Joanna Socha: How did you come up with this idea of creating shoes with interchangeable heels?
Margaux Chérif-Cheikh: One evening three years ago I struggled to find a perfect pair of shoes that would match my outfit for the night out. After 30 minutes of trying various shoes, I gave up. I wore the shoes that I wasn’t happy with. I was late for the event and was angry with myself. The next day I talked with my father and I was sharing my challenges the night before, and thanks to the discussion I came up with this simple idea. How about not buying new shoes, but transforming the ones I have – by adjusting the color or the style. So basically it was thanks to my father that I finally decided to work on My Choupi Chouz. He actually helped me with making the first steps: cutting the shoes, learning the mechanics. At one point I bought a 3D printer to test and practice different ideas. The outcome of the process was various flexible shoes and sandals with interchangeable heels measuring 4,5-9 centimeters. You can detach the heels whenever you wish and replace them with different ones of another color, size, or height.
This process sounds very expensive. Did you use any external financing before launching the company?
I didn’t have any investors, but I started a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in November 2017. The donations I received – approximately 17 thousand euros, and my personal savings from previous corporate jobs allowed me to produce the first shoes. I launched the e-shop 3 months ago and made the second production in May. Luckily, I managed to have preorders before the second one, which allowed me to finance it.
Before starting My Choupi Chouz last year, you worked for various corporations in the luxury goods sector. What made you give up a stable corporate career and move into entrepreneurship?
Actually, the corporate career wasn’t very stable. In France, temporary contracts are very popular; usually, it’s one-year offers that employers can prolong, or not. So three years ago, I spent months looking for a job. Even though I have two diplomas from very good universities and speak four languages, it was not so easy. This is when I realized it’s high time to finally start working on My Choupi Chouz. Just at that moment, when I made this decision, I was offered my dream job in marketing development for fragrance at a luxury cosmetics group. So I decided to work full-time and develop my business after hours. But it didn’t work. As it turned out, you don’t have that much free time working in marketing in France. I was finishing work at 9 pm, and it just wasn’t possible to do anything else. One year later, I realized that I didn’t want to fight for another position and I’d rather create my own company.
You have an engineering degree from ESTP Paris and a master’s degree from the EMLyon Business School. You’ve also had international study experiences in China and the United Arab Emirates, among others. How have your education and travels influenced you as an entrepreneur?
Thanks to all my education and travel experiences, I learned how to think, how to be organized, how to analyze, how to approach different challenges. Living and studying abroad was, however, the most enriching experience over all the years of study. I was surrounded by people from all over the world. I became more open-minded, curious about different cultures and backgrounds. That is very valuable for me right now, when I am developing my own business and want to sell products to various clients.
Tell us about some of the challenges you have faced so far when running a business.
This company is currently my whole life, all-consuming. I think about it all the time. Because of that, it requires an effort to take care of a personal life – I try to practice karate every week and hanging out with my boyfriend and friends as often as it’s possible. I have a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes I’m really stressed about customers, production, and about my life – in general. The biggest challenge in terms of the product itself was being innovative and developing a technique (for locking and unlocking the heel) that didn’t exist when I was launching the product. At the same time, however, it’s a very enriching experience. I learn something every day. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much in such a short time. Today I can design and print in 3D, manage finances, logistics, file taxes. I’ve even learned a little bit how to code – I made My Choupi Chouz website myself.
Do you have any advice for people considering to start their own companies?
Try to be surrounded by your family, friends – have someone you can rely on. If you have a co-founder, be sure it’s the right one. Never give up, because there will be ups and downs, but you have to believe in yourself and you will learn on the way.
Joanna Socha is the editor-in-chief of W insight
Edited by: Diana Asatryan, Phyllis Budka