Forget about pasta…what the Italians really do well is shoes! That was a revelation to Tamar Miller, founder and CEO of Bells & Becks, when she attended The Micam and walked into a pavilion full of amazing, unique footwear.
Today we’re having a Q&A with Tamar about the how with that fateful trip led her to launch Bells & Becks.
The F Project: What was the lightbulb moment that made you start your company?
Tamar Miller: The original concept for Bells & Becks came to me on a business trip to Italy where I attended The Micam…It was an experience like no other I’ve ever had in my career. Everywhere I looked, there were these incredible shoes. I’d discovered product I’d never seen in the US. What became clear on that trip was that boutique factories simply can’t support mass-market distribution. There was this entire world of unique quality product that wasn’t available here.
The idea of bringing distinctive, luxury footwear that reflects my point of view to the market has been percolating ever since that trip. I decided it was time to combine my passion for and experience in footwear with my background in e-commerce, and I took the plunge and launched Bells & Becks about two years ago.
TFP: What makes you want to jump out of bed every day?
TM: The very first thing I do every single morning is log into my online store. I track visitors overnight and then check out the early morning traffic and sales. There's nothing better than seeing how my business is performing because it's all mine. I’ve always loved the excitement of building something, having a vision and bringing it to life. Whether it's a product concept, a website, anything large or small, I feel tremendous pride in taking something from vision to reality.
TFP: What about your past career or life experience prepared you for entrepreneurship? What was a total shock?
TM: I’ve loved shoes my entire life, and I am one of the lucky few that had the opportunity to turn that passion into a career. Over the years, I’ve held footwear jobs at Lord and Taylor, Macy’s, and Piperlime (and also broader e-commerce leadership roles at Banana Republic and Old Navy). These helped me develop a deep knowledge of the shoe category – what women want, what works, and what doesn’t. In addition to the technical aspects of the shoe business, I also got to know an amazing group of passionate “shoe dogs”—people who lived and breathed footwear their entire career. Footwear has become not only my passion but also, in some ways, my professional “family.”
Even with all that experience, nothing could really prepare me for the next phase of my career. After being a corporate executive for years, the idea that I would turn a corner of my house into a warehouse, pack and unpack boxes, and basically transform my dining room into a postal facility was not exactly what I thought my life would look like at this stage, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I love being close to the consumer and providing an insanely high-touch customer service experience. My business is small, and this enables me to do things that large retailers that have massive scale simply can’t do. So, if I’m packing up boxes, writing handwritten notes to every single customer, and dealing with the UPS delivery to my door, so be it. I love every day of this journey.
TFP: What makes your product special/different?
TM: The product vision for Bells & Becks was inspired by my years as a professional shoe merchant and discriminating shopper. I saw the opportunity to build a collection of distinctive and chic luxury flats that would be wearable for women with a busy lifestyle who require versatility in their wardrobe. The concept of wearability was important. I wanted to focus on the shoes that women could wear for “real life”—running from meeting to meeting, attending a conference all day, heading to dinner with friends, attending the school function, or traveling for business or pleasure, and still look and feel “put together.” I also honed in on the idea of sophisticated femininity. So many of the shoes today are gender neutral, and in many cases, heavy and clunky. I set out to build a line of shoes that’s distinctive, high quality, and delivers on versatility and modern femininity, a rare combination today.
TFP: What advice do you have for other female founders?
TM: Probably the most important lesson I learned along the way is that it’s all about the people and relationships. I don’t believe in separating the personal from the professional. People matter, and when you’re authentic and genuinely care, your team and your partners will come together and do amazing things. Relationships are built on trust, and I’m passionate about acting with integrity in everything that I do. One of my mentors once said to me that people enjoy partnering with me and I’m able to get so much accomplished because I say what I do and I do what I say.
This is a personal journey in every way. Finding the right partners, building trust, and acting with integrity is how I set out to approach every single thing that I do. I truly believe that if you act with integrity and heart, you will achieve great things and feel good about yourself along the way. It's not just about the "what," it's also about the "how.”
TFP: Why did you join The F Project?
TM: I've been a mentor to many women over the years, and I have some amazing female mentors that have guided me along the way. But since becoming an entrepreneur and business owner, I've found tremendous kinship that I've never before experienced in my career. Living in the Bay Area, there are so many amazingly smart and talented women doing great work of every kind. Tapping into a new network and finding support and sisterhood along the way has been one of the most fulfilling parts of this journey. Supporting other women doing great things has now become a priority for me. I was drawn to the F Project as another way to fulfill that goal.