From Lismore to the streets of New York

BEFORE Jodie Fox was a self-made multi-millionaire about to launch her revolutionary design-your-own shoe company on the streets of New York, she was a shy 16-year-old country kid, with a tomboy taste in fashion, growing up in Lismore, a regional town on the north coast of NSW.

It's been 16 years since then, and a tumultuous 16 years at that. There's been three major career changes, the birth of an international-award winning company (Shoes of Prey), a marriage, the launch of a second international online company (Sneaking Duck), a divorce, a battle with anxiety, a plethora of awards and an inter-continental move.

Jodie Fox is best known as the face and co-founder of Shoes of Prey - an online, design-your-own shoe company that since its inception in October 2009, has experienced rapid-fire growth, prestige and worldwide recognition.

While an exact valuation of the company hasn't been disclosed publicly, what we do know is a minority percentage was bought for $US5.5m in December.

In addition, the first Shoes of Prey store, which opened in David Jones in January 2013, did double the forecasted revenue in its first year and won the World Retail Awards store design of the year.

As a result, Jodie has earnt herself a spot in Shoes String Magazine's Top 30 most influential women in retail for 2014, taken out the title of National Telstra Businesswoman of the year in 2011 and landed in SmartCompany's Hot 30 Under 30 three years in a row.

It's 6 o'clock in the evening when Jodie calls via Skype from New Jersey. She's there for the launch of the second of six US Shoes of Prey stores, which will be based out of upmarket department store chain Nordstrom in California, Washington, Seattle and New Jersey.

"At the moment I'm in New Jersey and I'll head up to Washington DC tomorrow," she says.

"It's incredibly busy, but it's such an exciting time too.

"It's so daunting really, from a personal level, because I'm literally on the road, I'm not anywhere for more than two weeks since the 22nd of December last year until May."

At just 32 years old, Jodie has already made her mark on three very different industries.

After graduating from Griffith University in 2004, she worked as a banking and finance lawyer in Brisbane and Sydney before making the switch to advertising (and taking a "massive" pay cut) in 2007.

Two years later, she left the realm of advertising to take on Shoes of Prey full-time with her co-founders Mike Knapp and Michael Fox, who are both former Google employees. The trio met at university.

As the surnames suggest, Jodie and Michael were married. They met at university, dated, and then tied the knot when Jodie was 24.

But after six years, the couple decided to call it quits, separating in September 2012 and finalising the divorce the following year in December.

It's an interesting and complicated dynamic when one of your two business partners doubles as an ex-husband.


"The good thing is that Michael and I had a very amicable divorce," she says.

"(But) I never thought I would be someone that would have a divorce. I guess no one goes into a marriage thinking they would divorce but I truly, in my wildest dreams, never imagined it would be something that I would go through."

Jodie says one of the main challenges that arise when you're running a multi-million dollar company with your ex-husband is "reading between the lines" at work instead of listening to each other.

"When you've gone through a divorce, there are certain frustrations that come up during that process so you have to be really careful to communicate really well and fairly with one another," she says.

"I'm proud to say that we manage to do that, but of course that causes additional thinking and energy and tensions on things that normally you wouldn't have within your consideration."

With long dark hair, olive skin and a love of shoes, it comes as no surprise Jodie's family hails from Sicily.

She recalls the first time she introduced her nona to Shoes of Prey and struggled to explain the concept of designing your own shoes online.

"I could see she couldn't understand and then when I sat down and showed her all of the leathers she just kind of laughed at me and said 'oh Jodie, this is how I used to buy my shoes in Sicily'."

Keeping with true Italian style, Jodie promises custom-design boots are on the horizon for Shoes of Prey.

"We will, it's just a matter of time."

From a regional town that, let's face, isn't exactly known for its highbrow, Luis Vuitton fashion sense, Jodie has worked her way to the top tier of an industry that's notorious for its Devil wears Prada archetypes, and still manages to stay grounded.

"Some of the characters you hear about are real," she says. "To be honest, I don't work with them because they're vastly outnumbered by nice people."

Jodie said her initial perceptions about the fashion industry being dominated by ego-driven, megalomaniacs quickly vanished when she realised the majority were friendly, quietly confident people who were keen to share their creative ideas.

"What I realised was that fashion is very much about confidence," she says.

When asked if confidence is something she's always had, Jodie admits it's definitely a characteristic she's had to develop and something that will probably always be a work in progress.

"Everyone has those moments of 'Oh, did I sound like an idiot, I think I got that wrong, what if this happens? Everyone has those worries and stresses," she says.

"There's not a single person in the world who kicks back at the end of every day with a glass of wine and says 'I nailed everything today'."

For Jodie, the tip-toe into confidence began in high-school dance and drama classes at Trinity Catholic College.

"I had such shyness and reservation about myself," she says. "And so much of what I learnt in that room, embarrassing myself in front of classmates, I still use in the boardroom and in my professional speaking, every single day."

Balancing work, relationships and health has also been a major learning curve for the Northern Rivers fashionista, who says she burnt herself out trying to do too much.

"I've always been a little bit of an anxious person," she says. "And I've been through some pretty large things, through a divorce, through the fast growth of a company.

"That anxiety actually did tip into a little bit of depression and what I became really conscious of was I'd been driving myself into the ground."

For Jodie, health means regular exercise, seven hours of sleep a night (instead of four) and cooking and eating from first-food principles - so nothing out of a can.

Her biggest piece of advice to 20-year-old Jodie Fox would be to "do everything before you're ready".

"Just put down that fear of 'it has to be perfect, have I thought through everything', and just get in there and do stuff." Despite all the glitz and glamour of big city life, Jodie says she can still spot a country kid a mile away.

"In a microsecond," she says. "I think that people from rural areas really are great in business and should never lose that capacity that they've built about the way they make relationships because there's a real genuine warmth and authenticity in the way that they relate to people which is really wonderful."


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