TANYA MULESA – FOUNDER OF CLEVERSTEIN, THE WORLD’S FIRST SUSTAINABLE CHAMELEON FOOTWEAR BRAND
Tell us a little about yourself and your career background?
I have just launched Cleverstein – the world’s first compact transformative sustainable footwear. The company is on a mission to defeat clutter and pollution by introducing comfortable, elegant and eco-friendly shoes which transform to match any outfit or occasion.
I’ve built a 12-year career in sustainable energy in various commercial roles: from selling wind power turbines in North America, to energy market research and consulting in Europe at Bloomberg. A year ago, I realised sustainable fashion was about 10 years behind energy from the perspective of consumer awareness, legislation and the supply chain. To me, it was a wake-up call to start my footwear company.
Cleverstein is shaking up the footwear industry, where do you find creative inspiration?
I am a creative pragmatist. First, I think about what I find appealing as a travelling businesswoman. Second, I create it (“how” is a long story). Then I test it with my target audience: get their feedback, study their relationships with shoes, and observe design preferences. Finally, inspired by all the ladies’ input, I improve the functionality and the design.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of creating Cleverstein?
The feedback from our customers has been so inspiring. But our biggest challenge is to change consumer behaviour towards reducing the amount of shoes bought and investing in the circularity of shoes (regenerate resources, repair, recycle). When I see this happening, it will be the most rewarding experience. To me, it’s more about social change than high profits. I trust that when social change happens, profits will follow.
What have been some of the greatest obstacles you’ve faced in starting your own company?
Resigning from my stable corporate job has been the hardest. In fact, I had a panic attack before I sent my resignation letter. But once I did it, everything that followed reminded me of sailing in rough waters: it was exciting and difficult at the same time. Finding the right manufacturing partner and the optimum approach to sustainability have been among the hardest equations to solve on this journey.
How important is sustainability, and an environmental consciousness in business today?
Very important. The consumer consciousness is shifting fast. The rise of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion is just the beginning. In 2018, I ran a survey in London querying 460 women in Cleverstein’s target market. The results demonstrated that 60 per cent of them would pay more for sustainably made shoes, provided they met their comfort, design and quality criteria. I aim to run another study at the end of this year and I predict this number will be even higher.
Cleverstein supports busy, demanding lifestyles, how do you manage your own work-life balance?
My shoes help me, but in reality it is hard to manage. Seeing my savings depleting every day, having a toddler and a husband who travels 75 per cent of the time is difficult to manage. But I am lucky to have very supportive people around me, who are always there when I really need them. What also helped enormously was decluttering and organising of myself. Launching a business creates a very different routine from the corporate one. I became a big fan of Marie Kondo, who taught me the true power of minimalism – at home and at work. It is amazing how much more I can accomplish when I have fewer things in life to think about.
And finally what are your top tips for fellow entrepreneurs wanting to make a success of their businesses?
Offer products or services that serve both people and the environment. Always validate your gut feeling with market research or consult someone you trust on the matter. Choose small niche targets, and make them a success first. I find investors don’t like unrealistic, overstretched targets.