MIKKO: CURATOR OF STYLISH SHOES
by H. Naomi March, M.A.
Meet Michaela Longstaff, Managing Director of MIKKO Shoes.
What motivated this creative, composed millennial woman to establish her first South Island shop in Christchurch – one of six, nation-wide – to curate stylish European shoes “deep-rooted in artisan culture … with exceptional craftsmanship?”
Where did she acquire the inspiration to cater for all generations of women, especially those of us who want comfort combined with couture fashion footwear?
When did this New Zealand-born and bred woman achieve the combination of her heart for local Kiwi women and culture, and her passion for international trends and travel, with a very secure business-head on her shoulders?
How has she achieved a balanced work-life partnership between her husband and one-and-a-half children, while leading her family-based business?
Michaela describes growing up with talk across the table every night, including the family business – her Dad was a retailer – and she absorbed so much knowledge that it became part of her language. Unknowingly at the time, she was being sculpted into a business woman – with an appreciation for family businesses.
Her family had handed on to her their business acumen, and she went on to university to study fashion because they could not teach her this specialty. As she studied topics including pattern cutting, clothing design, wool craft, and shoes, she noticed footwear fashion was the least talked about and she wondered why. The lack of conversation drew her to this niche field, where she discovered the difficulties old-time retailers’ have because their children are not coming through to continue the family business. This makes Michaela quite unique –coming into shoes so young – when most young people aren’t interested.
In 2013 Michaela launched MIKKO Shoes to offer an extensive range of European, hand-selected, quality shoes for women who want comfort and style in their footwear. The brands she chose are family-owned businesses, too. “We work with heritage family brands, some of whom have been around for generations, and they are all invested in modern technology.”
Prior to opening her business, Michaela spent a complete year traveling overseas and researching the shoe industry first-hand – looking to find quality suppliers, while positioning herself in the market. Part of her business research included traveling to Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Europe. While in China with my nephew – now her husband, and father of her children – she attended the Guangzhou Shoe Fair. Then on to Shanghai for meetings with business contacts, “followed with a wee holiday” to explore the city, with its mix of Western historic buildings and Chinese modernity and creativity. Finally, they traveled by bullet train to Beijing, where they spent five days absorbing Chinese culture – which Michaela found “extraordinary!!!” At that time of year, the weather was freezing – almost snowing –it was also a quiet time of year, especially at Jinshanling, where they climbed the Great Wall of China.
Michaela with her husband on the Great Wall of China
At the end of her research tour, Michaela realized she had fallen in love with the historic handcraft of family-owned European shoe makers. Shoes became her passion because she has a real love of craftsmanship, and the value and tradition in shoemaking in Europe – it’s where the artisanal skills of western fashion style began. These skills are drawn on today – with different application and construction methods. “Technology continues to develop – it’s all about the craftsmanship, it’s all about the many components in shoe construction – and the high-end components required for shoe making are all available locally, in Europe.”
As an international buyer, Michaela attends the Milan Shoe Fair (MICAM) annually, where all makers’ brands are European. Italian factories that supply MIKKO have passed their skills on through four generations, so far, and in the shoemaking region in Spain, artisans pool their specialty resources together to complete each creation by drawing on centuries of unique handcraft. Michaela believes that, “Fashion is such an art form – people expressing their personality – and yet, comfort should not be sacrificed for style.”
Michaela –2019– Milan Shoe Fair
Cantabrians who had shopped at her Wellington and Auckland stores kept asking, “When are you coming to Christchurch? WHEN are you coming to Christchurch?” Added to these constant requests, Michaela has taken her husband’s birthplace to heart, and when the family travels together, their daughter visits “Great-Granny from Christchurch” – the other three live elsewhere.
Michaela considers all her staff to be members of one team (not a number of separate teams.) She employs local women such as Tracey, who has worked in shoes for 20 years. Tracey told me that during their first meeting, she was “impressed with Michaela’s vision, and refreshing, very positive outlook. We’ve been in Christchurch eight months – trading through the winter – our customers have come back for summer shoes because they understand the product. I get such enjoyment from coming to work – the challenge of helping someone find the perfect fit and style of shoes. We also fit women who visit from out-of-town, so they can feel confident when they shop online.”
Tracey continued, “Michaela has great, extensive training for staff, and detailed manuals. Therefore, she has confidence in us because we understand what we are selling – and we have confidence in her because she has a wonderful eye for buying – she sought out a unique gap in the market, and has filled it.”
Michaela admits she is not a natural salesperson. She is more of a natural creative, and her obvious passion for the craft, and her care for what the customer wants and needs is natural, not forced. Success has come through her care, compassion and commitment to her customers – and her love of fashion through the craft of shoemaking.
Her managers are trained by podiatrists in how to support customers without manipulating a situation. She wants to understand customers’ needs, and to empathize by imagining how their pain might feel. As a Kiwi who understands Kiwis – important when so many international retail businesses are making an impact on our culture – Michaela personally chooses her shoes to fit her extended family, her customers, and her unique Kiwi culture, including those of us who have broader feet – possibly from running around bare-foot as children. She is aware that “as we age, our feet naturally spread and many of us may develop bunions, arthritis or other conditions.”
Her Mothers’ and Grandmothers’ generations still want to look beautiful and stylish, yet have shoes that support their feet, back, and posture – they want comfort created into couture. Michaela reassures me that “you Baby Boomers are still so young at heart – you’re connected to the world through electronic gadgets, you travel, and you still love high fashion – and you want comfort with it.”
Naturally, women visiting from other cultures, including the USA and China, stock up on MIKKO Shoes while they’re here. As a curator of stylish shoes, MIKKO has something exquisite, unique to your individual fashion-style, and your comfort needs – handcrafted by family-owned European artisans, and personally brought to you by Michaela – with committed care, creativity, and compassion.
Contact MIKKO Shoes, Christchurch City Centre on Tel: (03) 595 0762
or E: email@example.com
Need something new for a special Christmas party? MIKKO Summer Sale is on NOW!
Visit Michaela’s wonderful team in person, at 143 VICTORIA STREET
or shop online: www.mikkoshoes.nz
My New Year’s resolutions include some serious shoe shopping (try saying that quickly), and I hope you have some fun at MIKKO Shoes, too.
Season’s Greetings to all!
About the Author
- Naomi March, M.A. has a Master of Arts degree in Pastoral Leadership (2016), with special emphasis on pastoral care to women.
Naomi has traveled throughout many countries, and lived and worked in China in the mid-1990s, returning for a visit in 2018. Naomi still delights in finding diversity in people and their places, music and culture.
As an Adult Educator, Naomi is currently writing her series of seminars into book-workbook formats – specializing in “growing up, not growing old,” including health and financial issues in the senior years.