“We should all feel good being Ma’ams.”
Sofi Newmyer loves shoes. After spending ten years at TOMS, one of the original philanthropic companies in the fashion industry, she wanted to use the experience and ethos she had gained to launch a line of shoes she would want to wear. Enter Ma’am shoes: comfortable, fashionable, sustainable, and designed to meet the needs of the modern woman.
KCM talked to Sofi about her experience building a female-led company, the story behind the name, and why Ma’am shoes are ideal for transitioning to post-pandemic life.
KCM: Tell us about the genesis of Ma’am! When did you know it was time to start your own company?
Sofi Newmyer: I was on the hunt for shoes that were cute, comfortable and sustainably made. But I couldn’t find them anywhere. And so my desire to become a female entrepreneur was really out of my desire as a customer to find a product that I wanted, that I couldn’t find anywhere else. I started my career at TOMS right after college when it was a tiny startup. I’ve always loved wearing shoes and I always look at other people’s shoes! But after 10 years at TOMS, I decided that I want to be my own boss.
This is going to sound much bleaker than it really was, but I would wake up in the morning and I would say, What am I doing with my life? What can I do with my life, that is really going to get me up in the morning and make me feel proud when I go to sleep at night? I didn’t want to just be a cog in the machine. And let me tell you, the TOMS machine is a great machine. But I wanted to create my own system and my own way of doing things. And I wanted to wear a product that I loved, that I’m obsessed with.
Tell us the story behind the name of the company, Ma’am?
Most women I know over a certain age have had the experience of being called “Ma’am” for the first time. I was in the grocery store, I was also newly married. I was 30. I was feeling very comfortable in my own skin. And then the checkout clerk looked me up and down and said, Have a good day, ma’am and I just lost it. I thought It’s over, my best days are behind me. I’m an old woman now. And then it made me so mad that finally I was in a place in my life where I was really comfortable in my skin, and I had become “Ma’am”. So I wanted to reclaim what it means to be a Ma’am– to be really proud of my age and my wisdom that comes along with it. We should all feel good being Ma’ams. Let’s make it a badge of honor, not something that suddenly insinuates you should be wearing paper bags and soaking in eye cream.
You launched Ma’am right on the precipice of the pandemic. What was it like leading a brand new company through the craziest year on record?
We were supposed to launch in may of 2020 but our Los Angeles factory closed for a few months, so we ended up pushing our launch to September and we shifted a little bit. We were no longer shoes for women on the go, but we were shoes for the modern woman. We’re all really valuing comfort above everything else right now, and this is a gateway shoe where you still feel good going outside in them. When the world opens up – fingers crossed – this is the perfect shoe to be reentering the world with. We’re really positioning ourselves that way as your transition from comfort into the reality of a non-pandemic world.
Sustainability and inclusivity are also at the heart of what you do. How did you shape the ethos of the company?
When I worked at TOMS, everyone was constantly thinking, How do we use business as a tool for good in the world?. So I wanted Ma’am to be sustainable — to be good for the world– at every step in the supply chain. Cargo shipping is responsible for a huge amount of carbon emissions in the world. So how can I focus on local manufacturing as much as possible? I knew that that was an essential tenant to the business–I’m going to the factory later today, which is a quick 15-minute ride from my house (in my eco-friendly car). I also wanted to make sure that we were being inclusive in the stories we were telling and the women that we were spotlighting– not just white women and women of privilege, but of different races and ages, making sure that being a “Ma’am” meant a variety of things. We wanted to speak to the many nuances of being a progressive woman in 2021.
What has it been like to be a woman running your own business?
I think as women, we all the time feel like frauds. And we feel like we’re not the most qualified person in the room. And so it totally requires a little bit of ‘fake it till you make it’. I have gotten very comfortable faking it, which I think at a certain point, means you’re not faking it anymore. You’re just then doing. So my Imposter Syndrome is slowly going away, but then you reach a new level and you feel like an imposter all over again.
When I launched Ma’am, I made a huge point of saying, I want to hire as many women as possible. So from my lawyer to my accountant, to the creative team, to the women who are actually creating the product and our local artisans, I try to hire as many women as possible. It’s really important to me that this company is created by people who look like our customers and who have the needs of our customers.