Derry shoe designer's ambitious next step
Michelle Obama and Amal Clooney have walked in her shoes and now Derry shoe designer Anita Flavin has her sights on the luxury retail market. She chats to Jenny Lee about her new brand Ennio Mecozzi and her hope of working with Richard Branson
CREATING beautiful footwear for 'women of passion, power and substance' is the focus of Co Derry shoe designer Anita Flavin, who is aiming to launch her new label Ennio Mecozzi to the global market later this year.
With Amal Clooney, international human rights lawyer and wife of actor George Clooney, already sporting the label, the designer is hoping Richard Branson can help her launch a marketing campaign that will enable her shoes to sit alongside those of Jimmy Choo in stores all over the world.
Anita, who is based in Glenullin, near Garvagh, created the new luxury brand over the past 12 months, working with Italian shoemaker Ennio Mecozzi, and has entered the world's biggest pitch competition, the Virgin Business Voom pitch awards.
With an ultimate prize of £250,000 and the chance to work with Branson himself, if Anita manages to get into the top 80 entrants, she will win a much-needed funded marketing plan for her brand.
Ennio is a third-generation shoemaking artisan, in the shoemaking region of Italy, Le Marche. He is responsible for crafting the collections, the various parts of which which are handmade in leather tanneries, heel and accessory houses renowned for their high quality materials and exclusive to luxury footwear brands.
Anita says her relationship with the Mecozzi Italian shoe craft house is unique, this being the first time an Italian factory has partnered with a creative director outside of Italy.
"Establishing a well matched working dynamic between factory and designer is commonly known within the industry as the most difficult obstacle to overcome. Italian brands on par with us are usually family operated and they keep their business within the Italian circles," explains Anita, who believes she has instigated a collaboration that will lead the way for emerging Irish and British designers to partner with Italian artisans in building authentic luxury brands.
A graduate of London College of Fashion in Fashion Management Business and Finance, Anita has worked in the fashion and ladies footwear industry for more than 25 years.
She was a buyer at high street shoe chain Office before starting her own brand, Neet, in 2001, after identifying a niche in the market for a new quirky lower heeled footwear brand. The product was sold in many high street stores including Schuh and Top Shop. She then moved back to Ireland with her high heel brand Minette, which is when her relationship with the Italian shoe factories developed.
Anita admits that luxury "has always been my passion" but realises that she it's a very competitive market. Initially available online and in the Belfast store Vault, Ennio Mecozzi will be launching in Dubai in September.
Anita has impressed the international fashion press and buyers and has secured orders with the likes of Kurt Geiger, Harvey Nichols, Liberty's and Bloomingdales – on the stipulation that the brand launches a satisfactory marketing campaign.
"It always comes down to the same thing: needing a marketing campaign. We've manage to create a luxury brand and open so many doors on a shoestring budget. Working with Richard Branson would be absolutely amazing. He's such an international figure in creative development and brand awareness. His advice and financial input would be absolutely invaluable to us."
Her starting point for her Ennio Mecozzi designs are often real-life strong, confident, successful female figures.
"I visualise who the woman is – what she does, where she visits and where she shops. I have in mind women who are passionate about their family, job, travel and know how to express their emotions. The women I design for are compassionate, reliable, dependable, powerful within themselves and their presence affects everyone else.
"I connect with how she wishes to feel when she slips on our shoes. I ensure the silhouettes are most flattering to the feet and legs, and appealing to her playfulness. I try to touch her senses through fun, alluring and sophisticated combinations of colours, leathers and textures," she explains.
When she was creating her brand ethos and thinking of the type of woman she designed for, world fashion icon Amal Clooney was top of Anita's list.
"She is a great woman of passion and power. I was deeply honoured when Amal chose to step out in Ennio Mecozzi at an international high profile court case in Egypt."
Proving Anita's creativity was on-target, Clooney choose the Amal shoe, which Anita designed specifically with her in mind. A combination of nude and black leather, the shoe offers an alternative to the classic pump, with flattering criss-cross straps that secure the feet, enabling the wearer "to walk with confidence and sophistication".
Clooney went on to order the Daphne in royal blue suede and the Alexa, made from a tactile variety of leathers and suedes.
Anita admits that "Kate Middleton and Angelina Jolie" are on her wish list and a glimpse at her website and the names of her collection gives an insight into the other famous female figures she is inspired by – Kiera, Loren and Demi, to name a few.
Her other inspirations are found in the world around her. "I'm inspired by the museums I visit, books I read, movies I watch, architecture, the colours of the countryside and even the beautiful colour combinations in stained glass windows," says Anita, who constantly carrying a journal with her.
Vibrant colours often feature within the shoes, though Anita admits "there is always a playful twist" and looking ahead to the autumn/winter season, the range will feature black boots with delicate skull designs.
Her advice to young shoe designers?
"It's really brilliant to be able to design but you also need to learn about the business side and have the determination and motivation to keep going against all odds and to be prepared to reinvent yourself and look for new angles."
I can't resist ending our interview by asking Anita how many pairs of shoes are in her wardrobe.
"I must have about 200 and they are all my own designs. A woman can never have enough. I need to get more," she laughs.
:: You can vote for Ennio Mecozzi at www.vmbvoom.com/pitches/ennio-mecozzi-ladies-luxury-footwear-brand-1. To shop the collection visit www.enniomecozzi.com
What are the Virgin Business Voom Awards?
NOW in their fifth year, the Virgin Business Voom Awards aim to find the top business ideas and budding entrepreneurs in the UK and Ireland.
The competition is open to those who are running their own businesses, looking to launch a business or are at a large company that is looking to grow. Applicants submit a 90-second video pitch to the competition website in a bid to win votes from the public in either the start-up or grow category.
The winner of each category receives a £250,000 ad campaign and £50,000 in cash. Plus there’s social media and PR support, a broadband and telecoms package, mentoring and financial advice. There are also prize packages for four runners-ups.
The public vote is open until today, May 23, and a shortlist of 160 businesses with the most votes from both categories will go through to a pitchathon, before six finalists put their ideas to Richard Branson, Peter Kelly and a panel of judges on June 28.