Shoe Entrepreneurs: Interview to a Successful Shoe Industry CEO
Gitte Sandquist, one of a handful of female shoe entrepreneurs, founder and CEO of Lola Ramona, the Danish shoe brand, is the perfect blend of a rocker and a girly girl. How has she managed to marry these two seemingly opposite styles into a beloved brand? Read on!
With over 25 years of experience in the fashion business Gitte was not new to the industry when she launched Lola Ramona in her native Copenhagen, Denmark. Before she became one of the edgiest shoe entrepreneurs in the world, she started her career with Scandinavian giants Bestseller and H&M and with American giant Levi´s. She went on to become an independent agent representing several international brands such as: Pepe Jeans, Lacoste, Paul Smith, Caterpillar, and Paul Frank.
During the eight years she spent as an independent agent, Gitte always felt there was a gap in the market of women shoes. Shoes that were beautiful and comfortable that women could wear every day, and not just for parties. So, she decided to become a shoe entrepreneur and started Lola Ramona. While still selling these international brands during the day, Gitte planned her new company at night sleeping only a few hours, usually at the office.
A few years ago, we stumbled upon her stunning brand and when we discovered the company’s founder was a one of a handful of female shoe entrepreneurs, we approached her to be a Red Shoe Movement partner. She loved our mission, we loved her shoes, and the rest is history. We had a very successful event at her Copenhagen store and plan to continue doing bigger and more exciting things together. We talked to her about what it means to be a shoe entrepreneur, what’s the hardest thing to give up as a CEO of a small business and what’s up with the Spanish-sounding name of her company.
First steps for shoe entrepreneurs: Naming the business
Red Shoe Movement — Your company is Danish, and your business has a Spanish sounding name. Where does the name Lola Ramona come from?
Gitte Sandquist— Well …I did not really think about the name as being Spanish when I invented it. I wanted a first & last name for the brand, so that people would see Lola Ramona as a person and identify themselves with that girl. I chose Lola, because not matter which language you speak, everybody knows that Lola is a female. Ramona was the more Rock´n´roll part of me 🙂 I love The Ramones and at the same time I thought that Ramona sounded like a beautiful flower.
RSM—You yourself are a mix between a girly-girl and a rocker. Have you always defied stereotypes? What is it like to be a shoe entrepreneur as someone who defies stereotypes?
GS— I guess it’s just my nature. I have always had the urge to express myself on my own terms. Not dictated by fashion, music, culture or sub-culture, but by my own feelings and where I wanted to go. I like the fact that I can be the girly girl one day and the rocker the next. I am attracted to all kinds of types/stereotypes. My only wish for everyone is that they feel comfortable being the type they are. I like the fact that people respect me for being “in-between.” My friends often tell me that I collect souls not types. Being in fashion and having that attitude, I can sometimes put people off. Other times it attracts people. I do not see it as a big challenge. I am sure Vivienne Westwood or Betsy Johnson must feel the same way. Yes! It divides groups, but the ones who understand and respect that attitude, get you more than they get much of other fashion.
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The life of shoe entrepreneurs
RSM— Give us a flavor of what a week in the life of a shoe entrepreneur is like
GS— I never get out of bed before 8.00 AM, and I always stay up until after 2 AM. There is always something going on inside my head. A song, something I am planning, a small discussion or a shopping list. My whole day is filled with shoes: Decisions about shoes, shoe designs, communication concerning shoes. Meetings about how to make and sell shoes and how to market them in the best way. 🙂 I work in a wonderful environment with my dedicated and skilled staff in Copenhagen. In the evening I hang out with my husband and very often I go out with him and friends. I have a lot of input to offer every single day and I like to stay open to as much as possible. I also travel a lot and I love it.
RSM— What’s the hardest thing to let go when you’re the CEO of a successful small business?
GS— Micro management… OMG! I keep disciplining myself. It’s annoying both for the staff and for me. 🙂 Sometimes I do miss specific tasks that I was normally in charge of doing in the past.
But all in all… I feel blessed that I am so incredible lucky to have a successful, small business, and a great staff. And I do not often think that I have to let things go. I try to focus more on how much I am winning and getting.
RSM—Humor plays an important part in your brand, something that distinguishes you from other shoe entrepreneurs. How do you imbue humor into your business while building a serious business?
GS—I love a good joke and my staff does too. We often try to do something silly/funny on one of the shoes. Like attaching a moustache or making the design so that it looks like the shoe is laughing at you. Of course we take the business seriously. This is our career and where we earn our money and this is what we are passionate about. But we are aware that these are shoes! We are not doing life-saving medicine. If you’re not able to do this work with a smile on your face, I do not think you should be a shoe entrepreneur. When you are able to make people laugh, both in the office and on the streets, I think you have given them space to breathe and in the end you make them stronger.
RSM—How do you stay inspired to come up with new, exciting designs?
GS—Really easy! We flirt with all past decades and add some new features or mix them all. For instance, the 2018 winter collection is both 60ies fashion and 80ies glam, with some sports features.
RSM—You recently launched the LolaRamona hack. How did this idea come about? What were some of the most fun ideas people shared?
GS—IKEA had a campaign which got really close to the Lola Ramona sign off. So I decided to #IKEAhack them which is a really common thing, and again with a touch of humor. We had a lot of fun and success with it, and even IKEA thought it was fun. And since we were working with the #IKEAhack I launched our own #LOLAhack too. We had so many good hacks, but I think the best hack we got was a Christmas decoration with candles and all, made out of one of our stilettos.
RSM— You are half owner of your factory in China and your partner is a woman. We find this most interesting given that the industry continues to be male-dominated and there are few female shoe entrepreneurs who own their factories. Does it make a difference in your final product to have a woman designer and a woman as a head of manufacturing?
GS—There is ONLY differences! Communication is different, the way we see business and interaction is different. We speak so much more the same language when it comes to quality and finish of a product. How we choose to treat the staff, and the list goes on and on. We share the Red Shoe Movement principles that we should aid and help other women to achieve their goals, not just worry about “what’s in it for me.”
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Making mistakes, at the core of most successful shoe entrepreneurs
RSM—Can you share one of the worst mistakes you made and how you fixed it or got over it?
GS—Hmmm… I have made thousands of mistakes! Selling the company (I bought it back, though.) Letting friends down, not listening carefully enough, doubting myself, doubting others, and so on. I think the biggest mistake you can make is to not make mistakes. You learn more from making mistakes than from most other things in life. Afterwards you just have to be able to say I’m sorry. And off course not consciously hurt other people.
RSM—Which one of Lola Ramona shoes would you say best reflects your inner red shoe?
GS—Without a doubt: It has always been Angie Hero!
RSM—What do you value about the partnership with the Red Shoe Movement?
GS— The enthusiastic approach you are always met with. The network that stretches all over the world. The beautiful, strong women who aim to empower other women. It’s a beautiful concept and it sits very well with me.
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