In this edition of Empowered Women Empower, join us for a peek inside the inspiring world of Jennifer Fessler, CEO and co-founder of F. Major, a luxury shoe brand using innovative comfort technology. Jennifer and co-founder Shari Friedman, the president of F.Major, met in college. They never imagined this would be life in their 50s, but a shared love of fashion and an age-induced desire for comfortable heels brought them together for the greater good of all style-loving feet! Read on to be inspired by Jennifer’s wonderful passion and drive.
Inside the Empowering World of Jennifer Fessler, CEO of F.Major
Love Happens: As our name and the tagline of our publisher, KOKET, denotes, at Love Happens, we are firm believers that you cannot achieve any level of success without love. When did your love affair with shoes begin? How did it make you feel?
Jennifer Fessler: I think my love affair with heels began in the womb, as I don’t remember ever not being obsessed with high heels! Heels make you feel confident, empowered, and SEXY! I am dating myself here, but like so many women of a certain age, I was a Carrie Bradshaw/Sex and the City ADDICT! As much as I loved heels before the iconic show, I learned about the true luxury heel (Manolo, Jimmy Choo, Balenciaga) from Sex and the City. Back in the day, I could only covet that luxury. When I could finally afford a $500+ pair of heels, I found that they were as painful as they were beautiful. And the older I got, the truer that became. My love and my passion, and my pain all got channeled into F.Major!
Lh: Tell us a little bit about your career leading up to creating F.Major and how you came up with the idea for the comfortable heels brand. And, of course, we want to hear the story behind the name.
Jennifer: I grew up in Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. I’ve always been a self-proclaimed “fashionista” who loves anything clothes, shoes, and makeup. After graduating from college, I moved to NYC, where I worked as a talent agent, a human resources director, and the director of a dating service, and other miscellaneous jobs that never quite fulfilled me. After getting married, having kids, and moving to suburban New Jersey, I worked part-time as a recruiter in the fashion industry. At age 50, I took on the role of entrepreneur, and I haven’t looked back.
F.Major started when, after a fundraiser, I found myself walking the streets of Manhattan barefoot, as one more second of wearing my heels was simply too much to bear. Refusing to succumb to flats, I started on a quest to find a single black pump that would get me through a night without excruciating pain. My search for a comfort heel online was unsuccessful, as the look of what was being offered was not sexy, to say the least!
My quest culminated in a trip to a department store where I a saleslady told me that upscale designers do not make heels for wide feet! She suggested “sizing up” and learning to walk in heels that were both too narrow and too long for my feet. As you can imagine, at age 50, I was not interested in re-learning to walk! That was my “ah-ha” moment and the beginning of what’s now F.Major.
Jennifer Fessler & Sheri Friedman
Brought together by a fondness for 80’s music, late-night snacking, and sarcastic rhetoric, when I met Shari Friedman in college, I knew I found a life-long friendship. Over the next three decades, our relationship grew as we juggled families, careers, and life while living on opposite coasts. We never imagined that one day we would be badass entrepreneurs going out on a limb to turn the shoe industry upside down. As self-proclaimed fashionistas, Shari and I always loved to complete our outfits with a perfect pair of heels. So together, we embarked on an extensive search for the perfect black heel-one that was sexy, albeit comfortable-a shoe we could wear with everything and get through a business meeting or a night out.
Our mission is not only to provide sexy, comfortable high heels, it is also to help redefine the image of the mature woman.
We hired Red Antler, a premier direct-to-consumer branding agency based in Brooklyn. We chose the name F. Major name for several reasons. We liked using a musical note as we felt it elevated the brand. And, quite frankly, we love the “F” word. Our mission is not only to provide sexy, comfortable high heels, it is also to help redefine the image of the mature woman. We think of ourselves as irreverent and unapologetically caustic. We rail against the idea that after a certain age, women are expected to lose their edge and take on a subdued and almost prudish sense of self. The “F-word” is not only in our vocabulary; it represents our outspoken and sometimes “in your face” personalities. Less importantly but certainly worth mentioning, F stands for Fierce and Fabulous and is the first letter of both of our last names, Jennifer Fessler and Shari Friedman.
Lh: What do you think about the old phrase, “beauty is pain”?
Jennifer: I think it’s BS. I don’t know who it was that came up with that saying but shame on him/her. Life is too often painful. Can’t we agree that whatever we do to feel beautiful should be a joy???
Lh: You recently did a piece on wearing comfortable wedding shoes. How has the bridal market changed F.Major?
Jennifer: Weddings are the perfect storm for dressing up and suffering. We have spent too many hours at what is supposed to be a joyous occasion, going barefoot after cocktail hour. Dancing in celebration is not as much fun as it should be when there’s no amount of Pinot Grigio that can take away the pain!
Lh: You mentioned the amount of work put into finding the right prototype and how much your company worked to find the best fit for the most comfortable heels. Would you say that this trial and error made the company stronger?
Jennifer: 100%. I had a clear vision of what I wanted F.Major to look like. That part was easy. I even patterned them after a pair of Prada pumps I felt I had to have ( shhh …..don’t tell!). I was bound and determined to find the holy grail of technology that allowed for a sleek and sexy, and slim silhouette that I couldn’t find in traditional “comfort pumps”. That determination laid the groundwork for our mission…to give the middle finger to the heel industry, which seemed to be ignoring mature women.
Lh: One of your greatest core values is having confidence in comfort. How important is confidence when it comes to being a successful woman?
Jennifer: Confidence is everything when it comes to success. Period. Full stop. There are too many roadblocks to success without having confidence in your abilities and your mission. Not that you don’t have moments of insecurity…that’s when your team steps in.
Lh: You are a Mom, yay, and bless you! How do you balance being a mom and a business owner?
Jennifer: My kids are my everything and will always come first. But one of the advantages of starting a business at 50 is that they’re older. They are both in their 20s and need less attention in terms of the day-to-day. I will say that so much of the joy of becoming an entrepreneur at my age is the admiration from my kids. Having them (particularly my daughter) watch me reinvent myself is really gratifying, and I hope a powerful example for them.
Lh: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Jennifer: I wrote a piece about this. It’s entitled “My startup stole my empty nest”. I have 3 babies. My 2 kids and F.Major. The 3 of them are my greatest achievements!
Lh: What empowers you most?
Jennifer: Creativity! I feel the most powerful when I am being creative. And I have found that creativity is not only the act of having an idea and bringing it to life. It requires constant creativity to run a business. Every aspect, from marketing to networking to problem-solving, is served by my individual creativity, and it makes me feel powerful!
In essence she took a girdle and made it sexy and cool. We want the same when we talk about our feet changing with time and how cool it is to claim our need and desire for a killer heel that doesn’t kill.
Lh: Who are your greatest inspirations or influences?
Jennifer: I love this question because I love the following woman and her brand. Sara Blakely, who invented Spanx, took what was, in essence, a girdle and made it sexy and cool. We want the same when we talk about our feet changing with time and how cool it is to claim our need and desire for a killer heel that doesn’t kill.
Lh: What advice would you give to someone starting in the shoe industry?
Jennifer: Have a clear purpose and intention. Whether it’s fit, form, or aesthetic, know exactly what defines you and your brand.
Lh: Do you have any favorite empowering quotes?
Jennifer: There are so many mottos and quotes I love. But I can’t say I live by any of them as they are constantly changing. Today it’s “slow and steady wins the race!”
Lh: What’s next for Jennifer Fessler and F.Major?
Jennifer: F.Major’s next “must have” color just launched. We thought we only needed the quintessential black heel. It turns out we need a beige one too!