VOYAGE MIAMI: Hi Susie, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
SUSIE: After spending over a decade as the Director of Product Development for a mass-market footwear agency, traveling the world visiting factories and seeing a lot of the behind the scened on manufacturing (destruction to our planet, unethical labor, a lot of chemicals), I decided I wanted to make drastic change. By thinking outside the box, focusing on creating unique styles, finding diversity in manufacturing, and promoting ethical and sustainable practices,
High-quality, beautifully designed shoes don’t need to be damaging the planet and the people that make the product- I knew there had to be a better way.
My previous position allowed me the foundation needed to understood not only design but manufacturing, marketing, and the retail market, so I was able to apply that knowledge, trust my instincts, and build my own brand and sourcing company.
The mass market is hyper-focused on speed and low costs as their north stars for operations. Small batch shoe operations has allowed me to focus on factors that align with my values, like working with manufacturers that have ethical practices and empowering women who cannot work outside of their homes. There are also struggles that come with small-batch, like placing smaller orders, working with less smooth systems, etc. but for me, it is all still worth it to be able to create more sustainable shoes.
Every day can have its highs and lows, and in the very beginning it was terrifying, but I have learned that this is a slow process and I cannot rush it. Every little bit counts!
Hearing positive feedback from my customers has been my #1 motivator.
VOYAGE MIAMI: We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
SUSIE: I started the business at the end of 2018. Everyday had its highs and lows, and in the very beginning it was terrifying with a lot of “normal” types of roller coaster emotions that come along with entrepreneurship.
After hearing a lot of positive feedback from retailers in 2019, it was full speed ahead! I was ready for anything, and my confidence was at an all-time high. I trusted my instincts and was ready to take the next step- I had built a lot of wholesale customers and had a lot of good things coming down the pipeline for 2020.
In March 2020 (my first official national Launch of Spring 2020), the business I had started to build came crashing down. Co-vid hit. I had 80% of my wholesale purchase orders canceled by major retailers and small shops. Three of the retailers went Chapter 11 and left me with thousands of dollars in unpaid bills, not to mention all of the merchandise that they had requested, they no longer wanted (due to the closure of stores. It was one of the lowest times during my career- but I couldn’t cry about it (too much) because everyone was dealing with the pandemic, and some had it much worse.
In April 2021- I decided to make a pivot into e-commerce space. I had a friend teach me how to build my own e-commerce site. I really had no idea what I was doing at first and was just creating the website in order to alleviate some of the inventory issues I had due to covid cancellations. Building the website and direct to consumer business model was totally new for me, uncharted territory- so that was another challenge in itself.
VOYAGE MIAMI: Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
SUSIE: Sustainability is not black and white, there is a lot of grey area and complexities especially in the shoe industry that is still a work in process. For example, at Salt + Umber, we create leather goods, leather inherently isn’t sustainable, but we practice vegetable tanning which is less harmful to the environment by reducing the number of chemicals being used. Leather is also a long-lasting and natural material that allows our product to last our customers years instead of months which helps cut back on the amount of replacement footwear purchased by customers. I also think there is a misconception that buying sustainable products needs to be expensive. While that is true that the materials, workmanship and other factories of the process are more expensive, it is also about the brand dictating their costs. For example, a standard mark-up for most brands can be 75-200% markup from the cost of the actual product. I decided that instead of taking a larger piece of the profit, I would allow the consumer to have a more accessible price (for example, most of our styles retail under $200). This is important to me and my customers to understand that just because our prices are not over $200 like many sustainable footwear brands, it does not mean that our product is inferior, it means that I have chosen to lower our brand’s price point by lowering my own profit margins. The key to sustainability is making it accessible to the masses across the country, not just a trendy fad for those that can afford it.
One of the big differences between my business and other sustainable brands is that I have decided to focus on wholesale and partnerships with smaller retailers and like-minded brands and shops instead of selling direct to consumers. I am so thankful for all of the stockists who have partnered with me and helped support me on this journey. Many of them are female entrepreneurs like myself, just starting out and we are all learning together as we go. The support and positive feedback from all of the consumers is what drives me everyday to push forward and continue to make strides with salt+umber.
VOYAGE MIAMI: How do you think about happiness?
SUSIE: Being creative makes me happy. I’m a very visual and tactile person so seeing and touching different colors and textures is something that is integral to my design process and creativity. Seeing a design come from an idea in my mind to an actual pair of shoes on someone’s feet is the best feeling in the world.
I also love crushing goals!
Spending time with friends (especially outdoors in the woods or at the ocean) with a glass of wine is one of my favorite things that puts a smile on my face every time.
To view the original article with Voyage MIA, click here.