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“I think sometimes women get caught up in not having concrete credit or the skill on our CV so therefore that makes us ill-equipped or not ready, but everybody starts somewhere. You just have to summon something that you don’t even know you have,” said Sarah Jessica Parker, actress and founder and creative director of the SJP Collection.
Parker, known for her role as shoe-obsessed Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, launched her SJP collection in 2014 with George Malkemus III.
Despite the growing success, Parker says that she had a hard time getting the business started because of the difficulty she had in finding the right partner. Many of the potential partners wanted to make shoes in China, given the low production costs and high profit margins.
“This is so significant to me. I didn’t feel comfortable with that idea. I wanted to produce a shoe that I wanted to wear myself and that would last,” she said.
Now Parker is entering her fourth year and says the initial hurdles were well worth it. “We make shoes in Italy, as I wanted to," she said. "They are all handmade, right outside of Florence in Tuscany and it is really the business that I wanted."
In this interview Parker shares why getting started is often the hardest part of building a business and the lessons she learned along the way to achieving career success.
Michelle King: How did the SJP collection get started?
Sarah Jessica Parker: I was sitting at a lunch meeting with a couple of women that I know who are business leaders and they were asking me about the shoe category and I kept saying “You know it is just not right, but I really want to do it. What I would really like to do is to be in business with George Malkemus III. But he is spoken for, and he is busy.” They said, “Well have you ever asked him?” I said, “No, no I don’t want to put him in that position.” They said that I should just call him. So, I went home from that lunch and I picked up the phone and called him. And thus began our business.
King: You shared how it can be challenging to just start, whether that is building a business or changing careers. Do you have any advice for women wanting to make a change?
Parker: If you want to do something you have to find a way out of the house and if you don’t you will just kick yourself later for not just giving it a go.
I know that is hard for a lot of people, because a lot of people in this country are struggling financially; they are not in the financial position to start a business. They are working two or three jobs, they don’t have good childcare they are worried about their health insurance. That’s why I always try and preface these conversations by acknowledging that I am in a different position. To be able to make a choice is such a privilege. But I wish I could be at home with these other women - to pull them out.
King: Do you believe success comes down to hard work?
Parker: I don’t think anyone can afford to be lazy today. The customer is really informed and they are paying attention because it is all at their fingertips. The more time you spend on the floor, on your hands and knees literally putting shoes on feet, the more you know and the better it is for business. I will go and work the floor about 8-10 times a year easily because today you have to be in touch with the customer.
King: You have managed to transition careers and succeed across a range of industries and roles - what advice do you have for women wanting to change careers?
Parker: Well I am always loath to give advice because I am sensitive to the fact that I have access to people. And I want to be clear about that because that is not the case for everybody. But I have found that people do want to help. People want to be mentors. There is enormous satisfaction in reaching out or bringing someone in.
The hardest part though is asking for help – for women particularly. It just feels weak. It feels needy. It feels hat in hand. But I think it is very impressive when people reach out and say, “You know this is an area of interest. This is what I know but this is what I don’t know. I would love to know more, so if I could just have 15 minutes of your time.” I think the hardest part is just asking for help.
King: Confidence is something a lot of women struggle with, particularly in business. Do you have any advice for how to develop this?
Parker: Partially confidence comes from just knowing that you do have something to offer. Confidence can come and go because there are areas in which I don’t know something or areas where I know a lot.
But I think when people believe in something, and they are excited about something and they have informed themselves as much as they can. I think that says lot to other people.
King: Have you always loved shoes and do you have a favorite pair?
Parker: I have always loved shoes, but not in the same feverish way as that wonderful woman I played (on TV) for many years did. I don’t spend all my money on shoes and I am not willing to sacrifice shelter for shoes.
I have also grown to love them even more because I have spent so many years in so many different pairs. In terms of a favorite, I never pick a favorite. I could never, I am just not capable (laughs).