Julia Grinham is the CEO and UK based driving force behind the hugely successful made-to-order shoe label Upper Street which she co-founded with her sister Katy Chandler who runs the Hong Kong arm of the business.
With a strong entrepreneurial spirit and an impressive business background, Julia has successfully run sizeable offices in London and Asia for both large and small organisations. ‘My father always said I’d end up being Chairwoman of ICI. In fact, even when I was little I always imagined myself all grown up looking chic in a beautifully cut suit, high heeled courts and luxury briefcase!’
After a number of years working in media and technology, Julia looked for a change. Despite carving out a successful career, Julia wanted to build a business that created a significant asset for the future and had the potential to achieve a place in the global arena.
Over three years Julia and Katy have grown Upper Street from an idea hatched over a sisterly catch up into an award-winning business. Here Julia talks to us about what it is like working with family and clues us up to the latest fashion trends…
How did you and your your sister start the business?
Katy and I started Upper Street together in 2010. It all began when we went out for dinner, Katy was, and still is, based in Hong Kong. I noticed that Katy was wearing a fabulous pair of heels and when I asked where she bought them – thinking she had splashed out on an expensive luxury pair of heels – she revealed that they had been custom made in an independent boutique in Hong Kong. I was particularly jealous as I had previously wasted hours searching for the perfect pair of shoes and had looked into having a pair made and the cost was astronomical. For us this was our ‘aha!’ moment, we decided to create an online environment that enabled women across the world to create custom made shoes that were both beautiful and accessible.
Is it hard to work with family?
Not at all, we really enjoy it. When Katy and I first went into business together we agreed that we would never let business affect our relationship and it never has. We are very honest with each other and I think that is so important when working with family.
What was the best advice anyone gave you?
The best advice I was given was; ‘back yourself’. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, who else will?!
What do you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I wish I knew how exciting it would be! I am very lucky to work with my sister and a fantastic team of people who are so passionate about our brand. We are always coming up with creative new ideas that our customers will love. There’s nothing better than getting great feedback from a customer.
What is your favourite design that you do?
I’m a big fan of a classic court, they’re effortlessly chic and the right pair can really make an outfit. When I was little I always imagined myself in a beautifully cut suit with fabulous courts and a luxury briefcase.
What are your best sellers?
Pointed courts are our best sellers although peep toes work across all sectors.
What new trends should our Belle’s look out for?
This season there is a real emphasis on structural shoes with bold geometric shapes. I also love the luxe metallics mixed with demure greys for AW14 – grey is a fabulous base colour to build from and I always add a touch of sparkle. I like to take aspects of big trends and work them into an incredible pair of shoes that will transition seasons – a great pair of shoes can make any outfit stand out!
What do you think makes a sophisticated woman and who best personifies this?
Being able to embrace styles that work for you is the best way to always look sophisticated. There’s no point in getting on board with an exciting trend if it looks awful on you. Knowing your own personal style is so important.
What is your favourite holiday destination and why?
I’m a huge fan of New York! I love the atmosphere and the city buzz there. Buying out Milk & Honey (our American equivalent) is our first step into the US market which is so exciting! I can’t wait to see this next stage of the business develop and grow, I’d love us to have a shoe lounge based in New York too one day.
Where do you like to go out in London?
I really like House of St Barnabas. It’s very relaxed and such a great place to go with friends to chat and catch up – and the cocktails are great too!
What three universal truths do you live by?
1) Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.
2) Where there’s a will there’s a way.
3) Nothing ever comes without a lot of hard work.