What’s the inspiration behind Salone Monet?
I was working at a shoes and accessories boutique. As part of my training, I was asked to suggest a nude heel for a customer. We only sold one color nude, and it didn't match me or many of the women that came into the store. This was the lightbulb moment for me. I went home and Googled a business plan template and started building from there.
I've always really loved shoes. It’s the one piece of your outfit that you can always see without a mirror! To me, shoes can always spark joy.
The first pair I remember loving was a pair of black lace-up booties that had the tiniest heel (or so I thought) and almost a Victorian vibe. I was probably in first grade at the time, but I was hooked!
Color inclusivity is a massive problem across nearly every area of fashion. Why did shoes speak to you in particular?
It was a struggle to get the samples I needed for Salone Monet. I had to have many conversations with factories that kept sending me samples of animal prints and telling me these were the type of prints Black women were looking for. I just needed some simple fabrics, from ebony to beige, and it took a long time to find a factory that was willing to take a risk on a new brand.
You make your own shoes! What inspired you to take on this part of the creative process?
I tried prototyping the product with factories, but quickly found that without a large down payment or clear traction in the industry, most suppliers were uninterested in spending time on my ideas. I wasn't getting the samples I had envisioned, so I decided to take shoemaking classes. I thought that if I understood the process better, I would be able to communicate my request more effectively.
How do you handle risk and competition?
For me, the biggest risk would have been not trying; any competition is welcome. For years, most cosmetic, undergarment, and shoe brands flat out ignored melanated skin. Only now is diversity "on trend" and larger brands like Banana Republic are changing their merchandise. The ethical thing would be to partner with minority brands that have been solving this problem in their blind spots. But regardless, it just shows inclusivity was always a good idea.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenge(s) you’ve faced while launching your company?
Supply chain was my first big challenge. Most vendors were very unimpressed when I came to them with just a landing page and no major purchase orders. It wasn't until I took an exploration trip to Italy that I made any real headway. During that trip, I asked everyone I knew to introduce me to Italian connections in fashion or manufacturing. I used my time there to set up as many meetings as possible. After about a week, I was still getting a pretty slow response, so I started reaching out to people in specific Italian Facebook groups and asking them for help. At first, I honestly thought this strategy was ridiculous and borderline dangerous, but one of these Facebook groups actually introduced me to my first shoe makers.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I'm very protective of my name. I originally had a different name for the brand, but after years of directing funds into prototyping, I lost the trademark. It was only a few months out from the soft launch when I needed to find a new name.
At first, I was hesitant to use my real name because I wasn't sure what an exit would feel like when the founder is so personally connected to the brand. But at the end of the day, it was the right decision and having an eponymous company makes me think more strategically at every step of my journey.
What is your superpower?
My entrepreneurial superpower: when I speak, people tend to listen (albeit sometimes briefly!). This has helped open many important doors for the brand and will continue to do so.
What’s your kryptonite?
Getting less than 8 hours of sleep. I’ve never understood people that can function on a few hours of sleep and probably never will.
What do you hope to see from the fashion industry in the coming years?
I think the future of everything is more conscious consumption and growth of the consignment and rental markets. Without these things, there probably won't be much of a future.
I think the future of everything is more conscious consumption.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Before long flights, I go to the airport fresh faced so I can use the expensive sample serums from the Duty Free.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I love traveling and hiking. It’s strange because I don’t necessarily think of myself as an “outdoors person” but I feel so grounded and calm when I’m surrounded by natural green spaces. When I first heard the term “forest bathing," it immediately made sense to me. I love living in the city, but I really love the smell of fresh air.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
People you respect may not respect you, but that doesn't mean you're not due respect.
What’s your experience been like as a female founder? Any advice for women looking to start their own company?
Tell everybody what you’re doing, and when their eyes glaze over tell them again a different way.