Around these parts, we like to learn about and from people who are running their own businesses – business we love and admire, and the ladies who are running shit behind the scenes. In this edition of mind your business, we talk to the Tanya Heath, a Canadian living in Paris who, I think I speak for many women when I say this, is an actual genius. She’s designed a revolutionary system whereby women can adjust the heels on their shoes, changing style, formality, and comfort. They are gorgeous and fun and make one think, “How has no one thought of this before?” Thank goodness Tanya has – and she tells us here about her background and what it’s like being a woman in women’s fashion when men are still making so many of the decisions.
milieu: Tell us a bit about your background (school, previous work and training, etc.) Were you always into shoes/fashion? What made you decide to start your own line?
Tanya: I was born and grew up in Ottawa and studied International Relations at U of T for my undergrad and the Norman Paterson School Of International Relations at Carlton for my Masters. My life was turned on its head when I met my husband at the Father and Sons in Ottawa. At that time I thought it would be easier to find a job than find a man, so when he had to go back to France for his military service, I quit my job, followed him mid-masters, and once there got married and enrolled to do an Masters of Business in Paris while completing my degree at Carlton.
milieu: What kind of research did you do before going into business for yourself?
Tanya: I learnt on the job. I always knew I wanted to create my own company but I had to learn French, learn how things work in France and wait for my children to grow up a bit so I joined four technology and finance start-ups as the first employee. This on-the-job training was invaluable in steering my company through the challenges of not being financed and not having revenue for the first four years of R&D. I also taught the marketing of disruptive technological innovation for 10 years at one of the French Engineering schools to the graduating class, so this forced me to be on top of the academic theory relating to innovation.
milieu: What inspires your designs? How did you come up with the innovative idea to have interchangeable heels?
Tanya: Initially I was obsessed with the idea of replicating shoe cannon. Those timeless styles that you see every year, reinterpreted. More recently I am trying to put a bit of sophisticated Canadiana into my shoe and heel models. I like twisting things from my childhood to make it seem Parisian.
milieu: How has your product been received in Canada?
Tanya: We opened our first store in Yorkville, Toronto in October 2014. Initial reaction has been extremely positive. I can tell because I can follow the tweets here from Paris. Women are really incorporating the shoes and heels into their daily lives and it’s so gratifying to see someone you don’t know personally, appropriate something that you worked so hard to perfect.
milieu: It seems that many high-end women’s shoe designers are men – do you think it’s different working in the industry with actual first hand knowledge of wearing heels?
Tanya: YES! In fact I’m convinced that the fact that not only am I a woman but that I have ruined my feet has made me much closer to my clientele. I know how awkward and uncomfortable if not downright painful a high heeled shoe can be, yet I also know you really want to wear them because they truly do make you look great. So I had this dual passion to do things differently and to get it right. I also know that if you can get that perfect pair that you love you will wear it to death while all of the others fester in your closet.
milieu: Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would change if you had to start all over again?
Tanya: Yes, and this is only because I know what I know now. I would block out most external advice. We received some very bad advice, especially regarding design and marketing from people who said they knew better. It was very hard for me to say that they weren’t right, so against my better judgement I steered the company in the wrong direction twice. Also if it were be to done again I would be more choosey about who I work with. And I would have taken a few more breaks back when it was less busy to be with my family and relax because I’m working all the time now and I don’t see this getting better!
milieu: Can you give us any insight into new collections, new projects or anything new on the horizon for you?
Tanya: There may be some very big announcements in the next six months but I prefer not being precise until contracts are signed. I think its safe to say that collections will grow. We will be introducing two new heels styles. The fall winter collection is being cut as we speak and we will continue to open boutiques internationally.
milieu: What advice would you give someone who is looking to go into a similar business for themselves?
Tanya: Follow your own inner voice. A lot of people ask me what I think of their business idea. I’m neither an oracle nor someone who buys everything I see so I mostly find my opinion and thoughts irrelevant. Also I firmly believe that their are numerous paths to success and success is defined at a personal level. In terms of taking the plunge I do recommend not waiting to become perfect, I was obsessed for years by this idea that I wasn’t good enough or not ready. Perfection can be achieved by surrounding yourself with complimentary talents. Finally failure is part of the process and yes it hurts and can be both costly and devastating, so learn how to bounce back!