Suzanne Khouzame: When I think back, I wonder how I was so brave at such a young age to venture into the unknown without an ounce of experience in footwear or business, but I am glad that I did, as I managed to work hard, take risks, and learn from them as I went. What I would have loved to know prior to starting a new business, however, is the need to know your numbers. Although I had a law and accounting degree under my belt, the practical experience is something you don’t get whilst studying; therefore, careful planning, costing, and budgeting is something that needs focus, especially whilst getting caught up in trying to build a successful brand.
IR: What are some of the most surprising things you’ve observed about the shoe industry since you launched Billini?
SK: The shoe industry is unique. I have been fascinated by the fact that the majority of successful brands in this industry are led by men. Think Christian Louboutin, Gianvito Rossi, Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, etc, just to name a few. Even in the earlier years, when I was first starting out, I noticed the Australian footwear industry was also dominated by male founders and designers so I felt as though I was the start to something new and, over time, I have pleasingly noticed a slight shift with new influential women becoming more and more successful, including the likes of Victoria Beckham, the Olsen twins, and Amina Muaddi, all taking the industry by storm.
IR: What are some of the unique challenges of the footwear industry?
SK: The footwear industry is exciting but has some challenges that don’t affect other industries. Shoe moulds (known as constructions or lasts) are very technical and expensive to develop, especially with the need for multiple sizes. So, providing lots of variety and extended sizes, as well as fresh new shapes every season, can be challenging, especially when starting out. Shoes are also very bulky so shipping costs and storage can also have challenges unlike with apparel, jewellery, eyewear, beauty, etc. Working initially out of my small garage didn’t last too long.
IR: What are some of your favourite local and international retailers and why?
SK: Zara would have to be one of my personal favourites. It’s aligned to both my personal style and our business model of providing on-trend, quick-to-market fashion footwear at affordable prices. Their quality, styling and the way they adopt the latest trends to their collections are a real niche in the industry, which is highly inspiring. A local retailer would be Aje, whom I believe are offering unique product and customer experience within their stores and online. I appreciate the diversity in their content, the way in which they present their product in-store, as well as the overall customer experience you receive when shopping in their stores.
IR: Billini has invested in physical retail recently, despite the rise in e-commerce. What do you love most about bricks-and-mortar that online can’t replace?
SK: I love the full brand experience you receive when shopping in a retail store. At Billini, we are all about offering that luxury boutique experience you may receive in international designer boutiques, [while still] being able to spend less than $100 most of the time on a pair of heels. A lot of thought goes into our store experience for the customer. From the smaller details like scent, lighting and overall ambiance, through to the interaction and service you receive from our stylists in-store, and the way you are inspired by window installations and how people are dressed. So many people love trying shoes on, so it is important for us to offer both options.
IR: What is a retail trend that you’re really interested in right now and why?
SK: Omnichannel shopping is not only a trend but a must have for any fashion brand these days. Post-pandemic, it’s important we recognise that customers are shopping across multiple channels – and boy how savvy the young shopper has become. We’re constantly working on integrating both our online and in-store experiences and building relationships across all platforms whilst remaining consistent in all consumer experiences. Ship from store, click-and-collect, and same-day delivery are just some of the services our young and savvy shopper is expecting more and more.
IR: Whose shoe wardrobe do you wish you could check out, and why?
SK: I’d love to check out Amina Muaddi and Hailey Bieber’s. Amina seems to have a good balance of fashion staples and her signature statement pieces, all styled so well. No one does effortless chic like Hailey though, who is one of my personal favourites. Everything from fashion to beauty, I am forever pinning her. Both style queens would have an exclusive and unique collection that not everyone would be able to get their hands on.