A CHAT WITH PEOPLE WHO STARTED UP SMALL BUSINESSES WITH 0% CERTAINTY BUT 100% COMMITMENT TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY
After years of looking for the perfect ballet flats (haven’t we all?) Filipa Júlio found it time to create some of her own, and, with the help of two crafty brothers and two equally passionate girl bo$$es, she made it happen. Today, only 3 years later, her shoe line Josefinas' delightfully edgy pieces (a bright faux fur addition to your sneakers, anyone?) have been globally adopted by people who know fashion. And as it goes, co-founders Filipa and Sofia are just as charming as their collection, as became clear when we chatted about what it's like to be pregnant with your first child when starting up a business, the importance of keeping your family close, and staying true to yourself in the craziness that is the fashion world.
COULD YOU TELL US HOW JOSEFINAS CAME ABOUT?
Filipa: I always had this dream to start up a shoe line. When I was little I used to watch my grandfather, who was a shoemaker, while he was doing his thing. So after working as an architect for a couple of years, I decided to persue my dream. I met up with Maria, who's a business genius, and Sofia joined us a couple of months later, to take care of the marketing. We had zero experience with the actual process of shoemaking, but we shared the exact same vision for the company from the get-go.
WHAT WAS THIS INITIAL VISION FOR JOSEFINAS THEN?
Sofia: From the very beginning, we wanted Josefinas to celebrate strong women, who chase their dreams and don't take no for an answer. I think we always took it very seriously to represent those women. I can't tell you how many people told us that we were crazy starting up yet another shoe line in an economically unstable climate. The fact that we wanted to make shoes for independent women gave us that extra push to make our own philosophy happen - a feeling that has only grown over time.
Filipa: Josefinas is actually named after my grandmother, who has been a huge inspiration for me. She was always around when I was growing up, and one of the most memorable moments of my childhood is when she took me to my first ballet class; I was so proud! So this idea of Josefinas representing strong and independent women is very personal, and it's always been (and still is!) our no. 1 priority when we take decisions for the company.
WASN'T IT SCARY TO START UP A SHOE COMPANY WITH NO ACTUAL EXPERIENCE IN THIS FIELD?
Filipa: Well, I think my 8-year experience as an architect actually helped me a lot with starting up and developing Josefinas. As an architect you have to come up with long-term projects; I mean, you don't want your buildings to start falling down after 2 years. So this definitely helped me to avoid procrastination and think ahead, to come up with a long-term plan for our business.
DID YOU HAVE ANY PARTICULAR FEARS WHEN YOU LAUNCHED THE COMPANY?
Filipa: When I decided to finally take the plunge I was actually pregnant with my first baby. I always joke that her girl power, growing inside of me, gave me the strength to make it happen. Strangely enough, I didn't have any overpowering anxieties when starting up Josefinas; it just felt right.
Sofia: It's funny, but I think with developing your own company it's the same as with having children: there'll never be a perfect time, so in the end, you just have to go for it. We always assumed that if we believed in our products and held on to our original values, this would catch on eventually.
HOW DID YOUR COMPANY GROW IN ITS 3-YEAR EXISTENCE, WITHOUT LOSING ITS CORE VALUES?
Sofia: Right now we have an all-female team of 7. So that's a lot of opinions on shoes right there! It all grew very organically. There is no real hierarchy in the sense of boss vs employee; everyone knows his responsibilites, and that's about it.
Filipa: We are religious about having at least 1 face-to-face meeting with the whole team once a week. Since we're all very passionate about what we do, those meetings can last for 10 hours! We of course talk to each other via email or phone several times a day, but I think those live meetings have really helped us to stay focused and maintain the same goals.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE A GREAT WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
Sofia: I like to put it like this: we don't have a fixed schedule, we just have responsibilities. We all know this is not a 9-to-5 job, and 12-hour long working days are no exception: if I feel like something has to be taken care of, I'll stay until it's done, it's just that simple. There's no separation between work and life, because Josefinas is an extension of me; my dedication is 100%, because if the company is doing well I'll personally feel really good about it.
Filipa: Yes, definitely! And when it comes to figuring things out with my husband and little girl, both technology and my family have been really crucial for that. I do try to make sure I take a couple of moments a day to sit down with my daughter and really focus on her. So I guess it's a full circle: Josefinas is a family business in the most strict sense, it was created as a tribute to my family, and in a way everyone's involved, whether it's by actually working for the company or allowing me to work for it by taking care of my girl.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ULTIMATE ADVICE FOR ANYONE LOOKING TO START UP A COMPANY?
Filipa: I think it's important to start small: we first launched just the one product, handmade ballet flats, that were only available in Portugal. Like this, we were able to supervise everything and make great pieces. From then on, people started to recognize our craftsmanship and word spread. And now we've just opened our first flagship store in NYC! So if you start small and allow your company to grow, even if it feels like a loooong process at the time, I believe that it will pay off eventually.
Sofia: I think that wanting something and actually doing it have to go hand in hand. I mean, it's easy to say that you're really passionate about something and really want something to happen, but people sometimes forget that you'll have to work really hard for it. Yes, there will be times when you doubt yourself, but if you stay focused and are prepared to work hard and consistently, things will work out in the end. I really believe that.
Thanks so much, Filipa & Sofia! We love Josefinas and what it stands for!
Pictures courtesy of Josefinas