Steve Madden: The Evolution of an Empire

A multi-million dollar empire built from the trunk of a red Nissan Sentra in the early ‘90s. The infinite potential of a $1,100 investment. This is the beginning of the fashion empire known as Steve Madden.

Working sales as a teenager, Madden was introduced to the industry of footwear and the revolt of retail. He took a liking to the variation of shoe styles, foreseeing great potential in design. “You learn a lot about the field you want to be in,” he explains. It’s the first step of many; get to know your audience and the market you want to participate in. Many years later, Madden found himself with $1,100 and a passion to create. “I probably spent that money on gas or lunch,” he laughs.

Madden began searching for potential business partners, none of which shared the same vision. It wasn’t long before he decided to work on his own. With time, he began materializing his vision with a small group of factory workers and a co-stylist. New York in the ‘90s was a loud scene filled with rock and roll, lights and clubs. He was inspired to create designs that fuse with that bustling city setting.

The Big Head campaign, released in the early ‘90s, became the iconic image for Steve Madden. Influenced by ‘90s music in collaboration, his digital renderings were seen in commercials and poster advertisements all around the nation. In terms of advertising today, Madden isn’t entirely ecstatic about social media and the selfie-age we live in. “It’s about surrounding yourself with really smart people,” he explains. “Influencers weren’t big back in the day. We were more interested in the number of people wearing our shoes in the street.”

The Madden name single-handedly took the fashion industry by storm. “We were able to buy out our competitions’ shelf space.” He chuckled. “It was great.” Things turned around quickly when Madden was incarcerated in the early 2000s, facing jail time up to 10 years. His company planned ahead in preparation for the worst. “I was forced to build an amazing team because I was going away.” Upon Madden’s return from prison, business exploded— the company alliance couldn’t be stronger. Looking back, the situation could almost be seen as a blessing in disguise for Madden and his brand. “It’s important to look for the silver lining in everything.”

When asked about the direction of Steve Madden, he exclusively provided insight into the future of the brand. “We’re looking to expand the clothing to match the spirit of the shoes. We make shoes people want to buy.” It is the skill of unifying both art and commerce into one well-oiled machine. “Trends are our identity.”

On the topic of shoe sales, keep your eyes peeled for Madden’s footwear at Globe Shoes on Broughton. “You will see my shoes there in 30 days!” he promises.

Madden’s personal life was a topic of interest, considering his hand in running a multi-million dollar company as a single father. “It’s a balance of life and work,” he admits. “I want my daughter to know that the reason one works is to be able to provide food and a home.” In terms of the celebrity spotlight, he says not much has changed from his usual routine, with the exception of: “You mostly get the good table at a restaurant.”

Madden’s success is a beacon of hope amongst young, up-and-coming designers and artists across the globe. “I know this will probably sound cliché, but in order to reach success, it’s important to love what you do.” To Madden, the process is just as important as the final result. “Put in honest work and be proud in providing for others.”

Written by Anna Vescovi

Photo by Ty Dowda

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