The brand was given a huge boost when Aruna succeeded in getting Pippa Middleton to wear a pair of her shoes at one of the biggest high society events of the last few years, the royal wedding in April 2011.
She had initially sent a selection of specially made shoes to bride Kate at Buckingham Palace and then was eventually contacted by her sister instead. She credits Pippa wearing the shoes (actually a pair of silver sandals) with helping to get the brand stocked by the hugely prestigious, one-of-a-kind retailer, Harrods.
Pippa isn’t the only famous face to have sported a pair of these delicate creations – Hollywood royalty has been spotted in them too, with Kate Hudson, Andie MacDowell and Jessica Alba on the roll call, while Jennifer Lopez is lined up to slip into a pair shortly on an up-coming episode of American Idol.
While celebrity endorsement is vital to building up a brand’s appeal it doesn’t always translate into sales, so that’s where having ambassadors is a key element too – influential people who are seen as trend-setters based in key locations and who will lead others to the product by word-of-mouth recommendation. This is where social media is essential and Aruna is active on Instagram, Facebook (“it’s great for interacting with our customers”) and Pinterest, which is apparently especially popular with brides who use the mood board to put together their ideal wedding look, as well as Twitter for press coverage and promoting events.
She is a firm believer in the power of search engine optimisation: “It’s absolutely vital for a small company like ours without a big marketing budget”, so much so in fact that she recently recruited a full-time social media manager. “I’d recommend social media to anyone looking to make a name for themselves in the fashion industry.” It must run in the family, as brother Arjun has built up his own successful business, Protein World, via social media, and they often swap tips.
Proving the point that finding good suppliers is just as important as building a solid customer base, the Aruna Seth shoes are made in northern Italy, near Venice, in a setting that Aruna describes as being something like a secret society.
“It’s a precious commodity, artisan-lead and something that they want to keep to themselves to avoid competition from other markets.” It was a long process to find the right workshop, as she explains, since some of the craftsmen specialise in more masculine styles, so she had to keep looking until she found the one that was the right fit for her brand.
Sometimes though, even with meticulous planning, what you need is a little serendipity and that’s what happened to Aruna when she took a flight back from Milan to London – “I was in the midst of a trip to Bali and was cursing all the hanging around waiting for connecting flights, when I boarded the plane and saw that sat next to me was Marigay McKee.”
For those not in the know, McKee is a legend in fashion circles, having spent 15 years at Harrods as head of merchandising – it was rumoured that no brands got stocked without her say so – before moving to Saks Fifth Avenue where she was tasked with reinventing the store’s image.
In April last year, she set up on her own as MM Luxe Consulting and this is the capacity in which Aruna got talking to her. “We chatted non-stop for the whole two-and-a-half hour flight and she agreed to become my mentor, our strategic retail advisor.”
Aruna is clearly thrilled at the prospect of Marigay working alongside her and her team of seven: “its super-important to surround yourself with good, positive people – that’s how the brand will grow and help take you to the next level.”
Aruna is focused on making her brand a truly international one and is stocked in stores across Europe, as well as the US (via Nieman Marcus) China, Singapore and the Middle East. She travels constantly to promote it, taking over a hotel suite in LA during awards season to work with the A-list’s stylists with the intention of getting some red carpet coverage, and will be in Korea next April for the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference.
She is fulsome in her praise for the work of the UKTI in assisting British exporters – “I’d highly recommend them and the help they provide” and also name-checks Caroline Rush, chief executive at the British Fashion Council, as being instrumental in facilitating introductions to the right contacts within the international fashion community.
She’s currently in talks to get Aruna Seth shoes stocked in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges – “they offer the right kind of environment for a luxury product like ours” – but the really big news is the imminent launch of her own store in Knightsbridge.
“I think this will be an amazing form of advertising for us,” she comments, adding that Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Beijing are all on the horizon over the next 12-18 months. Clearly, this is one young business woman who is taking more than just a step in the right direction.