Susannah Davda grew up in an unconventional household. Her father was a vicar who made shoes for the family as a hobby. She began her footwear career working in shoe shops as a teenager in 1998, then studied for her BA (Hons) in Footwear Design at university.
After graduation, Susannah spent many years working for shoe brands and retailers, within the UK and internationally. During that time she acquired a diverse skillset from design, product management, and buying to sales and retail.
Susannah launched her consultancy business in 2015, based near London, UK. She advises shoe brands globally and has helped numerous footwear companies; from start-ups to established businesses. Susannah launched her online course How to Start a Shoe Brand in 2020, and runs The Shoe Community: a membership group specifically for shoe brand founders. Footwear entrepreneurs can also access Susannah’s shoe business expertise through her one-to-one consultancy package.
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Thank you so much for giving us your time! Before we begin, could you introduce yourself to our readers and take us through what exactly your company does and what your vision is for its future?
Susannah Davda: I’m Susannah Davda and I help people to start and grow their own footwear brands. Shoe brand founders desperately need guidance, expertise from industry professionals, and connections. I provide them with all of those elements, and the structure to keep them on track. Plus emotional support and a confidence boost when they need it.
I believe the future of the footwear industry is independent. Founder-operated brands have the advantage of being close to their customers. They make small runs of products that they know their customers want. This is a much more sustainable business model than larger shoe companies are able to achieve. My company The Shoe Consultant is here to support shoe brand founders now and in the future.
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO/entrepreneur when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get where you are today?
Susannah Davda: I wanted to be a ballet dancer when I was little, then a singer/songwriter. As I reached my teens I became obsessed with fashion. I started making and customizing my own clothes and thought I wanted to be a fashion designer. It was working in shoe shops that opened my eyes to the career possibilities in the footwear industry. Realizing that I could study footwear design at university was a revelation for me. I loved learning to design and make shoes but I began to notice I had a more commercial eye than many of my coursemates. Completing a summer internship in a footwear retailer’s buying department helped me decide to look for buying roles when I graduated. I started off in the hybrid role of trainee buyer and designer, then moved into product management before deciding to start my consultancy company.
Whilst I didn’t aspire to be an entrepreneur as a child, I heard the word in relation to my brother’s money-making schemes and it sounded like a wonderful, unachievable dream. As my shoe business career developed, I felt frustrated that I wasn’t able to directly help people in my corporate roles. I worked towards launching my own business for 4 years before I took the leap and founded The Shoe Consultant.
Tell us something about yourself that others in your organization might be surprised to know.
Susannah Davda: I play the classical guitar. I am also very practical and love fixing my son’s toys and other things that break around the home. I recently completed an intricate repair on my guitar. The majority of my time is spent at my computer, on my iPhone, watching TV, or reading to my son, so using my hands feels like a therapeutic change.
Many readers may wonder how to become an entrepreneur but what is an entrepreneur? How would you define it?
Susannah Davda: From my point of view, an entrepreneur is someone who wants to create a business that reflects their values. They are looking to make a difference in the world, and make their own decisions. Entrepreneurship is challenging but hugely empowering.
What is the importance of having a supportive and inclusive culture?
Susannah Davda: When people are nurtured and supported, they feel valued and they put more love into their work. One of the best aspects of running my own business is that I get to serve and employ people from all around the world. I learn so much from each and every one of them. I believe that by building your own company, you can create a microcosm of the world as you feel it should be. That’s really what company culture is.
How can a leader be disruptive in the post covid world?
Susannah Davda: My version of disruption in the footwear industry is championing small businesses, so they can better help their customers. I see the trend towards supporting independent companies across many industries. It is a good way to challenge negative practices by large corporations.
If a 5-year-old asked you to describe your job, what would you tell them?
Susannah Davda: My son is 5 so this is easy. I tell him that I help the people who make our shoes.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Susannah Davda: Deciding to focus on helping shoe brand founders rather than established businesses was a tricky decision, but one that paid off for my clients. I was cautious about going too niche with my business because I wasn’t sure how large the start-up market was. Concentrating on helping people who are working towards launch or have only been in business for a few years has proved to be a sound decision. All of my time and energy is now spent on creating content that helps this market and building strong relationships with my clients. This has resulted in a flywheel effect, where one idea or activity feeds into the next and builds momentum for my business and added value for my clients.
Leaders are usually asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is your most useless talent?
Susannah Davda: Making silly faces: useful when interacting with a 5-year-old, but to date, I have found this “talent” entirely useless in business.
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. If you wrote a book about your life until today, what would the title be?
Susannah Davda: So many of the good names for shoe-themed memoirs have already been taken. Perhaps I would call it “Changing lives one shoe at a time”.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Susannah Davda for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Susannah Davda or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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