Business

Startup offers designer footwear, personalized just for you

Online spending will grow by 20 percent this year, Citi Research estimates, which makes it an excellent time to have an e-commerce site.

Milk & Honey joins the growing ranks of fashion-oriented retail sites hoping to cash in on the trend — and the upcoming holiday season.  Launched in 2011 by sisters Dorian and Ilissa Howard, Milk & Honey is an online, custom-designed footwear boutique for women that aims to win customers with the power of personalization.

Using Milk & Honey’s HTML5-based configurator technology, women all over the world can choose from over one million style combinations to design a pair of shoes handcrafted to their exact specifications.  With a price-point starting at $195, Milk & Honey offers everything from casual ballet flats to more extravagant studded stilettos, according to the company’s press packet.

VentureBeat met with co-founder Dorian Howard in Santa Monica to discuss the $185 billion (annual sales) global footwear industry, and her fledgling brand, which aspires to exploit “the hole in the marketplace.”

In the online luxury footwear space, Milk & Honey is the only American company that offers customized and individually-handcrafted footwear for women, according to Howard, who compares her brand quality to Marc Jacobs and Kate Spade.  The only other firms that provide customization for high-end women’s shoes are Australian start-up Shoes of Prey and UK-based-company Upper Street.

“Customization is the ultimate in customer service,” said Howard.  The strawberry-blonde entrepreneur also identified her target customer as a “fashion-forward woman between 25 and 45, who is tired of fashion being dictated to her.”

The Howards’ paths to the world of fashion were unconventional.  While Dorian spent her 20’s climbing the Hollywood ladder, rising to the level of vice president at Paramount, Ilissa worked in the toy industry, calling shots as a global brand director for Toys “R” Us and later for Creata, which required her to travel frequently to Hong Kong.

“We both came from these more staid kind of industries that had a way of doing business. And while the movie business has changed a little bit since 1910… it hasn’t a tremendous amount,” said Howard.

On one of Ilissa’s business trips to Hong Kong, the idea for Milk & Honey was born.

Howard told VentureBeat about her company’s genesis: “My sister would travel to Hong Kong a lot for work and she’d get shoes made.  And she’d come back and I’d see the shoes and next time she went, she’d make them for me in a different color and in a different size.  So we took the interest we had in e-commerce and trying to figure out what we can bring to the table.”

Entirely self-funded, Milk & Honey launched on just $30,000, which covered prototypes, website design, research and development, and packaging, according to Howard.  She also said her company is cost-efficient because it doesn’t carry inventory or create a pair of shoes unless somebody wants them, adding “we manufacture on demand, so there’s no waste.”

The company offers to remake or refund shoes that turn out to be the wrong size.

Howard said her company, which was recently accepted into Launchpad LA’s Fall session, employs 5 people full-time and has shipped to thousands of women in 19 countries. Also, 22 percent of her market is bridal.

In the future, the Howard sisters want to build brand partnerships with smaller boutiques, and hope to raise $1 million to $3 million in the next year.

“In the next 3 years, there’s no reason, we’re not a $30 million-a-year-business,” said the former Paramount exec.

Top photo: Milk and Honey founders Dorian Howard (left) and Ilissa Howard (right). Courtesy Milk and Honey.


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