge.
Do you think quotas are the solution?
I struggle with quotas. On the one hand, I don’t want to be the token woman but if we don’t have 30% quotas, no one will experience the difference it makes having a woman at the top.
Have things changed for women in the last 10 years?
No, there isn’t much difference – I think we’ve flat-lined in the last 20 years. I think the financial crisis has changed things though. Women have woken up – what they’ve realised is that a lot of the financial crisis was caused by undue risk and like I said, research shows that if a woman is in charge, companies are safer.
Why did you decided to start your own business?
My first passion was about creating the product – that never went away. I wanted to start my own business because I couldn’t get paid what I thought I was worth. There were several issues – all circle back to gender – and there was a lack of flexibility in terms of my own time.
I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my daughter anymore and I couldn’t get fair market pay compared to my peers. Then I lost control and saw things happening that I didn’t like. Then I decide I wanted to create a different corporate environment.
What are you like as a boss?
I don’t expect people to be on 24/7. I expect people to work a bit more if we’re working on a deadline but everyone rolls their sleeves up and it’s the most fun. But down the line, I don’t expect them to stay late or if someone takes their kid to the doctor, I’m going to give them a hard time.
How do you create time for yourself?
I go home around 6 and make sure I spend time with my daughter – I make sure she has time with me every evening, or if it’s an exceptional case, I call her to let her know. In my spare time, I love visiting art galleries.
What advice would you given to businesswomen starting out?
Remember to contain yourself, be careful of your tone and always state what you want clearly. Trust your instincts. What tends to happen is people will give you advice, and that’s fine. But remember it’s your company, your product – you feel it and you’re emotionally connected.
In My Shoes by Tamara Mellon co-written with William Patrick, £20, published by Penguin, is out now.