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Fashion Design Startup: Vegan Luxury Shoes

SFD084 How This Designer Built a Vegan Luxury Shoe Brand

March 04, 2019

Bebe Mehr’s fashion entrepreneur journey began in 2001 while she was in college and started selling stuff on Ebay. Little did she know, that 13 years later, after a lot of different fashion careers, it would turn into her own line of vegan luxury shoes, Cult of Coquette.

Coming from an entrepreneurial family, Bebe’s journey isn’t that surprising. But it doesn’t mean parts of it weren’t insanely hard and that she hasn’t faced her fair share of failure while she built her company.

Bebe walks us through, step by step, how she funded her line of vegan luxury shoes, how she found a factory to produce her designs, and how she built a customer base to sell them to.

In the interview (which you’ll love) we will cover:

  • Bebe’s start and thoughtful trajectory in the fashion industry
  • How starting small helped Bebe get off on the right foot
  • How, even despite her success, she ran out of money, and what she did next
  • Bebe’s presale through a crowdfunding campaign, and how it went
  • How presale is going to be part of Bebe’s business’ future (it’s a pretty good model!)
  • The logistics of her factory production, and how she found one that she really liked and was ethical (and female-owned!!)
  • The misconceptions of overseas manufacturing…it gets a bad rap but Bebe has some words for us
  • Bebe’s email marketing strategies (pretty minimal actually! Because she found her niche)
  • The college affiliate program she’s rolling out, and how that will work
  • How Bebe has educated her customer on her ethical and sustainable practices, and her women-empowering focus
  • How Bebe’s customers deal with her presale timeline in the age of Amazon two-day-shipping
  • The one thing people never ask Bebe about working in the fashion industry that she wishes they would
  • And so much more!

Press the orange play button below to listen here, or listen on Apple Podcasts:



INTENTIONAL VEGAN LUXURY

Bebe Mehr runs a line of vegan luxury shoes called Cult of Coquette. Her journey got started way back in 2011 when she was in college selling stuff on eBay, which turned into her running a boutique, which then turned into her realizing that there was a huge gap in the market for vegan luxury shoes. She knew there were a lot of high heels and shoes out there that just happened to be “vegan,” but it was just because they were cheap to make. There was nobody out there doing it intentionally, creating an exceptional line of luxury shoes and cruelty-free products. So she decided to give it a go and do it herself.

It all started in 2014, and over the last 4-5 years, she’s had some major ups and downs. She’s learned what works and what doesn’t. She ran out of money. She had to go back to work and learn the ins and outs of the industry, do some fashion styling, and save up money to launch again. In 2018 she re-launched her brand, and she shares her story with us here on the podcast. She’s really engaged with her customer to find out what they really want before sending anything into production, started small, and found the right manufacturers to partner with. If you have any interest at all in launching your own brand, Bebe’s insight is going to be super valuable to you–use her wisdom and learn from her mistakes to make your dream a reality!

AzarIILeopard CoC

Azar II in Leopard, from Cult of Coquette on Instagram

ALWAYS THE ENTREPRENEUR

Bebe started Cult of Coquette, a line of women’s cruelty-free footwear, in 2014. Her start in the industry was an online business when she was in college, selling things she’d find in China Town in New York. Then she ran a boutique for many years, but after a few years of that, she decided it was time for a brand new business. She had gone to school at FIT in New York for a year and studied Merchandising. She had thought about being a full-blown fashion designer when she was younger, but when she saw the stresses involved, she thought perhaps she’d prefer the business-side of things!

While she was running her online eBay store in college at FIT in 2001, her dad called her up one day. He was going to buy a retail space, and wondered if she wanted to open a boutique there. Her online business was really successful, and she was in school to one day open a boutique, so she figured…why not just start now? It was a hectic time in New York (right after 9/11), and she figured if she had the opportunity to open a boutique before finishing school where she was learning to do so… she had to jump on it. She had the boutique for about 8 years, and then…stopped eating meat.

MORAL COMPASS REORIENTATION

So she’s vegan, now what? Well, that meant there was a conflict of interest against her moral compass to sell fur and leather products in her boutique, so she stopped. And that got her thinking: there are so many opportunities in LA, and so many people making their dreams a reality. When she saw a pair of Louboutins she liked, but didn’t want to purchase because they were real leather, she saw an opportunity. “Why don’t I just start my own line of shoes?” and “What do I have to lose?” turned into 500 pairs of cruelty-free luxury shoes.

It turned out vegans all over the world were desperate for something special like this. Bebe thought of everything: the packaging was beautiful, the experience was beautiful, and not to mention the shoes. Bebe noticed the things she liked about luxury brand shoes, and kept those details in her own vegan line. She got a great reaction, and great exposure from vegan celebrities with magazines ended up contacting her without her even trying (literally…she just used a couple hashtags on Instagram). But then the money ran out.

There are so many costs to running a business–we’ve all been told that before. Storage alone was a huge one for Bebe! Then there was the time to go get the shoes and ship them out, and all of the other costs as well. “You have to have the money for a year in advance, and plan for the problems.” Bebe had a ton of momentum in the beginning, but didn’t have the the capital to keep it going when it slowed down, which can be harmful to the business. So she took a year off.

When she was ready for more, she decided to go about things a little bit differently. She did a ton of research and decided to do a presale of her second collection through a crowdfunding campaign. This was a costly endeavor in itself–targeting ads and emails and making a landing page, hiring a videographer, getting a new logo–everything. But she had been scraping and saving for a year, and knew this was what she needed to do. Then no one could figure out how to place an order…the user experience on IndieGoGo was so unclear in the context of the donation that no one knew how to place an order for shoes! She had a stressful 24 hours rebuilding her website, but was able to cover costs of production. “In business you have to expect the unexpected…have a plan B, C, D, E, F to Z.”

AND BOY, DOES SHE

Bebe has grand plans for the future and she’s sticking to her guns (her ethical, vegan guns, that is). She’s working on tailoring her email marketing to focus a little more on vegan stories and education. Spotlighting fashion trends and relating it back to her own product and things that her audience cares about. She’s even rolling out a college affiliate program: she’ll give a promo code to different influencers and bloggers to spread awareness about the option of vegan fashion, while giving these college entrepreneurs a little extra cash flow, and their audience a little more brand awareness. Bebe’s commitment to ethical, women-owned, vegan fashion really is inspiring, and her story is even more so.

Check out Bebe’s line of vegan shoes on Cult of Coquette – she’s offering 20% off your entire order, expires March 31, 2019. The discount code is SEWHEIDI and these shoes are truly awesome. Perhaps the cheetah print shoes we were chatting about could go home with you…but leopard is definitely a neutral and should probably be at the top of your list. Let’s all get our coquette on.

“What do you learn from your successes, really? You learn everything from your failures.”

Screen Shot 2019 03 01 at 1.05.06 PM

Cult of Coquette’s Azar II Leopard Pumps

PegBundy

Peg Bundy rocking leopard print via Stylish Curves

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