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Muddy Meets: Laura Schofield, Otto + Ivy

Ex-TV presenter Laura Schofield moved her business to the Lizard in 2021 and tells Muddy Cornwall about breaking biases selling beautiful shoes designed by and for tall women.

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women as well as being a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. Here at Muddy Cornwall we are marking the day once again with an interview series of inspiring women across the Duchy.

Tell me a bit about your background and what you do – and how you came to do this?

Until last summer, I’d worked in television for 15 years, but being a 6-footer with size 9 feet, I’d always struggled to get shoes and clothes to fit. So after blogging about the tall experience for a number of years, I conducted a survey to see how many women shared in my shoe woes, and find out how I might be able to help them.

When a thousand women replied within a week, I knew that both the highstreet and luxury brands were failing to realise the need for exquisitely made, stylish and trend-led shoes in larger sizes. 

Mainstream women’s footwear usually stops at a size 8, and anything available over that was usually frumpy and uninspiring. I wanted tall women to have the excitement their friends had enjoyed when buying footwear. 

In 2018 I hopped on a plane to visit factories, and in 2020, Otto + Ivy was born. It now has customers all around the world, has moved from my spare room to a warehouse, and last year I quit my telly job to focus on it full-time. 

Has your day to day working life changed at all during the pandemic and if so, do you think it has highlighted any need for change?

I launched my business in January 2020, just weeks before the pandemic, so it’s difficult to say whether it’s had an impact on the business or my working day really. I think if I’d have started a regular sized footwear brand, I’d have been in trouble, as the industry took a nosedive during lockdown when everyone was wearing slippers and trainers. But tall girls have been starved of beautiful footwear for so long, that I think they were desperate to treat themselves. I have customers who’ve bought 10, 20 or even 30 pairs in the last two years, from all corners of the world. 

Have you encountered any examples of bias in your working life?

While fashion is quite a female dominated industry, shoemaking can feel like a bit of an old boys’ club sometimes. It took me a while to find a factory I loved working with, and while many men I have encountered have been supportive, I’ve come across a couple who were excruciatingly patronising. One factory owner would roll his eyes at my ideas and refer to me as “sweetheart”, before proceeding to tell me what I already knew.

What are you/ your teamdoing to call out gender bias, discrimination or stereotyping?

A male factory agent I worked with would tell me I was too obsessed with price and refuse to enter into any negotiations with me. I’ve since cut out agencies and work directly with the factories to get the best price and service; and funnily enough, the factories I have ended up working with most regularly are managed by women. 

It’s so important to me that all women feel included and safe- unfortunately every so often I get inappropriate messages from men, or, occasionally, they also try to contact my followers. I make sure to block them immediately and don’t give them the time of day but unsolicited messages offering money in exchange for photos is harassment, and it’s not welcome. 

What’s the general vibe among women in business / business owners in Cornwall.

I moved to the Lizard in August last year from London (my husband is Cornish and has been banging on about moving for the last 16 years). I never realised just how much I’d adore it. The Cornish culture of helping the community definitely spills over into the business world too; I’ve met so many wonderful business owners (probably more women than men thus far), and everyone has been so enthusiastic and kind when I tell them about my brand. I feel like people have really nailed the work/life balance down here and people just want good things for their fellow business-owners. 

Do you have any role models?

I’m really inspired by Judy Rich, who founded Long Tall Sally in the 1970s. She turned it into a global brand for tall women, long before internet shopping, and when the retail landscape was very very different. I can’t believe she pulled it off!

What’s your favourite Cornish beach / view?

I just don’t think there is a beach in the world that can beat Kynance Cove; it has breathtaking views, golden sands, turquoise lagoons and rocks for the kids to scramble over. I particularly love it on a quiet, crisp, sunny day in the winter. 

What do you do in Cornwall to make the most of living here?

I was never much of a nature girl, and now I’ve become obsessed with cliff path running and sea swimming. I’m actually a bit of an anxious person and it’s helped settle my mind so much. 

Favourite cafe/ restaurant / shop / business that isn’t yours!

Coast Coffee Bar and Bistro in Lizard Village is exceptional; the fish is so fresh, the roasts are bang-on, and their dirty burger is the very best in Cornwall (and I’m a burger girl!). 

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