How This Former Manolo Blahnik Exec Is Transforming JustFab Footwear
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Annelie Hofstrom is the VP of Design at JustFab, the fashion and footwear brand beloved for its chic, ultra-comfortable, budget-friendly heels, flats, sandals, and boots. We interviewed Hofstrom to learn more about her background and how she transitioned from a JustFab consultant to a full-time, exec-level employee who strongly guides the brand’s vision.
Tell us about your background. What did you do before you joined JustFab?
Annelie Hofstrom (AH): I didn’t go to school for design. I’ve really learned everything I know from working as an apprentice more than anything else.
I came to New York in 1995 and started as an intern for Badgley Mischka in PR. I stayed with them for almost a year and then started working as a showroom sales assistant at Anna Sui. After a few months, I got the opportunity to interview for a PR position at Manolo Blahnik, where I got to work with designers like Michael Kors, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Zac Posen, Derek Lam, and Jason Wu. I ended up being in charge of everything from PR and wholesale to linebuilding and production. It was a great experience.
In 2010, I decided to accept a position at Oscar de la Renta as EVP of Footwear. I was hired to help re-launch their footwear category, and it was a lot of fun learning the difference between working for a shoe house versus a ready-to-wear house.
In 2015, my best friend and I decided to start a company together called AKH Group. We launched the first-ever Marchesa footwear collection and it got great reviews.
In 2018, my partner and I decided to go separate ways and unwind the Marchesa footwear business. I was still consulting with a handful of brands, and in the summer of 2019, I started consulting with JustFab. I accepted a full-time position with them at the end of 2019. It’s been a lot of fun learning the differences between a digital fashion business like JustFab versus a traditional brick-and-mortar or wholesale business.
Can you talk more about your background in footwear?
AH: When I was at Manolo Blahnik, most ready-to-wear designer brands didn’t have a footwear category, so they needed a collaboration with a shoe designer for their runway shows, and everybody’s favorite was Manolo Blahnik. Then, in the late ‘90s, Sex and the City made Manolo Blahnik a household name, and we grew tremendously. We also launched our stiletto Timberland boot, which made us a big favorite with celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé.
During this time, I first learned how to properly communicate to the factories how the shoes were to be altered from Manolo’s original designs. In 1999, I started traveling to the factories, where I learned how the shoes were made. I got to see everything from Manolo drawing sketches to correcting shoes on the foot – sometimes my own foot! It was amazing to see how patterns were cut and also how Manolo would carve a heel out of a block of wood. I feel very blessed to have been able to see a true artist at work.
What drew you to footwear over other fashion industry sectors?
AH: I have always loved shoes. It was really working for Manolo Blahnik that made me fall in love with shoes even more. They’re such an outfit completer. You feel so empowered when you wear a pair of fabulous shoes.
What inspires you?
AH: I love history, and I take lots of inspiration from different eras. I think about everything from the political climate to WWD. Of course, I look at the runway shows, but I also pay attention to pop culture and the news. Today, you have to be on social media platforms to make sure you know what’s trending or “breaking the internet.” But old-school research and comparative shopping are always very important too.
Name three things that are vital to designing JustFab’s footwear. Why are they important to you?
One: Being creative and having a great eye for colors helps you with the visual presentation when you are presenting your collection.
Two: Understanding the importance of comfort and other technical aspects of designing a shoe.
Three: Understanding the customer and having a great pulse on trends and competitors.
The new JustFab shoe line is all about comfort. Tell us about this trend!
AH: Comfort has been important in the footwear industry for a few years. When I worked for Manolo Blahnik, we took fit very seriously and had many fit sessions to make sure you could really walk and last in the shoes for a long time.
At the time, I do not think there were many designers that were paying attention to it. I believe the flats and sneaker trend really brought comfort to the front line of what’s important for a footwear customer. They started wearing flats and sneakers and did not want to compromise the comfort aspect when they are wearing pumps, sandals, or boots.
When I joined JustFab, I told the team, we have to make sure we add comfort details in our shoes. So, we launched pumps with arch support and extra padding. We launched flats with heel padding and anti-bacterial fabric soles. All boots have extra padding on the entire insole. We are continuing to build on this, and I look forward to presenting more innovation in the comfort initiative.
What makes these JustFab shoes so comfortable?
AH: We developed a foam called JF Form Foam. Latex foam is a breathable insole padding that adjusts itself to the shape of your foot. It’s similar to memory foam. The four-millimeter padding is added to all of our boots, which just adds a softer layer for the foot to land on when you are walking. It’s like walking on a thin mattress pad.
Tell me about the JustFab team. Who works on the shoe lines?
AH: JustFab’s team is 95% women, which is super-important to us since we’re trying to make shoes that aren’t just for women but by women. We understand the power that women get from finding affordable, gorgeous styles because we’ve been there ourselves. That’s why we work tirelessly every day to make that possible.
The quality, ratings, and reviews of JustFab shoes are excellent. How are you able to keep prices fair when other shoe brands charge much more?
AH: Our great reviews are something we are very proud of. We are a direct-to-consumer brand that can give our customers the “wholesale” cost. If we sold our shoes to Macy’s, they would add a mark-up on top of our cost; here, we offer that discounted price to our customers instead.
What JustFab items are you most excited about recently?
AH: I’m especially excited about our recent design collaboration with Kelly Rowland. We first worked with her last year; this year, she designed a new JustFab footwear and apparel collection focused on comfort and fashion. She shares our ideas about comfort and fashion both being important!
It’s been just as exciting to see the press react enthusiastically. Vogue, Us Weekly, Harper’s, PopSugar, and so many more came through with tons of praise and heartwarming compliments.
Our readers LOVE deals – are you running any current promotions?
AH: Yes, of course! All our VIP members can get any of our shoes (including the new Kelly Rowland x JustFab collection) for just $10, which is a huge steal. All you have to do is sign up for a VIP membership and then buy your first pair of shoes to get the discount. And I should add, the Kelly Rowland collection is absolutely flying off our shelves, so now’s the time to buy! Here’s the link again to make it easy.
Editor’s Note: As described above, JustFab has informed us that many of its most popular items are quickly selling out. PeopleHype cannot guarantee availability.
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