Roxana Esmailji paid her dues before breaking out on her own two years ago and launching Barcelona Shoe Company (and her shoes have already made well-heeled appearances on Cityline and on our own happy feet during our recent trip to Mexico). She lived in Italy and Spain where she fine-tuned her marketing and brand-building chops working for venerable brands such as Fendi Group and Caffé Florian in Venice. Eventually she made her way back home to Toronto where she finessed her corporate mojo by launching and branding a major cellular company. However, a nagging feeling to be more creative and a longtime vision of having her own company finally usurped her life of uncomfortable high heels and a salary that was fuelling her bank account but not her dream. Today she’s walking tall in her own shoe brand that’s a better fit for her sole and her spirit.
“I’m very much in the start-up phase of my business and there are things I know I need to keep my eye on to succeed. The keys for me are managing my growth so that it doesn’t overflow and become overwhelming; that the business stays profitable enough to give my family what we need; that I can always offer great customer service; and of course, I always want to provide beautiful, handmade goods. I’m not out to make 5 million pairs of shoes in a year. That’s not my goal. This is truly a passion project and to make it happen, I’m consciously leaning out.
I used to have this image of success of a happy child, happy marriage and happy corporate career. I was trying to give 80% to every part of that life, but that’s 80% plus 80% plus 80% which equals 240%. I was stretched and I didn’t feel like I was getting any part right. Now I just want enough. We live in 1000 square feet, our house is where all the kids on the street play, we have wonderful friends and family…I really don’t need to be the biggest and the baddest out there to feel successful.
As a society, especially in the corporate world, goals are defined by growing larger, better and faster. Publicly-owned companies have to show profits on a quarterly basis to shareholders, so growth needs to come at an amazing pace. It’s not easy to keep up with that kind of cycle, especially as an entrepreneur. I’m doing the antithesis of the corporate world and starting small and I think because of that I saw a profit within my first year.
I used my savings and I worked hard for every penny that I put into the business so I was very careful about how I spent it. My biggest investments were my inventory, creating a nice website and implementing a simple social media campaign. I spend my morning workout thinking about my social feeds and what message and images I want to put out there. I’ve also been very lucky to have a lot of word of mouth; I had a tremendous amount of support from friends and colleagues. I believe I was in the right place and the right time to go out on my own because I had a large existing network who were happy to be my focus group and they continue to be my ambassadors.
“I’m doing the antithesis of the corporate world and starting small and I think because of that I saw a profit within my first year.”
I’m putting most of the profit back into the business and I’m paying myself a little but it’s definitely not my old salary. Having said that, I believe saving equals freedom and if you can manage your finances, however much you have, then you can enjoy your future. Our goal today is simply to feel financially comfortable again and that’s hard when you’re starting your own business with two small children. I’m working as hard as I did when I was working at a corporation but with new benefits that are already apparent to me: I’m building a brand that I am passionate about and products that I want in this world. For many people that alone would be a dream come true. The added bonus is that I can make it to every single one of my kids’ field trips. And that’s magic.”
All of Roxana’s shoes are handmade in Mexico and Canada. About her unique vision that marries function and style she says, “I love the friends I made throughout my corporate life and they continue to be the inspiration, the best source of new ideas for my line and tremendously influential in how I am shaping my company. I make products for these multi-faceted and talented women who tackle it all daily and do it in style.” Her mission is to create shoes that are so chic and comfortable that you don’t need to pack an extra set of flats or sneaks to help you get through your day at the office or to walk to and from public transit or your car.
HOME TOUR A bright and cheery home that’s budget-friendly
Roxana’s décor is an eclectic mix of vintage finds and bold prints. “I totally lived in nicer places when I was younger. Now that I’m starting my own business I have to make sacrifices and that means decorating without spending a lot of money.” For example, she saved this dresser from a neighbour who was about to put it to the curb.
“We made the decision to save, save, save…so that means finding things at church sales or seeking out mid century scores at Goodwill.” Roxana’s even dabbling in her own refinishing and upholstered the wingback chair in fabric from Ikea all by herself.
“Coffee is the fuel of my business,” she says about why she bought this print from George Brown graphic design student Amy Esplan. “Every morning my husband Jason makes me a cappuccino with my son Max. When we got this picture, he said, ‘hey mommy, that’s you.”
The dining room is her official workspace. “I feel like starting small with a grassroots spirit is the old-fashioned way of creating a business. I don’t have any shareholders to be accountable to except myself.”
Original Eames Chair, $3, Church sale. (Cue jaw drop).
One of Roxana’s personal favourite’s, her high-heeled bootie (which are also amazingly comfortable).
Roxana buffed and polished this mid-century modern dresser while she was on a mat leave. “It took three weeks, full-time. I don’t know what I was thinking but I’m glad I did it.”
While her printed bedding is from Ikea, the sheets she’s closest too are Italian Frette. “My linens cost more than the furniture. I figure what’s close to my skin should be luxurious. See, I do know how to indulge here and there.”
When she moved in, she was quick to update her two bathrooms. The clawfoot tub was a score from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore that she had professionally re-enamelled to look like new again.
She kept her home’s vintage theme intact with an antique dresser that was fashioned into a sink cabinet.
Take a close look at her shower tile and you’ll see it’s from Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola. ” I love her electric sense of fun and ability to inject traditional craftsmanship into leading edge design. As for the investment…the heart wants what the heart wants.” And yes, she’s in the middle of reupholstering another chair too.
MY FAVOURITE THINGS
Her beauty routine is minimal but impactful. Now Sweet Almond Oil to tackle her dry skin; Nars Concealor(“It find it spreads really nicely and covers the massive dark circles under my eyes”); Rodan + Fields SPF 50+ Sunscreen (“Unlike so many SPF creams, it absorbs quickly, doesn’t clog my pores and there’s no chalky feel”); and the fresh and crisp scent of Guerlain Aqua Allegoria in Pera Granita. And there’s that gorgeous tile again.
Before launching her start-up, Roxana studied shoe design in Barcelona which included this textbook in the course load. “I studied under Natalio Martin and learned the incredible significance of high quality material to the design process. For example, when I replaced a traditional and inexpensive rope espadrille base with a polyurethane base, I doubled a sandal’s wearability because it’s a third of the weight, has better shock absorption and is also washable.”
“My mother lives for mod design and she still rocks green eyeshadow and a good thick lick of winged eyeliner on occasion. She could have worn this dress on a date with my dad. I’m excited to pair it with our Riera block heel. Maybe even some winged eyeliner too.” Dress, Anthropologie.
All her favourite jewelry has a story to tell. She spotted the beaded necklace when she brought her husband to Venice. “I saw it in a window and he went back and bought it in pink because he’s colour blind, so we went back and got the one I really wanted.” The pearl earrings were a gift from her mom to celebrate her wedding; the affinity rings were custom made to mark her 30th birthday and her engagement ring is naturally close to her heart along with a necklace from her father who gifted it to her just before he passed away.
The New York Times: 36 Hours – 125 Weekends in Europe is the first gift she received from her husband when they were still dating. “He bought it because I was going to Europe for three weeks on my own then I surprised him with a ticket to meet me.” And the painting was another gift from her huzz to celebrate their first anniversary. “It’s of Balzac’s café in the Distillery District where we went on our first date.”