Jodie Fox has spoken out for the first time since the collapse of Shoes of Prey. Picture: Supplied
Jodie Fox has spoken out for the first time since the collapse of Shoes of Prey. Picture: Supplied

‘Horrific’ downfall of Aussie fashion empire

For years Jodie Fox was one of the country's brightest start-up success stories with the world at her feet.

Then, in August 2018, Shoes of Prey - the shoewear empire she co-founded in 2009, which she describes as her "baby" - spectacularly collapsed.

The groundbreaking brand was initially a tearaway success, wowing customers by allowing them to design their own shoes online.

Ms Fox, who launched the business at age 27 with her former husband Michael Fox and their university mate Mike Knapp, effectively became the glamorous face of the company, which was considered an Aussie start-up darling.

While the founders have agreed not to disclose the company's revenue or valuation, Mr Fox wrote in Medium in March that it was once "prepped to scale into the $100m's revenue".

But in March 2018, a hint of the looming catastrophe came to light when Mr Fox emailed some of the country's biggest start-up names to ask for fresh funding from investors, explaining the company needed $3 million in a "bridge round" to shift towards a completely new business model.

Then, last August, Shoes of Prey abruptly ceased trading.

Shoes of Prey founders Michael and Jodie Fox and Mike Knapp, pictured in 2009. Picture: Supplied
Shoes of Prey founders Michael and Jodie Fox and Mike Knapp, pictured in 2009. Picture: Supplied

Then, seven months later, the company that had once attracted a bevy of big-name investors, including Atlassian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, entered into liquidation.

The news devastated loyal customers, shocked Australia's start-up community, lost investors millions and reportedly left more than 100 employees out of a job.

Now, for the first time since that wounding failure, Jodie Fox has spoken publicly, telling news.com.au what really went on behind the scenes.

JODIE FOX SPEAKS

Ms Fox described August 28, 2018 as "one of the most horrific days of my life".

The writing had been on the wall for some time, but when that day finally arrived and the call was made to shut Shoes of Prey, it took a physical toll.

"I couldn't sit still, I couldn't sleep. I cleaned every surface of my apartment, I ironed every piece of clothing … I found myself in a real kind of urgent, anxious spiral," she said.

Ms Fox was at the company's factory in China at the time, and also feared for her own safety.

Shoes of Prey was one of Australia's original fashion start-up success stories. Picture: Supplied
Shoes of Prey was one of Australia's original fashion start-up success stories. Picture: Supplied

She said when factories closed in China, it was common for the owner to simply disappear, leaving workers without the severance pay they're legally entitled to.

As a result, it was "customary" for workers who suspected an impeding closure to have the owner kidnapped and held hostage for ransom.

"I did have an excellent relationship with our team, however, there was always a real nervousness. In addition to the emotional cacophony of getting ready to close the doors on my dream, my baby of 10 years, I was also in a high-risk situation," she explained.

"It was pretty full on and I was alone by that stage - my co-founders weren't in the day-to-day business and our COO had also left the business, so I was carrying this weight on my shoulders."

But Ms Fox said there was "real heartbreak" among staff when the company folded - and that workers insisted on completing all outstanding orders for the week, despite effectively being "fired".

Ms Fox, who is still in contact with previous investors and staff members today, said she was "ashamed" when the business failed.

"Our group of investors were absolutely world-class, visionary and worked with us on building a concept that had never existed before," she said.

Jodie Fox is speaking out for the first time since the collapse of her ‘baby’. Picture: Supplied
Jodie Fox is speaking out for the first time since the collapse of her ‘baby’. Picture: Supplied

"I wanted us to be the company that made their investments multiply many times over. I wanted to fall into the 10 per cent of investment companies that make it, not the 90 per cent of venture backed companies that close. And when we did not fall into that 10 per cent, I felt shame and disappointment."

As a self-confessed "alpha girl", Ms Fox said she struggled with the loss of Shoes of Prey, which had consumed her days and been a vital part of her identity for a decade.

"Before August 28, 2018, I would walk into a room and say, 'Hi, I'm Jodie Fox from Shoes of Prey' - but after that date, I was just Jodie Fox," she said.

"I was like a deer in the headlights and it has been really frightening. As someone who was really driven and focused, to not have that clearly-defined identity was a huge deal."

Jodie Fox effectively became the glamorous face of the brand. Picture: Supplied
Jodie Fox effectively became the glamorous face of the brand. Picture: Supplied

In the months since Shoes of Prey collapsed, Ms Fox has reflected on what went wrong, both personally and for the business, revealing she battled "pretty significant anxiety and depression" as well as "Impostor Syndrome" even at its peak.

"It was so wild to come to a moment of clarity and realise that Shoes of Prey really was the love of my life and I was putting all of my energy into that … I didn't realise there were so many personal things I was not making time for, I didn't know I was making that mistake," she said.

Ms Fox said the brand delivered "unbelievable metrics for many, many years", achieving huge growth with little investment, attracting masses of customers without advertising and evolving the online business into a number of bricks-and-mortar stores.

But ultimately, Shoes of Prey simply failed to crack the mass market.

Shoes of Prey expanded into physical stores. Picture: Simon Leong
Shoes of Prey expanded into physical stores. Picture: Simon Leong

"Everyone loves the idea of being a designer - if you're told you can make your own shoes, you think, 'Oh my God, of course I'd love that'. But we'd see some customers design shoes in two minutes, while others tweaked designs for months on end," she explained.

"There was a real paralysis of choice and it wasn't for the mass-market consumer."

But of course, there were high points.

For the first few years, the co-founders lived off "Maggi noodles", collecting "quite humble" salaries and reinvesting most profits into Shoes of Prey.

The business was run out of Ms Fox's Sydney apartment in the early days. Picture: Supplied
The business was run out of Ms Fox's Sydney apartment in the early days. Picture: Supplied

"I didn't really buy clothes and if I did it was fast fashion on sale. I made coffee at home," Ms Fox said.

"It was nice when the coin flipped and I could be more relaxed about those things and have some amazing experiences. The way I think about money is the freedom to choose."

NEW BEGINNINGS

The collapse of Shoes of Prey was a "confronting" blow for Ms Fox, but since then, she's been focused on rebuilding.

From January until late May, she wrote Reboot: Probably More Than You Ever Wanted to Know about Starting a Global Business, a "raw and honest" look at the highs - and lows - of her business journey.

In June, she married new husband Vuki Vujasinovic, and the couple are expecting their first child.

The pair have just relocated from the US back to Australia, and Ms Fox admitted to "kicking around" a new business idea.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, Ms Fox has learnt to take the collapse in her stride.

"It really sucks … but given it was my first business, I think I did OK," she said.

 

Reboot: Probably More Than You Ever Wanted to Know about Starting a Global Business by Jodie Fox is available here from tomorrow (RRP $A29.95).

Jodie Fox said there was ‘real heartbreak’ among employees when Shoes of Prey folded.
Jodie Fox said there was ‘real heartbreak’ among employees when Shoes of Prey folded.
Ms Fox, pictured in 2009, said she bore the brunt of the company’s collapse. Picture: Supplied
Ms Fox, pictured in 2009, said she bore the brunt of the company’s collapse. Picture: Supplied