“Not everything is what it seems – looking at other people’s brands and thinking everyone is doing better. It can only hold you back. Follow your own path.” Shoe Designer, Charlotte Mills
Hands-up if you’ve fan-girled over Charlotte Mills’ shoes? (And yes, it IS acceptable to raise both hands if needs be – I definitely am). From the moment I started working in bridal magazines I felt this pull towards Charlotte’s beautifully designed shoes, from the label’s signature baby blue boxes they arrive in to the playful, totally gram’ worthy campaign imagery the team effortlessly seem to create, year on year, time and time again. Charlotte wields this innate ability to tap into exactly what brides want when it comes to the shoe department, and combine that style (be it a sumptuous block heel or crushed pearl glitter) with something every bride dreams of on her wedding day: comfort.
Luckily, I managed to catch up with Charlotte to talk about her business journey and her version of Taking The Plunge, including the highs, the lows, the first jobs, the worst jobs and the tech she can’t live without…
Name: Charlotte Mills
Business: Charlotte Mills
Date you took the plunge: April 2014
#1 In a nutshell, describe your business/brand – what do you offer?
“We create stylish and comfortable bridal shoes. We really strongly believe that you shouldn’t sacrifice comfort, especially on such an important day such as your wedding day. Each pair of Charlotte Mills shoes is handcrafted in Spain and is complete with our signature details. Every shoe has a leather sole embossed with the rhyme “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue and a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe.” Each aspect of this rhyme is covered in your shoe box..
Something Old – An original silver sixpence coin found in every left shoe
Something New – Your shoes
Something Borrowed – An envelope that you receive in your shoe box, that you can fill with photos of the wedding, and send it back to us.
Something Blue – the logo detailing inside each shoe and your CM shoebox!
#2 What’s your career background? Has it always been in the wedding industry?
“No, before starting the business I never worked in the bridal industry! After university my first job was as a footwear designer. I worked at the same company for eight years starting during my placement year and I worked my way up to Design Manager. It was such a great experience and I learned so much. I also had so much fun travelling all over the world to visit factories and on competitive shopping trips.”
#3 What planted the seed of your business idea? Did it strike you suddenly?
“I was tired of working for someone else and wanted to take my own ideas and run with them. I wanted to do my own thing, instead of working to a brief and being constrained to what our clients wanted. When I did my degree show I created a bridal footwear brand and always knew there was such a niche in the market. Everything just happened organically.”
#4 Describe the moment you decided to TAKE THE PLUNGE (what did this involve? Handing in your notice?)
“I actually carried on working full time until the brand was ready to launch. I had the shoes all made and sat in my spare room. The website ready to launch. I was terrified someone would stumble across the shoes and put two and two together so in the end I came clean. It was so nerve racking as I needed the income to pay the bills, but luckily the company I worked for were great and allowed me to carry on working four days a week and I did this for nearly a year. I literally lived and breathed the brand and worked every night and weekend for a long time. Lunch times were spent at the post office sending shoes to brides.”
#5 Describe how the first day of building your own business felt:
“So exciting and so full of hope, I don’t think I felt that nervous in the beginning as I’m such an optimistic person. However this has been tested time and time again.”
#6 The highs – what have they been so far?
“So so many – they are mostly small wins and milestones you set yourself. From the first order, first pictures of a bride wearing the shoes, first magazine feature. Last year we reached my big goal of a yearly seven figure turnover which is one I have been working towards since day one. Thats been pretty special. This month we have also launched in the US which is super exciting.”
#7 The lows – how did you move past them? What did you learn?
“There has been one major low – as I said i’m always very optimistic and see lows as challenges and love the problem solving that comes with it. But in 2017/18 the business nearly went under. I launched a fashion collection which totally bombed. I had to take loan after loan to keep a float. I was also pregnant with my daughter Margaux and I really struggled to bounce back. I remember sitting on the way back from London sobbing, thinking I had nowhere left to turn. Luckily I went back to basics, bridal is my passion and also what the brand is good at. Within two years we had paid off the loans and became profitable again. I learnt so much from this experience and its really been invaluable in shaping how I run the business today.”
#8 If you could tell yourself three things when you first started the business – what would they be?
No.1 “Not everything is what it seems – looking at other people’s brands and thinking everyone is doing better. It can only hold you back. Follow your own path.”
No.2 “Don’t launch a fashion collection ;-)”
No.3 “Sell yourself more – I am naturally quite a shy person so being confident enough to push myself and the brand is something I have always found really difficult.”
#9 Your tips for those dreaded lying-awake-at-3am times? (Counting sheep? Glass of water? Getup? Meditate? Read?)
“Best tip ever which my sister passed to me – count backwards from 300. I never get passed 200.”
#10 Your top organisational tip?
“Mine is to email yourself, I constantly have ideas pop into my head. If I email them over, when I’m sat at my desk I can put them into a to-do list. This can be in the middle of the night sometimes – it really helps clear it, so you can move on and get back to sleep.”
#11 Who inspired you? Or inspires you in business?
“I love the Spectrum sisters – love their brand and they are so stylish too. Another brand I think is amazing – Monica Vinader, they have gorgeous products and their sustainability ethics are such an inspiration.”
#12 An app/piece of tech you now couldn’t live without for your business:
“Shopify! We run our website on Shopify, and it’s massively improved a multitude of things for the brand, it’s been perfect as we’ve grown the past few years and gives us much more freedom to adapt the website to make our customers’ experience better.”
#13 Your first ever job was…
“I worked at Kookai as a shop assistant, I really loved working there – especially the staff discount.”
#14 Your top social media tip?
“Collaborate! Connect and chat with other business owners or brands that you feel align with you and collaborate with them. It could be as simple as doing a shout out of your favourite product of theirs and tagging them, or working together on a giveaway or campaign or even an in-person event. But it’s so important to build a community but make sure to stay authentic, only collaborate with brands that you truly love, if you love them your followers will too!”
#15 The brand you’d love to collaborate with and why…
“I would absolutely love to collaborate with bridal brand Madi Lane, so many of our brides choose a Madi Lane dress and we just love their style and designs so much! We just love the Australian bridal vibes! How perfect would a Charlotte Mills x Madi Lane capsule shoe collection be?!”
#16 Name a business/social media account(s) – that have helped/inspired you with your business?
“I love Eleanor Bowmer on instagram they are so much fun. I love all the behind the scenes they do, I want to show more of this on our account and something we are working on.”
#17 Your fav social media tool: (Pinterest? Instagram? LinkTree? Etc.)
“It has to be Instagram! We absolutely love being able to chat with our brides so easily, to see photos from their big days, connect with other bridal business owners and find inspiration. We especially love the poll and question box features on Instagram stories, we often share sneak peeks of new samples on IG Story and it’s so helpful to get feedback from brides that early in the design process. Brides might be surprised just how much influence they have when responding to those IG stories!”
Rapid Fire Questions:
#1 You’re in Starbucks, what do you order? “My coffee order is always a one shot cappuccino.”
#2 Instagram feed crush: “@neverfullydressed – obsessed with every single thing and want everything!!
#3 Your worst job was… “working in an Italian restaurant, I only lasted two days. I kept spilling drinks – I’m definitely too clumsy for that.”
#4 If you didn’t do what you do…what would you do? “I love interior design and renovating so it would most likely be something along those lines.”
#5 Work day pick-me-up: “Cadburys Creme Eggs…always!”
Models @ninaleacaine and @aneelak_1
Dresses and Accessories
Short Dresses @edmondsonbridalcouture
Pearl Headbands @victorialpercivial_accessories – Silk Bridal gowns @constellationame
Short sequin dress @ettieshop
Bridal gowns @bellissimabrides
Hair accessories @gigiandolive_