Michael Antonio Footwear: Sexy, Modern, and Edgy
Michael Su, MBA '05 is CEO and Alice Shiau Su, MBA '05 is vice president of brand management at Michael Antonio Footwear Group (MAFG), a family-owned business specializing in women's fashion footwear. Based near Los Angeles in Montclair, Calif., MAFG markets, designs, and distributes to customers throughout the United States and more than 20 countries internationally, positioning itself to "fashion-conscious women as the brand of affordable, fast-fashion footwear that offers the ultimate shoe value." As Alice puts it, "We are the Zara, H&M, and Mango of footwear!"
"Footwear is in my blood," says Michael, whose grandfather founded a footwear manufacturing business in Taiwan in 1970. "I was raised in the dorms of the shoe factory and I've lived and breathed shoes there from the very first days of my life. Even to this day, I still remember the days when the factory was my playground and footwear-manufacturing machineries were my toys."
In 1985, Michael's father sold the business in Taiwan and started a small footwear import/export company in Los Angeles that was to become MAFG. Michael joined the family business in 2005 after receiving his degree from the Johnson School, where he focused on general management and did the Strategic Brand Management Immersion. "Since graduation, my focus has been on laying down the groundwork, so that we can start to make strides in achieving my vision of establishing Michael Antonio Footwear Group as a world-class corporation that excels at developing, marketing and distributing women's fashion footwear on a global scale," he says.
Alice thrives on the fast-paced nature of the fashion footwear industry: MAFG offers over a thousand diverse footwear styles each year, an average of one collection per week. "I've always had a keen interest in marketing and how it interplayed with fashion and cultural trends, but initially didn't think that was a viable long-term career choice for myself." Instead, she began her career as a management consultant, followed by a few years in the publishing industry, focused on strategic change and process improvement initiatives. When the opportunity to head up the brand management team at MAFG arose, she embraced it. "The constant innovation as well as the challenge of building a brand was something that truly excited me, " she says. "Besides, what woman doesn't love shoes?"
Muse Spokesmodels: An innovative marketing approach
MAFG's newly developed marketing strategy, designed to elevate the company to the next level, seeks to "enhance brand image and broaden appeal by highlighting the uniqueness and diversity of its end consumers," says Alice. Since their target market is so diverse -- urban, fashion-conscious women, ages 18-35, with various income levels, lifestyles, fashion sensibilities, and mindsets - they knew that one model in an ad campaign could not speak to them all. And so the idea for "a campaign spotlighting actual Michael Antonio consumers was born," says Alice. "What better way to showcase the diversity of the Michael Antonio experience than by seeking out spokesmodels directly from our consumers who love and wear us, and who inspire us as a brand?"
The search for the six women who came to be MAFG's Muse Spokesmodels began in February 2008, when the company sent out street teams to key metropolitan cities who engaged consumers directly - "not only increasing the word-of-mouth about the brand but also providing a way for our loyalists to interact with the brand," says Alice. "After 12 semi-finalists were selected from over 1,200 contestants, the final six winners were selected by the public, who voted for their favorite Michael Antonio Muse online at our Web site." The six new faces selected to represent the Michael Antonio brand were unveiled at a Muse Celebration gala event held in the company's New York City showroom in June.
MAFG's core products retail between $25 - $50, and are or will be available at Delia's, Underground Station, Charlotte Russe, Endless.com (Amazon's online footwear store), Shoe Carnival, and many other boutiques. The company also has a showroom/design studio in New York City, plus a showroom/sourcing office in China. "While the company directly employs fewer than 60 employees, it distributes several million pairs of shoes a year, and indirectly employs over 2,000 people through its contract manufacturing partners and supply chain network," says Alice. "Frequently featured on runways at New York, Miami, and Los Angeles Fashion Weeks and in the pages of Elle, Glamour, Lucky, and Essence for its sexy, modern, and edgy designs, Michael Antonio shoes are quickly becoming a favorite of the fashion elite."
Below, Michael and Alice talk about what a typical day is like, the most compelling and most frustrating aspects of their jobs, and the issues facing their industry.
Q. What is a typical day like for you at Michael Antonio?
Michael and Alice: A typical day involves lots of traveling for us as we explore opportunities globally; however, everyday, no matter where we are in the world, we are making steps towards establishing Michael Antonio as a world-class fashion footwear company. On any given day, we could be doing any of the following:
- Visiting Hong Kong, Tokyo, Milan, or London to spot trends and collect competitive intelligence
- Meeting with our retailers and distributors in Asia, Europe, and Latin America to devise strategic marketing plans suitable for their markets
- Monitoring production at factories in China
- Presenting the latest collection for the week to editors so they have the latest products to feature
- Attending and sponsoring shows at NY, Miami, or LA Fashion Weeks
- Exhibiting at tradeshows throughout the United States and Europe
Q. What's the most compelling aspect of your job? The most frustrating?
Michael: As a relatively small company in the rapidly-growing fast-fashion arena, I love having the opportunity every day to impact the business on multiple levels. As we attempt to transform MAFG into a global, world-class company, it can be frustrating doing all this while maintaining our vision, values, and sense of community. It is also frustrating that sometimes it is difficult to find enough talent within the industry to keep up with the challenges and goals that we have set for the company.
Alice: I find it personally rewarding knowing that when a woman puts on a pair of Michael Antonio shoes, she feels transformed, stylish, and confident walking out her door, whether she's going to work, running errands, or having a night on the town. [I find it] especially [rewarding] when I hear our consumers tell stories about how wonderful our brand makes them feel and how affordable it is for them. The most frustrating part of this job is the fact that since I am a senior executive in a growing company, I have to wear several hats. Besides brand management, I also have to oversee the legal and human resources departments. In a fast-paced growing company that means I don't get to finish everything I start each day.
Q. What key issues are affecting your industry today? How is it changing?
Michael and Alice: There are several key issues facing the fashion footwear industry today:
- Keeping up-to-date with global fashion trends has become even more challenging now, as fashion trends and "product life cycles" become shorter and more fast-paced than they were a few years ago.
- Rising cost in a tough economy due to rising energy costs, materials and labor costs, and devaluation of the U.S. dollar against other currencies.
- Worldwide "protectionist" government regulations against imported goods that have driven up the cost of goods for consumers and hinder mutually beneficial trading between nations.
- Meeting the needs of extremely demanding end consumers, coupled with consolidation at the retail distribution level increases uncertainty and risk of doing business.
- Finding qualified management and suppliers in our industry who truly understand what it takes to build a global organization that focuses on world-class business processes and practices. Much of our competition in the fashion and footwear industry is dominated by companies that are slow to adopt best practices in management and are resistant to leading-edge innovation.
- Many industries are starting to focus on global sustainability. Like in all industries, the challenge is balancing profits with the added costs associated with responsibly "going green." MAFG is approaching this challenge head on, we have already been using post-consumer recycled shoeboxes for almost two years and are implementing strategies at a corporate level to help incorporate eco-friendly practices in our shoe design and throughout our supply chain network and offices around the world.
As the industry evolves and becomes more competitive, MAFG continually takes measures to mitigate risks associated with these issues by leveraging our 30+ years of footwear experience. This includes developing consistent and appropriate brand initiatives, maintaining innovative product styling, servicing our loyal retail partners, and evolving our vast sourcing capabilities so we continue to bring competitive product to meet the demands of the global footwear market.