After growing up watching her uncle Jimmy Choo making shoes, Lucy Choi decided to forge her own way and went into finance. But the lure of the family footwear business was always there, and now she has her very own Notting Hill shoe empire
Words: Bethan Andrews
When Lucy Choi was growing up, a day of fun used to involve watching her uncle Jimmy Choo at work making shoes. But despite predictions, Choi decided to take a different career path to the one many people thought was laid out ready for her. Until now, that is. Today, Choi has a Notting Hill shoe empire that does Jimmy Choo proud, but it is her business background that she swears is the key to the success of her brand.
‘I loved growing up in such a creative family, and loved watching my uncle making every pair of shoes,’ smiles Choi. ‘But instead of going into the family business, I wanted to do something totally different and went into business. I worked for corporate companies in the City, trained as an accountant and became a financial analyst for over ten years.
‘It would have been easier to go and work for my uncle,’ she continues, ‘but I wanted to do it on my own as I thought that would be too easy. I worked for a company, worked my way up, made contacts, learned the business side of fashion and then I went out on my own. I sold my flat and gave it my all – it was very scary. That was five years ago and that’s how the brand started.’ And what a brand it is, with celebrity fans ranging from Millie Mackintosh to Jennifer Saunders.
Choi explains that, contrary to popular belief, having Jimmy Choo as an uncle does not necessarily mean that people only associate her with his success: ‘Obviously there was a lot of pressure as people constantly associated me with him and it definitely opened a lot of doors for me,’ says Choi.
‘But the bottom line in the end is that I always need to make sure that I can deliver. Of course, it meant that I had good contacts, but I worked hard for a lot of those too. My main ethos is comfort, craftsmanship and character. That’s what makes a brand and that’s what gives me repeat custom.’
Obviously there was a lot of pressure as people constantly associated me with [Jimmy Choo] and it definitely opened a lot of doors for me. But the bottom line in the end is that I always need to make sure that I can deliver
Choi designs an entire collection in two weeks and takes time to meet with all her wholesale retailers to ensure she knows exactly what her customers want. ‘I put my creativity into the brand, but I also think it’s important to know what the customer wants and to think about the business behind it all,’ she says.
‘I think there are a lot of designers who do what they want, and let their creative juices overtake the bigger picture. The business element is so important. I didn’t plan my route to where I am today – but I think it was all a subconscious journey into this business. I wouldn’t have got where I am with the brand without my family background.’
The most challenging part for Choi was finding the right team for her business. ‘I needed the right people who understood my vision and ethos, plus had the same work mentality,’ she says. ‘Three years later I’ve got the perfect team and I’m very blessed – they carry the brand for me while I spend time with my family.’
The store in Connaught Street was actually [Jimmy Choo’s] old shop – so the family name has gone full circle here and I love that
The best thing about it all? ‘My uncle is so proud of me,’ she smiles. ‘At first, he just couldn’t understand why I was working for somebody else for ten years, but he understands now. He comes over a few times a year from Malaysia, and will come straight over to look at the collections and smell the shoes to make sure that they are real leather.
‘He always needs to check I’m not doing anything crazy,’ she laughs. ‘The store in Connaught Street was actually his old shop – so the family name has gone full circle here and I love that.’
18 Connaught Street W2 2AH; 020 7402 3434; shoplucychoilondon.com