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Margaux: Building a Shoe Brand for the Modern Woman

The founders of made-to-measure shoe company Margaux share their story. Content in the Next Big Step series is brought to you by American Express OPEN and FedEx.
September 06, 2017

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” It was a question that Margaux founders Sarah Pierson and Alexa Buckley heard at their college graduation ceremony. For the pair, starting a business built for the modern woman was the answer—and so the idea for Margaux, a direct-to-consumer women’s shoe brand, was born.


Pierson and Buckley saw there was a need in the market for shoes that hit the sweet spot between style and comfort. Inspired by the success of direct-to-consumer models in other verticals, the women knew there was an opportunity for a new brand to shake up the shoe industry.


“When the commencement speaker asked ‘What would you do if you weren't afraid?’ Alexa and I caught each other’s eye from across the crowd,” recounts Pierson. “We looked at each other and knew that this was the decision that we wanted to make. It was the moment.”


To get started, the pair took trips to New York City from Boston to explore product prototypes and meet with experts in the fashion, tech and startup industries that they connected with over social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Some of these contacts would eventually become their board of advisers.


Weeks later, the pair moved to New York and dove head first into building the brand they were so passionate about. But with no experience and limited resources, the two had to be strategic about getting Margaux out of their imaginations and into the world.


“We had no experience, and we were very honest about that with ourselves. We decided from day one to seek out people who really have the knowledge and the expertise that we don't,” says Buckley. One connection began when they met a couple with decades of experience in the footwear industry over social media, and invited them to meet at a café for a cup of coffee. Buckley and Pierson pitched their idea for Margaux in the cafe, and by the next day the couple agreed to introduce them to connections who owned factories.

“The production piece—that was the hardest to figure out, because without [the couple] we would've never had a shot at finding our own factory. The manufacturing world is surprisingly opaque, especially in fashion, because everybody is protective of their connections, their contacts and their factories,” explains Pierson. “They were able to take us to friends' factories and say, ‘These girls have an idea. It's interesting. Hear them out.’ And that's where we really started to make progress.”


With a goal to work out the production details, Pierson and Buckley booked a flight to visit one factory’s location in Spain in hopes that their staff would take a chance on Margaux. The pair spent a week at the factory, sharing their vision for the shoe brand and impressing upon everyone that they were fully committed to following their dream.


“We were two 23-year-olds walking into these footwear factories that had been run for generations by 65-year-old men, and in most cases they would have laughed us away. So we were lucky to find advocates for us who were willing to problem solve, and say, ‘Let's rethink this, and see if we can make it happen,’” reminisces Pierson.


After succeeding with the factory, Pierson and Buckley knew they needed funding for frequent trips back and forth to Spain. The SimplyCash® Plus Business Card from American Express OPEN allowed the two to secure a home base and fund the necessary travel costs to their newly signed-on factory.


As production started to ramp up, the pair had to ship critical materials from New York to Spain, and then to send completed prototypes back again. Shipping provider FedEx helped to get their products and samples to their destination on time and in one piece, and continued to play a crucial role when Margaux began shipping to customers.


Buckley recalls speaking with a FedEx account representative: “We spent about three hours just picking her brain, and she was so open with us. She told us about obstacles she’d seen other businesses face, and how we could work to avoid them. It was so valuable to have that time together.”


Buckley and Pierson also learned that by paying for FedEx shipping services with their American Express OPEN Card, they are able to access discounts and statement credits—which helps to give back to the business’s bottom line.


“It's remarkable in a huge city [like New York], a small company like ours could have dedicated representatives at American Express OPEN and FedEx,” says Buckley. “It’s made all the difference having that hands-on care.”


The company has seen a lot of growth in the past two years, with Pierson and Buckley hiring new employees, gaining brand recognition in the fashion industry and launching pop-up shops in South Beach, Fla., and Nantucket, R.I.


“Seeing something go from an idea to a sketch, and then from a sketch to a sample, and from a sample to a shoe that maybe you see on somebody's foot as they're walking down the street is really rewarding,” Pierson says.


As the pair tells it, going after a good idea can be scary—but it can pay off in the end.“Starting Margaux was a terrifying leap of faith in so many ways. But we would have always wondered, ‘What if?’ if we hadn't followed our dream. This was the moment. And if we didn't do it, somebody else might,” Buckley says. “You don’t have to be an expert in what you want to do to go after it. You just have to be willing to work hard enough to figure it out.”

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Photos: SmallWarner