For years Jodie Fox was one of the country’s brightest start-up success stories with the world at her feet.
Then, in August 2018, Shoes of Prey — the shoewear empire she co-founded in 2009, which she describes as her “baby” — spectacularly collapsed.
The groundbreaking brand was initially a tearaway success, wowing customers by allowing them to design their own shoes online.
Ms Fox, who launched the business at age 27 with her former husband Michael Fox and their university mate Mike Knapp, effectively became the glamorous face of the company, which was considered an Aussie start-up darling.
While the founders have agreed not to disclose the company’s revenue or valuation, Mr Fox wrote in Medium in March that it was once “prepped to scale into the $100m’s revenue”.
But in March 2018, a hint of the looming catastrophe came to light when Mr Fox emailed some of the country’s biggest start-up names to ask for fresh funding from investors, explaining the company needed $3 million in a “bridge round” to shift towards a completely new business model.
Then, last August, Shoes of Prey abruptly ceased trading.
Then, seven months later, the company that had once attracted a bevy of big-name investors, including Atlassian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, entered into liquidation.
The news devastated loyal customers, shocked Australia’s start-up community, lost investors millions and reportedly left more than 100 employees out of a job.
Now, for the first time since that wounding failure, Jodie Fox has spoken publicly, telling news.com.au what really went on behind the scenes.
JODIE FOX SPEAKS
Ms Fox described August 28, 2018 as “one of the most horrific days of my life”.
The writing had been on the wall for some time, but when that day finally arrived and the call was made to shut Shoes of Prey, it took a physical toll.
“I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t sleep. I cleaned every surface of my apartment, I ironed every piece of clothing … I found myself in a real kind of urgent, anxious spiral,” she said.
Ms Fox was at the company’s factory in China at the time, and also feared for her own safety.
She said when factories closed in China, it was common for the owner to simply disappear, leaving workers without the severance pay they’re legally entitled to.
As a result, it was “customary” for workers who suspected an impeding closure to have the owner kidnapped and held hostage for ransom.
“I did have an excellent relationship with our team, however, there was always a real nervousness. In addition to the emotional cacophony of getting ready to close the doors on my dream, my baby of 10 years, I was also in a high-risk situation,” she explained.
“It was pretty full on and I was alone by that stage — my co-founders weren’t in the day-to-day business and our COO had also left the business, so I was carrying this weight on my shoulders.”
But Ms Fox said there was “real heartbreak” among staff when the company folded — and that workers insisted on completing all outstanding orders for the week, despite effectively being “fired”.
Ms Fox, who is still in contact with previous investors and staff members today, said she was “ashamed” when the business failed.
“Our group of investors were absolutely world-class, visionary and worked with us on building a concept that had never existed before,” she said.
“I wanted us to be the company that made their investments multiply many times over. I wanted to fall into the 10 per cent of investment companies that make it, not the 90 per cent of venture backed companies that close. And when we did not fall into that 10 per cent, I felt shame and disappointment.”
As a self-confessed “alpha girl”, Ms Fox said she struggled with the loss of Shoes of Prey, which had consumed her days and been a vital part of her identity for a decade.
“Before August 28, 2018, I would walk into a room and say, ‘Hi, I’m Jodie Fox from Shoes of Prey’ — but after that date, I was just Jodie Fox,” she said.
“I was like a deer in the headlights and it has been really frightening. As someone who was really driven and focused, to not have that clearly-defined identity was a huge deal.”
In the months since Shoes of Prey collapsed, Ms Fox has reflected on what went wrong, both personally and for the business, revealing she battled “pretty significant anxiety and depression” as well as “Impostor Syndrome” even at its peak.
“It was so wild to come to a moment of clarity and realise that Shoes of Prey really was the love of my life and I was putting all of my energy into that … I didn’t realise there were so many personal things I was not making time for, I didn’t know I was making that mistake,” she said.
Ms Fox said the brand delivered “unbelievable metrics for many, many years”, achieving huge growth with little investment, attracting masses of customers without advertising and evolving the online business into a number of bricks-and-mortar stores.
But ultimately, Shoes of Prey simply failed to crack the mass market.
“Everyone loves the idea of being a designer — if you’re told you can make your own shoes, you think, ‘Oh my God, of course I’d love that’. But we’d see some customers design shoes in two minutes, while others tweaked designs for months on end,” she explained.
“There was a real paralysis of choice and it wasn’t for the mass-market consumer.”
But of course, there were high points.
For the first few years, the co-founders lived off “Maggi noodles”, collecting “quite humble” salaries and reinvesting most profits into Shoes of Prey.
“I didn’t really buy clothes and if I did it was fast fashion on sale. I made coffee at home,” Ms Fox said.
“It was nice when the coin flipped and I could be more relaxed about those things and have some amazing experiences. The way I think about money is the freedom to choose.”
The collapse of Shoes of Prey was a “confronting” blow for Ms Fox, but since then, she’s been focused on rebuilding.
From January until late May, she wrote Reboot: Probably More Than You Ever Wanted to Know about Starting a Global Business, a “raw and honest” look at the highs — and lows — of her business journey.
In June, she married new husband Vuki Vujasinovic, and the couple are expecting their first child.
The pair have just relocated from the US back to Australia, and Ms Fox admitted to “kicking around” a new business idea.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, Ms Fox has learnt to take the collapse in her stride.
“It really sucks … but given it was my first business, I think I did OK,” she said.
Reboot: Probably More Than You Ever Wanted to Know about Starting a Global Business by Jodie Fox is available here from tomorrow (RRP $A29.95).
Fair Isle: The remote island where jumpers are always in fashion
Fifty years ago, the allure of Fair Isle knitwear inspired freelance photographer Chris Morphet to travel to the UK’s most remote community. His pictures documented the lives of Shetland islanders and the distinctive designs which are still influencing fashion today.
Chris felt drawn to Fair Isle after seeing the famous knitwear on the streets of London.
So in 1970, the 26-year-old photographer headed north to the remote island, which is located 80 miles off the Scottish mainland, half way between Orkney and Shetland.
“I found it amazing that people lived on this island,” he said.
“I just went round a knocked on people’s doors and asked if they had any Fair Isle sweaters.
“It was quite a naive thing to do, but I was just entranced by the place. It was just something that caught my imagination.”
Chris, now 76, remembers everyone on the island being very welcoming.
“People just seemed happy to pose.
“I loved it all. It was a really wholesome experience, and I met amazing people.”
The people he photographed on Fair Isle included Stewart and Triona Thomson.
Triona, now aged 75, said the picture had been taken while the couple were putting up a byre at their home.
“I have no memory of it at all,” she admitted.
“We must have put on our posh jumpers. The one in the photo – knitted by my mother-in law – is the only one I’ve ever possessed.”
Chris had two sweaters made for himself – one of which he still owns and wears today.
He says the photographs he took in Shetland provided a historical record of the “very special” designs created by the people on Fair Isle.
The patterned knitwear developed in the early 19th Century in fishermen’s caps and jumpers, then gained wider popularity in the 1920s.
Fair Isle has since been adopted as a general term for multicoloured knitwear, but there are still small numbers of garments produced on the island from patterns which have been handed down through generations.
Each design contains an average of four colours, with only two colours used in each row.
Mati Ventrillon, a French-Venezuelan designer, is among those who are trying to keep the tradition alive on Fair Isle.
She moved to the island from London in 2007, when local knitters were looking for new recruits.
“I felt attracted to the designs, and I wanted to try my own designs and colours,” she explained.
She eventually launched her own company, selling online to customers in the UK and in overseas markets such as the US and Canada.
She also made headlines in 2015 when she received an apology from Chanel after her work was not credited for inspiring designs in one of its collections.
Mati said she was trying to work out how to grow the business while also preserving the traditions and heritage of the island.
“It starts to become a legacy. We are bringing people to the island and passing on the skills,” she said.
“It has been here for so many years, and you see it everywhere, it’s so beautiful. The design possibilities are endless.
“And it still has a long story ahead.”
All images are copyrighted.
The Best Street Style From London Fashion Week
As it always must, Fashion Month has departed New York in favor of Europe. First up: London. And with brands like Simone Rocha, JW Anderson, and Burberry showing, it’s no surprise the fashion flock has come out in full force.
Last week, New Yorkers explained how they decide what to wear to the shows. Now we get to feast our eyes on all the stylish Londoners, with their color blocking and print-mashing galore. Between big romantic dresses and sharp tailoring, tie-dye, leopard, polka dots, plaid, gingham, stripes, checkers, and winter florals, you’ll never think of prints as seasonally specific again.
Our street-style photographer, Nicky Zeng, is documenting the European fashions all month. Keep scrolling to see the best looks from London Fashion Week, below.
Misa Hylton Previews Netflix Documentary ‘The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion’ At ESSENCE Fashion House
From the sound to the marketing to the fashion, Hip-Hop has long appeared to be a male dominated industry. In reality, for every era of the movement, there has been an agency of women masterminding and influencing Hip Hop culture since its’ early conception.
In a new Netflix documentary titled, The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion, fashion architect Misa Hylton and designer/lifestyle entrepreneur April Walker remind everyone of how they and other Black designers birthed the Hip Hop fashion culture that has become a global phenomenon. The highly-anticipated project takes viewers through different stories about their innovative custom design techniques that undoubtedly shaped the most iconic style trends for urban culture.
During ESSENCE Fashion House, attendees got a sneak peek of what they can expect to see in the new film. Following the exclusive preview, Misa Hylton and April Walker sat down with ESSENCE Deputy Editor, Allison McGevna, for an empowering discussion about their contributions to, and game-changing influence on, Hip-Hop fashion. The designers were also joined by the film’s co-directors, Lisa Cortes and Farah X.
As one who has long been beloved by both fans and entertainers within the culture, Misa Hylton says it never bothered her that more people weren’t celebrating her career and giving her accolades for creating some of the most iconic looks in Hip-Hop history.
“Overall, I have always been grateful,” she said. “I don’t need everyone to know me, but the right people will know me and whoever God wants to know me.”
For X, the idea of focusing on Misa Hylton was already there.
“Why are we not telling stories about women that are so instrumental and have shaped Hip-Hop culture. But instead we continue to focus on and tell white male stories,” she exclaimed. “I decided I needed to change the ‘they’ that are telling the stories.”
Walker expressed how surreal it feels knowing that this piece of history is finally being shared. “It’s humbling. I hope it’s inspirational for other makers and creators,” she said. “We just scratched the surface, but there’s so much more to come.”
Watch the conversation in full above.
For more of everything you missed at ESSENCE Fashion House NYC, head back to ESSENCE.com.
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