Revolutionizing the Shoe Game: Salone Monet

This week's #workitwomxnwednesday, we are shining the spotlight on Salone Monet, Founder of Salone Monet!

You probably have seen her shoes worn by, oh, no big deal Beyoncé! Yes, thee BEYONCÉ. As @salonemonet said, these "heels [are] fit for a Queen," and they most certainly are.

We love Salone's career journey because she went from a political PR girl working in DC to a fashion entrepreneur. That doesn't mean her trajectory was an easy one. Shortly after college, Salone went to go work at a shoe store. During a training seminar, her manager at that time recommended offering a nude heel to customers as the go-to shoe for every wardrobe style. Good suggestion, right? Not for Salone. She realized the traditional nude heel only served a specific demographic: white and lighter-skinned consumers. That's when Salone had an epiphany - #nudeisnotacolor. This motivated her to start designing a nude-based shoe that serves all hues of skin tones. Her shoes are beautifully crafted. Made in Italy. And it is definitely a staple every person needs in their closet!

Q: How do you identify yourself as?

Black Woman Creative

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I always felt like I had this need for creativity, even though I didn't know if it was going to be in fashion or in an advertisement. As a child, my mom used to let me put outfits together and gave me the freedom to wear what I wanted. Being given that autonomy at such a young age allowed me to be creative.

When I was working at a shoe store, I came up with the idea for my company because I saw that there wasn't any diversity when it came to heels. I had grown up hearing and reading magazines that said that every woman is supposed to have a nude heel staple in their closet, the whole idea being that it matches you and not your outfit, so you can wear it with anything. This makes perfect sense, except, this is an oversight traditionally, retailers made, and continue to make nude heels in one color. And this sort of oversight is seen in many products that are sold, from sunscreen having this pasty white color when you put it on to undergarments and even makeup.

After I had made that realization at work, I went home and downloaded a business plan, filled in the blanks, and that's how the idea was born.

Q: So when fashion magazines or stylists make the argument that every person needs a nude heel, what color are they referring to as "nude?"

Beige. I see a lot of fashion and beauty brands selling products like shoes or eyeliners, and those brands will have an array of colors that fall under the umbrella of "nude" like "nutmeg," "coco," or "sable." But the term "nude" is not subject to one defining color.

I often ask, why isn't the color brown also associated with nude? Why is it never associated with ebony? It's always associated with a very light tan.

So, to go back to your question, the nude heel is what I like to call a "fashion utility," because, like a great pair of jeans or a little black dress, it's easy to style, and you can pair it with anything. When thinking about one's own skin color, I see it as an extension of what you're wearing; you bring that to every outfit you put on.

Q: Looking through your website and social media, I see you put a lot of thought into the message you want to send to consumers. One really doesn't know that they need this until they see it.

A lot of people have had similar reactions, especially women of color. Their response is either "yeah, finally!" or they never considered the fact that the term and color nude wasn't for them, but now that they're aware, it makes total sense.

But others don't really get it at first. When I talk to people who are invested in fashion or are titan's of a particular industry — and they're white and male — I recognize that I have to start from the very beginning and explain why this is a needed utility for women to have access to.

When I was in the early stages of creating my business, I was doing basic consumer research as part of my business plan. I would ask people on Facebook, friends, and family what their thoughts were on the term "nude" and its association with light-skinned colors. Many would say that they didn't really understand the need to broaden the spectrum of colors. Granted, I didn't have any visuals to show them, but I could see how difficult a concept it was to conceive because, at that time, there weren't many products that served a multitude of people.

Q: What are the top qualities one should have to be a successful fashion designer?

One of the primary skill sets is resiliency. When I started my own business, I knew two things for sure - I need to continuously and gain new skills and I wasn't going to know everything.

I had to be okay with the latter and accept the reality that every day is going to be a learning opportunity for me.

The second skillset, I would say, is knowing how to tie what you're passionate about with a tangible skill set. I went to school for Communications, and I was doing mostly political PR work. And even though I was working in Public Relations, I had learned how to utilize Adobe and taught myself Photoshop as part of some design classes I took — so there was always this calling to be creative. I think deep down, taking these classes, and learning these skills incentivized my purpose.

I really just believed in the idea behind it and what I was creating. So I figured: keep going until it's a reality.

Q: Did you have a moment where you thought 'this communication work is cool, but this is not really what I want to continue pursuing'?

Oh yeah, and that was also one of the reasons that I went down this road — I knew I was very much unhappy. I knew that if I were going to continue to work at another company doing communications for the rest of my career, I would have been very dissatisfied.

Q: Have you ever received work-related advice that you felt was misguided?

Starting out, you don't have a lot of money or resources to purchase high-end garments. There is also this idea of what a girl in fashion is supposed to look like. I've had meetings where people have literally told me to dress up in expensive brand name clothes or to wear more makeup. And I get why they tell me these things. It's because I am a representative of my shoe brand. However, I'm not going to go into debt by putting money into my own personal wardrobe just to give out a particular impression.

There is this pressure to look a certain way to be taken seriously in the fashion industry, and I definitely felt that pressure. You may see me at an event one day looking stylish from head to toe, and then the next day I'm in a tracksuit taking my son to school — and to me, this is totally fine. I just don't want there to be this expectation that I need to be a fashion girl all the time. That is very important to me.

Q: I like this idea that you are just kind of charging your own path. And obviously, it's paying off for you if you got Beyoncé to wear your shoes! How did you feel knowing this?

It was incredible. There really aren't a whole lot of words to describe this moment. I was in total disbelief. Even the next day, I kept thinking there was a mistake because it felt so surreal. Beyoncé was wearing my shoes in a major public event, and her entire outfit looked amazing. She showed us all that you can look classy and stylish attending a Brooklyn Nets game, and not just any game, but the NBA Finals.

Q: Are there barriers that BIWOC face in the fashion industry, especially Black women?

I think the most significant issue I see in the fashion industry is that other people don't see us as leaders. And this is a prevalent stereotype.

Black womxn have always been leaders in our communities, families, and neighborhoods. Still, in other spaces, and at work, especially, other people have a difficult time seeing us as leaders, and it's a huge issue.

I think it's only a matter of time before people of color are running things from the top – not only in fashion but in other industries, as well. Black people thrive under pressure, and we're at the epicenter of ideas and culture. We need to be given the opportunity to lead within organizations and businesses so that we can hold these positions of power.

Q: When I think about how Black people in the US have a significant foothold in our culture, music, and fashion, it perplexes me how there are not more Black people in positions of leadership. What do you make of that?

And it's going to happen soon. It's long overdue, and I could see how it is obviously disappointing that it takes so long to get recognition for our ideas. At the same time, one of the things that I love about Black culture is that our culture was created out of nothing. Out of the hardship and having everything taken away from us for generations. We've had minimal upward mobility financially and opportunities seized from us for simply being Black — yet we created and continue to make the most replicated culture around the world. Everywhere you go, you see things that Black people created out of personal and collective struggles, out of a place of necessity.

As a Black woman, what is a valuable lesson that you can offer other BIPOC women who are interested in entering the fashion industry?

Well, for starters, I don't have an extensive background in fashion. Even to this day, I'll attend events and will be sitting next to people that I admire and respect for how they're changing the fashion industry. People talk about imposter syndrome, and that is so real. I've felt inadequate at times, but you just have to continue despite having that feeling. Don't let that be a distraction from your goal.

If you're someone who wants to change industries or get into fashion, but you feel like you don't have "enough experience," — don't let that stop you from pursuing what you want, because I've been there.

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