Michelle Poole started out in fashion with a fashion marketing degree from Newcastle Poly, graduating in 1992. She now works in Colorado as senior vice-president for global product creation and merchandising for Crocs. She speaks to Drapers about her early love of fashion and passion for product.
Founded in Colorado, USA in 2002, Crocs began life as a water-resistant boat shoe sold to Florida sailors. Known for their iconic clog design, the brand has since expanded into creating other shapes including sandals and trainers. Stocked by retailers such as John Lewis, Sports Direct and Zalando, its revenue for the year to 31 December 2016 was $1bn (£738m). Drapers chats to Michelle Poole, Colorado-based senior vice-president for global product creation and merchandising.
What’s your background?
I was one of the very first graduates of a four-year fashion marketing honours degree at Newcastle Poly (now Northumbria University). It was a fantastic degree that combined the art of fashion – illustration designing, pattern making and sewing – with business of fashion topics, such as marketing, consumer behaviour and economics. The idea was to create a pipeline of graduates with an understanding of both the aesthetic and business side of fashion.
How did you come to be working in fashion?
I have always loved clothes – I remember when I was a child that certain colours may be feel happy and others made me feel horrible. I had a hot pink pair of Fiorucci cords that I wore until I literally burst out of them. I was always customising clothes and I’m embarrassed to say I actually knitted a bikini at some point in my teens!
Why do you think Crocs is experiencing a fashion revival?
I wouldn’t exactly call it a fashion revival – we’ve been selling more than 50 million pairs a year for the last few years, so no one has forgotten us. But in terms of the fashion world, if you’re out for long enough you become in again, so, yes, I think that some people are re-discovering how the brand can be relevant for them, and the shock of seeing Crocs on the catwalk [in Christopher Kane’s London Fashion Week shows]has certainly made some interesting headlines for us lately.
How do you go about keeping designs fresh when the classic style is so well known?
It’s a great design challenge to iterate an icon, as many great brands in the market continue to do – Converse and Timberland, for example. Our designers have great fun figuring out new ways to bring interest to our clogs, and some outside partnerships have also brought fresh energy to the silhouette. We also sell a great deal of non-clog styles – more than 50% of our line is made up of sandals, slides, flip-flops, shoes and rain boots, so we have a lot of fun baking our key brand ingredients into these styles too.
How do you keep yourself motivated and creative?
I am naturally a very motivated, high-energy person. I’m always striving to do exciting things with the brand – to meet or hopefully exceed internal plans of course, but more importantly to beat customers and buyers’ expectations of our brand. I love hearing “I can’t believe these are Crocs!” Every season is effectively a blank page, so it’s a process that is always begging for creativity and reinvention. I think I’m just about to close the 50th seasonal collection in my career and it still never gets old.
What are some of the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?
Keeping everyone on the team clear on our direction, helping them prioritise, and dealing with the personal dynamics that come from managing a highly creative team based across three continents.
It’s also a challenge to find time to create space for “change work” versus “busy work”: the urgent often trumps the important. I find long-haul flights to be great time for big thinking. I can’t say I love making mistakes but it certainly forces you to learn really fast, and course-correct quickly.
Is there anyone in industry you particularly admire?
Gosh, there are so many! On the global stage: Steve Jobs, Angela Ahrendts, Jenna Lyons, Mickey Drexler, Paul Smith … people who make, or made, creating great product and storytelling their highest priority. I also follow the blogs of some amazing women who are creating their own path in different creative fields: my favourite is Garance Doré, who profiles the most amazing women in the field of style, beauty, interiors and art. I find it incredibly inspiring to learn about other peoples’ journeys.
Favourite clothing brand
I make a nosedive for Whistles when I’m in the UK. Also loving Ulla Johnson right now
Favourite places to shop
Japan – I am petite, so everything fits me there, and the visual merchandising is amazing.
Last fashion purchase
A chartreuse silk shirt dress from No 6. I plan to break out some colour for autumn!
Road trip to Utah with my twin sister
Last book you read
I’m in the middle of a Harvard Business Review ”On Managing Yourself” book – I feel like I can never stop working on myself.
Last film you watched
Spiderman Homecoming with my 8 year old (I may have napped a bit).
Part-time: fitting pointe shoes in a dance shop. Full-time: retail promotions rep for Pepe Jeans London.
Renovating or overhauling a small brand with loads of potential (and heart). In my next life, I’d like to be an interior designer.
What would we find you doing at the weekend
Yoga, hiking, biking or skiing in the winter – I live in Boulder, Colorado, so there’s always plenty to do outside