How Tamara Mellon made £180m from shoes

From selling T-Shirts from a stall to making millions from high heels – how Jimmy Choo supremo Tamara Mellon made it big.

"Wait, I lost my Choo!" This line, said by Jessica Parker's character Carrie in ‘Sex and the City’ as she raced for Staten Island ferry, cemented Jimmy Choo’s place in the upper echelons of popular fashion.

The brand was Carrie’s favourite shoe store and hoards of viewers followed their heroine through its doors.

The success was a culmination of a long journey for the woman who built the brand. Tamar Mellon started out on a stall on Portobello Road in London where she sold screen-printed T-shirts and worked briefly in department store Browns and in public relations.

But a job as the accessories editor of British Vogue proved to be her turning point. While there she met Jimmy Choo, a Malaysian-born Hackney-based cobbler. She went into business with him, starting out with a store in Knightsbridge in 1996.

It was an instant success. During one sale, the line for the shop was around the block. The shoe brand now has 39 stores across the world including London, New York, Milan and Hong Kong and is worth hundreds of millions of pounds.


Early life

Although Mellon didn’t exactly have a tough upbringing, being the daughter of a self-made millionaire meant the pressure was on to prove herself.

Her father, Tom Yeardye, was a successful entrepreneur and co-founder of the Vidal Sassoon salon chain, while her mother Ann (Davis) Yeardye, was a former Chanel model; Tamara was well placed to inherit both looks and brains.

Born in England, Mellon relocated to Beverly Hills with her family as a child, in a home next door to Nancy Sinatra. They went on to split their time between the UK and US. She was educated at a boarding school in Berkshire while spending summers in California. She also attended finishing school in Switzerland.

After school (she didn’t go to university) the fashion industry beckoned. After teaming up with Choo she founded J Choo Ltd in 1996 – initially funded with a £150,000 loan from her father – with the first products sold under the Jimmy Choo London line.

Her father loaned her another £1million later on that she used to open stores in New York after the business became successful.

But Mellon is adamant her success isn’t simply a result of having a rich father.

“When my father died I inherited absolutely nothing,” she is reported as saying. “All I have is the money I made.”

Success

Celebrity endorsements, whether accidental or intended, have been a key part of Jimmy Choo’s rise. The shoe brand has courted the stars and fashion media to phenomenal effect.

Its website has a “Stylemakers” section which reads like a Who’s Who of A-listers. Stars including Emma Watson, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez and Michelle Obama are all seen wearing their Jimmy Choos at various red carpet events.


And that’s made J Choo Ltd a very valuable brand indeed.

Equinox Luxury Holdings was the first of a series of venture capitalists to invest in Jimmy Choo. In November 2004 Lion Capital acquired a majority shareholding and the company was then sold to TowerBrook Capital Partners for £225 million in 2007, with Mellon retaining a number of shares.

She eventually sold her 17% stake in Jimmy Choo to Labelux in May 2011, netting £85million from the £525.5million sale of the business. Initially she stayed on in a creative consultancy role but abruptly stood down from the company in November the same year.

New plans

So what’s next for the shoe supremo? Firstly, she is writing a book which she describes as a non-fiction entrepreneur story, and has a publishing deal with Penguin Press.

Beyond the book, there’s talk of starting or investing in another fashion business or lifestyle brand; her non-compete clause with Jimmy Choo ends this month.

Mellon is also a member of the New Enterprise Council, a group of entrepreneurs who advise the Conservative Party on business policies, and she’s already expressed an interest in helping female entrepreneurs through microfinance.

With wealth standing at about the £180 million mark according to Vogue, Mellon’s got a lot to thank Carrie Bradshaw for.