On a recent SHE Innovates podcast, Sarah Jessica Parker talks about how she stepped into the role of designer and creative director of shoe brand the SJP Collection after years of playing Carrie Bradshaw on the show Sex and the City. She joins Michelle King, a leader in UN women’s gender innovation work, to share insights gained from knowing her customers and why getting started is the hardest part of building a business.
The actress’s first retail experience was a partnership with a Long Island, N.Y., company that produced sportswear sold at low prices. The company expanded quickly, but a large part of its business was in malls. “The business model didn’t work in ways that were meaningful and they ultimately folded,” she says. Two years later, everyone was doing low-price, ready-to-wear sports clothing, and she believes the company was ahead of its time. Although it was a challenging experience, she values what she learned.
She recognized there was money to be made in the shoe business, but many of Parker’s potential partners wanted to manufacture large-quantity, low-priced shoes in China. Instead, Parker wanted to produce high-quality shoes in a factory that values social compliance. She started the SJP Collection after contacting George Malkemus III, president of shoe company Manolo Blahnik. In 2014, the SJP Collection was born. Each pair of shoes is handcrafted by a third-generation Tuscan shoemaker in Italy and each design represents significant memories in Parker’s life.
Advice on asking for help
Parker says it’s hard for her to give advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs, because she has access to powerful people, which isn’t the case for everyone. She suggests realizing that “people do want to help, people want to be mentors.” She says it may feel weak to ask but, if you can summon the courage, there’s almost always a way to get contact information for people, and it’s impressive when people reach out. The most helpful thing for starting a business is being around people who have experience. “The more that I can get close to them and listen…the better equipped I am to ask for money or start a conversation…it’s that initial hurdle…that’s always the hardest part,” she says.
Parker finds that confidence comes from knowing you have something to offer: “When people believe in something…and they’ve informed themselves as much as they can, that says a lot to other people.” She says women may not have the confidence to go for what they want because they are caught up in not having concrete skills on their CV – but everybody starts somewhere. Business sprouts all the time from people who haven’t yet worked in those industries. Many women are struggling financially and can’t sit around and wait for an income; Parker hopes to encourage them to start a business.
Lessons on running a successful business
The actress designs four collections a year with Malkemus. Parker is inspired by women on the street, 1960s and ’70’s Italian magazines, and shoes she’s worn in the past. Designs are based on what is selling and what they believe in.
They’re a small company, so they re-invest their profits back into the business for growth. Shoes that they believe in but don’t do well are reintroduced into the market with changes. They created two “evergreens” – popular styles that can never be marked down – to encourage partners to buy into collections without having to worry about what the company does with unsold inventory.
Parker says, “I don’t think anyone can be lazy today…the customer is really informed…you have to know what [they’re] thinking.” If you’re starting a business, Parker recommends being in the store and ensuring customer service is your top priority. You should answer every question on social media and resolve issues – this means a lot to a customer.
Listen to Sarah Jessica Parker’s interview on the SHE Innovates podcast.
SHE Innovates is a podcast that shares the stories, challenges, and triumphs of women across innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. Listen to all our podcasts on PodBean.