Now that Spring is mostly here, we can really turn our attention to Summer – and by that I mean beachwear. When I met Libby Fitzgerald during New York Fashion Week, her positive energy and enthusiasm for her brand Sea Star Beachwear was infectious. As soon as I got my hands on the brand’s signature shoe, the Beachcomber Espadrille, I understood why. Like many new mothers, Libby left her job in public relations at Hermès to raise her three sons. As they got older she began to question her “next step,” and like most successful companies, Libby wanted to develop a product that didn’t exist – more so than offer another beautiful product without any function. That product would be a shoe she could wear in the water, boating, later to lunch, and around town. The ultimate multi-functional beach and resort wear shoe, but one that was still fashionable. Libby, and her business partner Michael Leva, have decades of combined experience in the luxury fashion market. And together, they are slowly growing Sea Star Beachwear despite huge demand all over the world for the shoes.
Can you tell us about the decision to launch Sea Star two years ago?
I was looking for a shoe that I could wear into the water that was also attractive enough to wear to lunch, around town, and boating. I found that no shoe existed that could serve all these purposes at once. Michael and I adapted the classic espadrille design with a new fabrication so that the Beachcomber Espadrille is made with a neoprene upper and a rubber sole that is chic, protective and water-friendly.
Who is your business partner? How did you meet?
Michael Leva has been involved in the fashion world for over 30 years. He had his own designer fashion collection in the eighties and nineties and was the Creative Director for Victoria’s Secret Beauty and several other brands. His strengths lie in design, branding and product development. He has a crazy sense of humor and we love working together. We have been social friends for 15+ years!
In what ways do your individual strengths complement Sea Star’s design ethos and growth strategy?
I worked at Hermès as a PR executive for several years before leaving to become a full-time mother of three boys. My background of public relations, sales and marketing integrates well with Michael’s background. Together, we both have a passion for producing a product that is unique, functional, well-made and classically chic. Sea Star Beachwear strives to be a lifestyle brand that produces focused pieces that are attainable luxury products for a customer who understands classic simplicity.
Has there been a learning curve for running your own business?
Yes! We are thankful that we launched with one product and have remained focused. One advantage to being an “older” entrepreneur is that we have a lot of friends to call on for advice and guidance. We are blessed that they have been so helpful!
You spent years at Hermès before launching your line – what have you applied from those days to Sea Star?
My luxury goods background taught me the importance of a quality product and simplicity of design. Whether it’s a leather handbag or a water shoe, the sophisticated customer wants something that is beautiful, well made and functional. Our Beachcomber Espadrille fulfills a need for a product where no thoughtful product existed.
What have been your biggest challenges to date with the brand?
In the beginning our biggest challenge was transforming our idea into an actual product. For us, the fit, comfort and protective nature of the shoe were all paramount. If we didn’t get those correct, the shoe wouldn’t fulfill its purpose and it would just be another espadrille. Now, we work hard to make sure the quality remains top-notch as we grow and increase our production.
How do you keep the price point reasonable?
We take a very low margin to pass value on to our customers. Shark Tank would eat us alive!
Are you thinking about adding styles that reach beyond the resort life?
We really want to continue to focus on the resort lifestyle. We have just launched two new espadrille styles (a sling-back for women and a sport shoe for men) and a highly curated bag line as our next step. We named the company Sea Star Beachwear to give us options in the future.
As a working mother, how do you manage home life and work life?
I think that reducing and managing stress is the most important ingredient to a calm and balanced life. I try to not to take on too much at one time. As working mothers, we all attempt to do everything for our families and our careers. This can easily become overwhelming.
Is your family involved in the brand?
They have all been very supportive and I am very thankful! My husband has been very encouraging of my new career. My boys help me stay in touch with what is culturally relevant have been a great help with social media.
Did you always aspire to be entrepreneurial?
No. I think in the last several years as my boys got older, I put a lot of thought into what my “next step” would be. A lot of women I know left high pressure corporate careers to raise a family, and it is hard to go back to work after a long absence. I was extremely fortunate to be able to start a company that allows me to keep my flexibility. Becoming an entrepreneur is a great option but taking an idea and making it a reality is extremely difficult. For me, partnering with Michael made it happen. I would not have been able to get this far without his partnership and expertise. I also think being an “older” entrepreneur has some great advantages as I mentioned before. Michael and I have a lot of different strengths and experience between us, and a lot of contacts we can reach out to when we need additional counseling.
Where do you see the Sea Star Beachwear in 5-10 years?
Michael and I would like to see the Sea Star Beachcomber Espadrille become as ubiquitous as a flip-flop! We like to think big!