Six years before a “perfect storm” saw Beyoncé wear Salone Monet’s nude heels to Game 3 of the 2019 NBA Finals—instantly exposing her startup to millions—the shoe designer was working part-time at a boutique shoe store in Washington, D.C.
Training there, she had a manager advise her to always offer customers a nude heel. Monet immediately saw the flaw in this policy: the one nude color the store offered didn’t match her or, for that matter, the majority of people living in D.C. She described it as a lightbulb moment. That night, she went home, downloaded a business plan and started filling in the blanks.
After years spent learning the ins and outs of running a footwear business, Monet finally launched her eponymous brand in the summer of 2018. Starting out, she mostly focused on popups and events. If someone was interested, she said, they could try out the samples and see what size they were and what color they wanted. The brand would then custom make a shoe and ship it out.
It was during this stage of her business that she attended an event in New York hosted by Harlem’s Fashion Row, an organization created to support multicultural designers. Among the panelists she saw speak that day was Beyoncé’s stylist, Zerina Akers. After the session, Monet asked how she, a very new designer with a very new brand and no prior experience working with stylists, could put herself on insiders’ radar without stepping on anyone’s toes.
“She told me to email her and so, like we’ve all heard that before,” Monet said. “And then she did respond to my email and she requested two pairs of shoes and I was just so thrilled and so floored that she even thought that they were significant enough to request for consideration.”
When she learned that Beyoncé did end up her wearing her shoes—she had no idea until someone tagged her in a photo of the superstar—Monet said she had a hard time believing it was real. “Even hours later, I was lying in bed and I couldn’t sleep at all and I’m like, ‘Wait, those aren’t my shoes,’” she said.
But not only did Beyoncé wear Monet’s shoes, she wore them in the front row of an NBA game where her feet were visible the whole time. “I couldn’t dream of a more perfect circumstance,” Monet said. Furthermore, the star posted pictures of her outfit on social media, instantly putting her shoes in front of millions. The massive exposure, she said, forced her to scramble and ultimately put her on the path to her current business model.
With six colors, 12 sizes and three styles—a classic flat, a pump and a heeled slingback sandal—Monet said she had to manage more than 200 different SKUs at first. For a startup company, this proved a huge undertaking and made it difficult to turn a profit, she said. Instead, the brand has started buying shoes from the factory in white and then paying U.S. workers to hand dye them once a customer places an order.
“I certainly believe that it adds value, especially in a time when so many people in the United States are losing jobs, especially in the arts,” Monet said. “I think that it definitely can be meaningful that you’re supporting a family-owned factory here. Additionally, it’s great that it reduces the amount of inventory that I have to keep in stock, so that is money saved from a business standpoint. And overall, I think that people really do appreciate the idea that there’s a hands-on component to their shoes.”
More recently, Monet launched a crowdfunding campaign on Republic.co and filmed a couple episodes with Meet the Drapers, a Shark Tank-esque show closely tied to Republic.co. Though she is hoping to bring in more money once her episodes air, Money said she thinks that ultimately, she will “be mostly bootstrapping from here on out.”
As she looks to grow the Salone Monet brand, the shoemaker said her idea is to expand “this world of ‘Nude is Not a Color.’” Women, she said, are told they must have certain staples in their wardrobes—the little black dress, a great pair of jeans, a black pair of heels and a nude pair of pumps.
“It’s like, ‘Wait, but that last thing isn’t actually nude,’” she said. “It’s nude for some people, but it’s not nude for everybody. So, I think that it’s kind of almost a relief to people to be like ,’Yes, I’ve always thought this and felt this, but I’m constantly seeing these visuals that aren’t actually backing up what I feel.’ So when people see things that say ‘Nude is Not a Color,’ they get very excited about it. So, I think that that’s going to be definitely a new avenue for us to be able to really promote our ‘Nude is Not a Color’ slogan and merch.”