I could be the poster child for poor fashion sense. Jeans, heat-gear t-shirts, and sneakers make up the bulk of my wardrobe. I pretty much dress only for comfort, admittedly even at times to my detriment.
But I can tell when clothes look good on other people. And while I never think I look particularly good, I can tell when what I'm wearing makes me feel more confident, more relaxed, more... well, just more.
That feeling is hard to come by for a guy like me, though. Which is why, after wearing a pair of shoes I love (and have actually been complimented on, which never happens to me) I decided to talk to the entrepreneurs who made them: Tiffany and Kam Chancellor.
Kam Chancellor retired from the Seattle Seahawks after a Super Bowl-winning and four-time Pro Bowl career. His wife Tiffany is a model and actress. Together they designed a line of shoes in partnership with Marc Nolan, the Chicago-based company founded by Sebastian Malczewski.
While Tiffany has been modeling since age three, fashion isn't just a second act for Kam. As you'll see, he's long had an interest in clothing and footwear... and was preparing for the next stage in his career long before his playing days were over.
Which makes him what everyone should be: a serial achiever.
Which is another reason I wanted to find out more about the story behind Kam and Tiffany's Chancellor Collection.
Walk me through the inception phase. Tiffany obviously has a fashion background. To me Kam, yours is less obvious.
Kam: I'm from a low-income family. I didn't have the money to buy the things I wanted. So I made things work -- even if I had to go into my sister's room and "borrow" a few things. (Laughs.)
As far as shoes, I've always been into shoes. As I started to make a little money I started buying a lot of designer shoes. They looked good... but they weren't comfortable.
That turned on a light bulb.
Tiffany: I have a fashion background. It's a creative outlet. Fashion is a fun way to express yourself.
Kam: So when we got married, we combined those things to start a his-and-her line. We love the idea behind it... but we also just love doing it together.
And we've enjoyed working with our partners Sebastian and Diana Ganz (head of marketing and e-commerce for Marc Nolan.)
And then seeing the finished product. It's really gratifying to see your idea, to see your vision, become manifested.
Having an idea for a business is one thing. The nuts and bolts side is the real key.
Kam: We definitely went through some trial and error.
A few years ago we partnered with a company and made four or five pairs of shoes. They looked great but weren't quite as comfortable as we hoped... and the price point was way too high for our liking.
So we ended that partnership to focus on luxury affordable shoes. Shoes that look good, feel good, are affordable... that everyone can wear. Fortunately the timing was perfect when we met Diana: She talked about Sebastian and Marc Nolan, and we just hit it off.
You're right. Ideas are one thing, nuts and bolts are another. But finding the right people to partner with and work with is the real key.
Speaking of ideas, there are countless styles of shoes on the market. How do you come up with new ideas?
Tiffany: While it sounds obvious, you have to start with what's out there -- not just what is in stores, but what people are actually wearing. That's the initial point of inspiration.
From there we decide, "Okay, I like that... I like that... I don't like that..." finding a balance between putting yourself in the shoe as well as considering what other people appreciate.
And in particular I've really tried to take the Seattle market into consideration. While there's the practical aspect of weather, we also have a distinct style in Seattle. I spend a lot of time thinking about the color schemes women like, the colors and styles they could wear all year, the colors and styles they can wear with a number of different outfits...
Fashion and comfort: You don't just have to have one or the other. And the same is true for shoes people can wear in a variety of settings. We work hard on the design so people don't have to feel they're making compromises.
So how do you finally decide when you're done tinkering and a design is finished?
Kam: It is tempting to tinker forever. But we know what we're looking for. We go back and forth with Sebastian, back and forth with colors, textures, etc., pinpoint what we like and what could be better... and there's this moment when a shoe comes back and we both immediately think, "That's it."
Ultimately, it's instinctive. We feel good when we see a great shoe.
Which is the same feeling we want people to get when they see a pair of our shoes.
Tiffany: Designing shoes is engineering to a certain degree... but it's also art. Sure, there are certain mechanics involved, certain materials, certain ways to achieve the right level of comfort...
But ultimately, fashion is art. You want to feel good in your shoes... but you also want to feel good about your shoes. That's where the art comes in.
Kam, you come from a scoreboard profession. Wins and losses are immediate. How have you adapted to the more long-term approach that building a business requires?
Kam: We're involved in other businesses as well. One is real estate. That's definitely a long-term game. (Laughs.)
I'm used to playing it patient now. That's something business taught me outside of football. Especially with starting a shoe company.
But there are just as many similarities. You get bumped and bruised. Things happen that you can't control. You have to keep your head down, stay focused, and stay the course.
That's true in football... in business... in everything.
And you need to believe that everything that happens, especially bad things, happen for a reason. When I first saw the prices for the shoes we developed with the first company, I should have backed out. But I was listening to other people... and I was still playing football and wasn't as focused on the business as I should have been...
But that taught me a lot. I learned about finding the right price point, I learend a lot mroe about how shoes are made, about margins... it was a painful experience, but a good experience.
Designing something means putting yourself out there: Some may love what you do, others may not. How do you deal with the criticism that even the most successful companies naturally receive?
Tiffany: We welcome criticism. We ask for constructive criticism. We embrace it. We know we don't know everything. If there's a problem, we want to fix it. If something could be better, we want to improve it.
You're right: Design is personal. But the same time, our motivation is to design shoes people will love. We want people to love the shoes, feel comfortable in them... we want our shoes to be their favorite pair in the closet.
Kam: Every project, every pair of shoes... there's always something you can do differently.
We haven't gotten much criticism. But we would love to. That's how you improve.
I come from a background of steady, consistent, every day and every minute coaching. That's what feedback really is: It's just coaching.
See feedback that way... and then you're happy to get even the most negative feedback.
Because that's what makes you better.