In the few years since Vanessa Ades founded POP! Shoes, she has remained relatively low-profile. Observationally, given that her products are such a statement, it does seem almost paradoxical though that she remain so quiet. Instead, she prefers to let her shoes do the shining.
That is not to say that Vanessa doesn’t have anything to say nor is she some Miranda Priestley ice queen — the reality is quite the opposite. On first impression, it seems the woman running the budding fashion business is just like the rest of us; she loves her dog, travel, and spending time with friends and family. She has the flowing conversational qualities and light humour of a Montrealer, infused with the city’s laissez-faire attitude, cosmopolitan perspective and natural flare for style. To put it in simpler terms: much like her kicks, Vanessa is just plain fun.
The old saying goes, “The shoes make the man.” Well, we wanted to know more about the woman who makes the shoes. We sat down with Vanessa Ades to chat about what inspires her, what’s next for POP!, and that time Jessica Alba fan-girled over her shoes on Snapchat.
What was your relationship with fashion before POP! Shoes?
I have had a lifelong relationship with fashion. I always loved shoes specifically and sometimes I wear multiple pairs a day! For me, shoes are a statement piece; you can be wearing all black, but if you have fabulous shoes, then it changes everything.
Had you ever worked in fashion before POP! shoes?
I have always worked in retail stores but I was never a designer specifically. I come from a business background. To me, it made sense having a love of shoes and a knowledge of business before starting a shoe company.
Why did you decide to start a shoe company?
The idea came from reinventing the kids’ light-up shoe. We knew kids loved them and parents hated them. By raising the bar on design, quality and craftsmanship, we saw an opportunity for both parent and child to be happy… And then we took it step further and thought this might be interesting for adults as well!
What does your average day look like?
When I’m not travelling, my days are usually spent going over designs, doing research on what we’re going to do for our next collection, speaking to different retailers, sending lots of emails, reviewing marketing and what’s coming up next in terms of events, photoshoots… The list goes on.
Speaking of travel, you were just in China for POP! What were you up to?
Working on our spring 2018 collection. Shhhh!
Who designs the shoes?
What’s your favourite style?
My personal favourite is the St Laurent in white because it's timeless and goes with everything. White leather sneakers should be a staple in everyone's closet. That said, the Stanley in black are a close second because they're like slippers and the lights just look so good with the gum sole.
Why do you stick with the aesthetic of the light-up shoe?
Well, funny you should ask that… I can’t say too much right now, but we have some exciting things coming in the pipeline for this year and next. I can give you a hint though: festival fashion. Ugh, I’ve already said too much.
Exciting! Does that mean you’d want to go beyond shoes?
For the last few years, shoes are what I’ve learned and what I know. I don’t know for POP! if I’d do anything different than shoes. Maybe down the line we’d do different accessories. You never know!
What are some of the rewards of being an entrepreneur?
It never gets old seeing your shoes in a store. In our case, lots of really good stores. Seeing them on celebrities’ feet is also very exciting. One of our biggest fans, JinJoo Lee from DNCE, sends me pictures of her on-stage wearing POP! Shoes. It’s a reward seeing how people style my product and that they love the shoes just as much as I do.
As a female founder, what advice would you give to a young woman launching her own business?
Never take no for an answer. I really stick by that. There’s a fine line between being persistent and being annoying, but don’t take no for an answer. If it’s a retailer who says, “No, we’re not interested right now”, follow up again in six months or send them a pair you think they might like. Whatever it takes. The most important thing though is to always have fun and love what you’re doing.
Any fashion biz advice?
Go with your gut. If it’s bold and makes a statement, people are gonna turn their heads. Our shoes are bold and that’s why people love them. If you have the opportunity to be bold, be bold.
I’ve heard all the responses. People have told me the shoes are ugly and what we’re doing is stupid, but I’ve also had people tell me this is an amazing business and product. You have to listen to the people who are going to encourage you. That’s fashion. You can’t take it personally.
What are you most proud of so far?
We have a great relationship with our retailers and they’re some of the best in the world. We're working with Colette, J.Crew and we have some really cool concepts stores we work with. Those are the kind of relationships you have forever.
And then the celebrities wearing our shoes. A friend of mine in Paris was like, “Jessica Alba is wearing your shoes on her Snapchat!” That was within one month of us launching. She literally went into one of our retailers in New York, tried on the shoes, bought three pairs and put them out all over her social media — and that was 100 percent organic. That was a proud moment.
Why do you think celebrities and street style kids love POP! so much?
With or without the lights, our products stand out. One of our best sellers was the gold low-top. With the lights, they are a real head-turner. Whenever I wear them, I get the craziest reactions on the street, in bars, out shopping. I’ve never had that with a fashion product. Who doesn’t want that kind of attention?
What do you think others can learn from you and your story?
Honestly, that anything is possible. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but if I can build a brand on a light-up shoe, you can do anything.