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How we built it: Alicia Lai, founder and CEO of B_Boheme

ECA’s new series talks the founders of DTC brands to understand what drove them to set up the business, the secrets of their success and things they wish they hadn’t done

First up is Alicia Lai, founder and CEO of B_Boheme, the D2C vegan footwear brand.

Give us the elevator pitch. Tell us about your brand

B Boheme is a vegan, sustainable, ethical shoe brand.  Our designer shoes use no animal products and are made to order, and so avoid the waste of the fast-fashion industry. 

People are tired of ‘safe’ design in their homes and in their clothes. Our collections are exciting and a little different. They’re inspired by everything around us, from vintage fashion to nature and architecture. 

We are in the ‘affordable luxury’ price point. All can buy, but as something to keep and treasure for some time. 

BB source plant-based and sustainable materials to create hard-wearing, beautiful shoes with the lowest possible carbon footprint. 

I’m a qualified podiatrist, so comfort is considered in the design of all shoes.  

What inspired you to set up your company  

As a committed vegan, I wanted to address two problems in the vegan shoe market 

  • Vegan shoes are often uninspiring and not particularly hard wearing. I wanted to make stunning shoes that last, and that people want to buy, whether or not they’re vegan. 
  • According to a McKinsey survey, 15 percent of consumers in the US and Europe expect to buy more ecologically and socially sustainable clothing. Vegans are also very environmentally conscious. However, the vegan shoe market commonly uses materials and processes which are even less environmentally friendly than traditional materials. I wanted to create beautiful shoes that were as kind to the planet as they are to animals. 

What was your biggest challenge in year one? 

Finding the right eco-sustainable materials that are also hard-wearing and beautiful to touch and wear.  I had to hunt hard for a factory, a partner who understood our ethos and materials, that could produce the shoes to the standard I wanted using processes that did not harm the planet. 

What would you say has been your biggest marketing success?

We have had a few celebrities wear our shoes and many of our customers have become fans. During the pandemic we paused production so that I could review all our processes again to ensure we’re as environmentally friendly as possible (it’s not just about energy bills). I’ve been pleasantly surprised just how loyal our customers have been.  During the pause, and when we announced our re-launch, we had many lovely messages of support.  We strive for genuine communication and a personal touch, so we’re thrilled by this show of support from our customers – this to me is our biggest success. 

What has been the biggest mistake you made? 

When I started out, I was a typical entrepreneur, trying to do everything myself and working inside a bubble. I’ve learned to take time out, network and speak to more people. It is not a weakness to ask for help. Successful business owners surround themselves with good people.  And it’s OK to take a day off!   

Tell us about your plans for the future 

The very opaque fashion industry is opening up and suppliers are finally, but slowly, considering working out of the usual fashion cycle.  We are working on a pre-order model, where conscious consumers support a slower fashion model. 

I’m really excited about the new collection (launches 9th November); they look stunning and feel lovely.  We have gone for some really bright oranges and blues, as well as black and nude. 

The insoles really support your feet so they will feel like slippers when worn. I think this is just what is needed post pandemic, struggling into uncomfortable shoes for work is not something many women want to do again.   

Our plan for the future is to continue to improve the footprint of our product and aim for a truly circular product.  Collaboration is key and we will be seeking great partners to work with. 

We also plan to re-introduce men’s and small fashion accessories range. 

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