It’s difficult to argue that a fashion brand today can truly compete without a successful Instagram page. Luckily, having an arsenal of influencers and megastars on hand to promote your name helps.
During an interview for AOL’s Build Series NYC, Steve Madden, who is currently promoting the new documentary Maddman: The Steve Madden Story, available on iTunes Dec. 1, discussed how he’s adapting to an age in which social media designers and influencers generate consumer interest now more than ever.
“I have to say, Cardi B, she’s blown my mind with her Instagrams. She does these riffs … on like a purple blanket — I know you all must know who she is, she’s a budding superstar hip-hop artist from New York who used to be a pole dancer,” Madden says. “I don’t know if it’s her or a character she develops, it’s just so much fun to watch. It’s gotten me more into Instagram.”
The shoe mogul, who has worked with everyone from Kendall and Kylie Jenner to Lady Gaga, now adds the breakout rapper to his roster, although he’s not yet giving details on their collaboration. He’s clearly thrilled, though, noting, “I think she’s adorable, and she’s just exploding. She’s intelligent, and it’s great to see so many people like her; they’re rooting for her.”
Instagram is a new medium for the 59-year-old Long Island native, who is the design chief of a company whose youngest shoppers are more likely to recognize the Cardi Bs of the world than the Lil’ Kims — a fan of the Madden brand in its heyday. The Steve Madden company rose to prominence in the mid-1990s after an explosive initial public offering led by Stratton Oakmont and Jordan Belfort, better known as the Wolf of Wall Street (or, for the Gen Z set, this catchy YouTube hit.)
But that relationship led Madden to a two-and-a-half year stint in jail for conspiracy to commit money laundering and securities fraud, and made it difficult for Madden to keep his finger on the pulse of his customers. (Throughout the documentary, he maintains, “You can’t run a business from prison.”)
Once Madden was released from prison in 2005, his brand struggled. Originally known for affordably priced, chunky platform heels and mules like the Mary Lou style that teenagers consumed voraciously, Madden had a difficult time connecting with customers who favored spike-toed stilettos and high-priced designer wares.
The early aughts also brought more competition. Fast-fashion behemoths like Zara challenged the Steve Madden brand, which was also known for churning out styles faster than any department store lines could, thanks to the proximity of his Queens-based manufacturing site to the fashion capital of Manhattan.
Fast fashion means responding to trends in real time, and in some cases, copying designs straight from the runway — something that both Zara and Steve Madden have been accused of.
Nonetheless, the shoe business is a world Madden once ruled, as he now fights to maintain his popularity in an age when brands like Gucci and Adidas (which Madden cites as personal favorites) dominate on Instagram. For reference, the Steve Madden brand Instagram page has 1.8 million followers, while the brand’s peers have far fewer (Aldo has 1.4 million followers, and Sam Edelman has 251,000.) As for Madden’s personal account? The “Cobbler NYC” has 3,720 followers.
Still, Madden is undeterred. A U.S.-generated revenue of $1.25 billion-plus in 2016, up from $1.22 billion in 2014, doesn’t hurt, either. “I see some other shoes that look better than mine. It makes me insane, and I get very competitive again,” he says. “I still want to make great shoes. I want everybody to wear my shoes. My fantasy is that there are no other shoe companies in New York but mine.”
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