Yeardley Smith hit the Hollywood jackpot with her role as the voice of Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons, the longest-running American animated sitcom. As the show celebrates it's 25th year running, many actors in her position would have already gone to a private island to retire. But you won't find Yeardley Smith lounging on a private beach.
She prefers to nurture her creativity and enjoys keeping busy doing what she loves. In 2011 she found a new voice as the CEO and Founder of her own shoe line, Marchez Vous.
In 2010, she was feeling down after a film project had not gone as well as she'd hoped. Thinking about her next move her friend asked her the simple but life-changing question, "What are you passionate about?"
She quickly answered, "Shoes!" From that moment on she couldn't get the thought out of her head, she had to launch a shoe line. Only a week later, she was introduced to her business partner, Ben Cornwell, now COO of Marchez Vous Born in Paris and raised in Washington, DC, Yardley has always loved fashion and shoes.
You won't catch her running errands in sweats and sneakers. Yeardley loves to look polished from clothes to shoes and says, "Feeling pretty from the outside in is a great way to greet the day. Try going into the grocery store looking nice, you will get the best service ever!"
The desire to produce beautiful shoes was based on her own need to find fashionable shoes that were also comfortable, and could take her through hours of work, on a comfortable walk down the red carpet or through an entire evening out.
When she initially met with Ben, who had expertise in clothing, licensing and branding, she didn't just arrive as a celebrity hoping to put her name on a random line of shoes. Rather, she brought in 40 pairs of her own shoes and explained her thoughts on reinventing women's shoes to include both comfort and style. She had a clear vision of what she wanted to accomplish. Ben was transfixed by her passion and he was able to quickly add momentum, connecting Yeardley with a women who began to sketch out her ideas.
Dreams Become Reality
Just nine months later, in Spring 2011, Yeardley went to Italy and saw the company's first 13 pairs of shoes. She was completely moved to see her dream come to fruition and recalls, "It was extraordinary to see and hold the shoes; so beautifully done and exactly to specification."
Yeardley adds, "It's so different from being an actress, where we have to rely on so many people to say yes before we can get a role, there are so many hoops to jump through in the entertainment industry." She finally felt like she could be the master of her own destiny. The shoe business felt much more collaborative to Yeardley and she thrived on her new-found creative outlet.
However, the journey of an entrepreneur also requires that "yes" from buyers and consumers. Yeardley works hard to stand out from the competition in the marketplace while enjoying the freedom of creating shoes that will bring comfort on many levels.
Success Must Include Fun
She continues to build a team of like-minded people around her and says,
"I surround myself with talented people and get them to drink my kool-aid!" Her comedic side is alive and well and both humor and fun are core values at Marchez Vous. She says, "My motto is 'Screw it. Lets do it.' I stole that from Richard Branson."
There are 4 rules boldly noted in the office:
1. Have Fun
2. Ask for Help
3. Learn Something New
4. Have Fun
"Yes," she says, "Numbers 1 and 4 are the same... because work better be f*$%^# fun!" In addition to having fun, Yeardley thrives on learning new things and goes into each day with enthusiasm, drive and an open mind. She says, "It's Interesting to come into business late in the game with people who have been in it forever. But it gives me an excuse to have a plausible deniability. I have that latitude to take a fresh look at things."
Yeardley says their biggest challenge in making comfortable luxury women's shoes is "Being in the same pond as Yves St. Laurent, Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo. Those companies have big money for advertising and Marchez Vous just has me!" She says that in a self-deprecating way, explaining that they do need to be nimble in getting the word out. They hope to get some major retail players from the success that has come from many smaller ones. She says, "It's like the Catch 22 of acting; you can't get an agent without a job and you can't get a job without an agent. We need the major players for volume and hopefully they will come this year."
Learning & Growing
For Spring 2015, they're launching Marchez Blue Diffusion Line which is made in Asia at a lower price point but still modern, young and trend-forward. Yeardley says, "This line is more casual, more urban and young but just as exquisite, witty and spontaneous. It's a different aesthetic and we love it."
Working as Lisa Simpson hasn't required many long work days so being an entrepreneur is completely different. Yeardley says, "It's better for me to have a place to go everyday. I'm happier this way and I'm obsessed with productivity. It's hard in Hollywood for aging women and I've been enormously blessed, and now, having my own company is the perfect blend of being in charge and being collaborative."
Building the Brand
Marchez Vous has about 10 employees between L.A., Italy and China. Yeardley says "We couldn't do this without each of them and I always wants to know what they think. One of the great surprises in business has been working with these people. When I feel frustrated and think I can't see over next hill, they say 'I can see over it. We'll get there.' This is key."
Yeardley talks about building the brand's unique voice, "It's very Important for Marchez Vous to have an identity beyond the dutiful product, so it does have a distinct voice. Each shoe has it's own bio and I write each one to keep that voice authentic." As the line gets bigger and bigger, she says "The bios are getting shorter and shorter. What was I thinking?!" She enjoys giving the customers that extra something and she's also proud of the level of customer service that they bring to the table. That's how her customer service rep gained the endearing title of MFCOEO; Mother F*** Chief of Everything Officer. They won't let anyone down.
Slip On Marchez Vous Shoes & Feel...
Yeardley says, "Marchez Vous shoes are aspirational, they have an ethereal quality that makes women feel special. We're able to offer a complete picture of the feeling of our brand through social media. We're much more than luxury comfort shoes." The bigger picture includes their quirky take on fun, humor, beauty and a positive spirit. She says customers see the what the brand represents then say "Yes, I'd like to have a little bit of that in my life!"
But business life isn't all rainbows and butterflies and, on those overwhelming days, Yeardley says, "I've learned to just be present and focus on the task at hand. I tend to be a future dweller but it's interesting to stay in the moment. In my early career, I missed stuff because I wasn't present and that can feel like a tremendous loss. I'm more mindful now."
Yeardley is proud about the progress of the brand in just four years. She's thrilled that she took the leap of faith, created her own company and landed with her feet firmly planted on a solid business foundation... in beautiful shoes.