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4 Pieces of Career Wisdom from Steve Madden

You know the Steve Madden brand, but do you know the Steve Madden story? While it’s no question that Madden’s styles have dominated the fashion industry for years, he’s had to wear many hats (and shoes!) to become the business tycoon he is today. Here’s a little bit of perspective for ya: Flashback to 1990 and you would find Madden beginning his fashion empire by selling shoes out of the trunk of his car with only $1,100 in his pocket. Of course, he’s learned many lessons along the way, so he sat down with Her Campus students and future entrepreneurs to share his wisdom, success and all the advice he’s picked up while making a name for himself. Grab a piece of paper, because you’ll want to take some notes!

From working in a shoe store to designing shoes, Madden claims that he fell into the shoe-making industry by “accident,” needing something to sell.

1. “Nothing counts until someone sells it.”

“Sales and design are equally as important,” says Madden. “Of course, sales without the design is nothing, and also design without good sales is also nothing.” What good is the design if it’s just sitting in your closet or an office somewhere?

“I always say that nothing counts until someone sells it,” Madden continues. Don’t be afraid to balance your creative side with the business side!

2. “You need to believe in it more than anything else in starting a business.”

It’s clear that starting a business isn’t easy –so where do you start?

“You need a little bit of luck, and you need a good idea, and you need to love it, and you need to believe in it more than anything else in starting a business,” says Madden. (Brb, making a checklist.)

“Then, in order to build the business, you need a team,” he continues. But, be careful about who’s on your roster. “The last people you should take are your best friends,” he says (as well as your family). “Sometimes it’s just instinct and luck and you get the right people on the team.”

Whether you’re trusting your gut or successfully making your way through the process by sheer luck, Madden also notes that it’s very difficult to do by yourself. “I think because it’s ‘Steve Madden,’ I tend to get too much credit,” Madden explains. “The story of Steve Madden is really a story of building a team. I did that early on, early on I realized there were things I didn’t know, and things I wasn’t good at, and so I started hiring people along the way to help me on the journey.” Hiring people who enable you to do what you do best is definitely the move when embarking on a business journey.

 “I remember in 7th grade… they took a picture, and I was the second smallest in the grade. I’ll never forget it,” says Madden (who used to stick pieces of cardboard in his shoes because he was so small. Go figure!). “That was when it started.”

No matter who you are or where you come from when starting a business, we all start somewhere!

3. “Inspiration comes from a lot of different places.”

While it’s difficult to know what exactly you want to do in life, it’s great to have an idea on the direction you aim to head in, and to always find inspiration in the things around you.

“Inspiration comes from a lot of different places. I could see another piece of art, it could be an actor in a movie, just inspires you to create,” says Madden. “So, it’s not so linear.” So, we know you’re wondering: What’s the best piece of advice Steve Madden has ever been given?

4. “You gotta pay your bills.”

In terms of a business perspective, Madden says it’s to pay your bills on time. “I always tell that to people, you gotta pay your bills. There’s so many people [who] go into business that don’t. And also, left to my own devices, I would never pay my bills! It was an integral part of my success, and so the more I paid the more I was able to do things and have leverage in the business.”

Building a good reputation, credibility and having “your word count for something” goes a long, long way in business.

Be sure to check out the Her Campus Facebook live video for more of Madden’s transparent and honest journey in creating his booming fashion company, as well as a Q&A with the students of Tulane!

Amanda graduated from Carthage College with a Bachelor's degree in both Communications and Public Relations. She also proudly served as the Editor in Chief of her college's Her Campus chapter, and as a Her Campus Editorial Intern. She is from Chicago, Illinois, which she can confirm is indeed a windy city. Today she can still be found furiously tapping away at her laptop keys and producing content for the internet. In her spare time she enjoys reading books (before watching their Netflix or movie adaptions), running for fun (yes, it can be fun) and spending time with her friends and family.
Gina was formerly the Beauty & Culture Editor at Her Campus, where she oversaw content and strategy for the site's key verticals. She was also the person behind @HerCampusBeauty, and all those other glowy selfies you faved. She got her start in digital media as a Campus Correspondent at HC Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where she graduated in 2017 with degrees in English and Theater. Now, Gina is an LA-based writer and editor, and you can regularly find her wearing a face mask in bed and scrolling through TikTok.