Ex-City lawyer chooses shoe design over partnership
This week we caught up with Angeline Tournier who gave up an offer of partnership in favour of pursuing her dream, a career in designing shoes. She has set up her own fashion label (Angeline Tournier), and now designs high-fashion, practical shoes, organises their manufacture and sells them on-line at www.angelinetournier.com and wholesale to exclusive retail outlets. How did she do that?
mtl: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into law?
Angeline: Well, like many lawyers who did non-law degrees, I ended up doing it because I didn’t know what else to do. I found out about a few law firms at the careers service at university and realised that here was someone who was going to pay for me to do some extra studying and then give me a decent job at the end of it – that seemed like a good deal.
So, after studying Politics at Grenoble, France and then doing an MA in Modern British Politics at Hull, I did the CPE/LPC at the College of Law, Chester and then joined Theodore Goddard (now Addleshaw Goddard).
I didn’t enjoy it much. I realised I was not an office person. I didn’t like the suits or the tights and found life boring and stuffy in the City. I qualified into private client but that department soon de-camped to set up a smaller firm and so I joined A&O on qualification. They had an established large private client department but I soon started to feel that the stuffy atmosphere of the department wasn’t for me. I wanted some more interesting clients and work and so I moved to West End media firm Clintons (who do a lot of high-profile music work). I used a recruitment consultant (I don’t remember which firm) but did not find them particularly helpful or knowledgeable.
I enjoyed my initial years at Clintons, because I had more responsibility (there was no partner above me so effectively I ran the department) and consequently my learning curve soared. However, after a few years, I felt on top of the work and it became quite easy and routine. Unfortunately, that left me thinking “is this it?”
Also, the pay structure at Clintons was adequate but not amazing. I kept thinking about how I would feel retiring at 60, wondering what I had done with my life. What would I have to show for it? How was law enhancing my existence? Other than providing me with an acceptable salary, it was doing nothing for me – I needed something more.
mtl: Not an uncommon feeling. But how did you eventually take that huge leap out of there?
Angeline: While still at Clintons, I applied to do a course at Cordwainers College, the leading college in shoe design. I hadn’t really plucked up the courage to leave my legal career at that point but I thought I would see if I could get on the course and then make the decision.
My decision was made much harder when Clintons offered me partnership. In the end, I told the partners I was not yet ready to commit to the partnership. I wanted to explore something more creative while I still had no commitments. I offered to continue to work part-time so that I could attend the course. Clintons were very good about it and agreed. The reality was that I continued to do my full legal workload (but on half pay) and attend college – which was tough.
mtl: So is it easy to get on a course at somewhere like Cordwainers?
Angeline: I didn’t have any difficulty, even though I had no art background and no portfolio of designs or anything like that. I think they saw what I was giving up and realised how much the course meant to me.
Graduated from Grenoble Uni, France (Politics)
MA at Hull (Modern British Politics)
CPE/LPC (College of Law, Chester)
Joined Theodore Goddard
Took shoe design course at Cordwainers
Worked at Matthew Williamson and in East London Shoe Factory
Set up Angeline Tournier
It was a great, practical course, which showed me how to make a shoe from start to finish. After that, I got some work experience at Matthew Williamson, a fashion house. This was really good experience as it demystified the whole design process and I realised that it wasn’t rocket science.
After that, I started thinking about setting up on my own. I worked in a factory in East London to get some practical experience of manufacturing, which was invaluable. They made the first shoes that I designed. I wanted to design fashionable, relatively practical shoes which work on both large and small feet. I have quite large feet and have always had difficulties finding fashionable shoes in my size. However, I also wanted the shoes to be reasonably priced. The problem was that by using the factory in London I would have had to charge around £300 per pair to make any money.
As luck would have it, someone I met by chance gave me a factory contact in Portugal. Getting the right factory in this business is the key – they are hard to come by and the fashion houses keep the location of their factories closely guarded secrets.
The one in Portugal turned out to be perfect for me. They started to produce the shoes I had designed and I managed to get my debut collection sold exclusively through the prestigious Paris department store, Le Bon Marché. I also set up my own on-line shop.
mtl: Impressive. So how does life now compare to being a lawyer?
Angeline: I work harder now, there is no doubt about that. During the set up there was so much to do – designing the shoes, designing the website, entering into contracts with the factory, overseeing their work, marketing the product and sorting out distribution arrangements. You have to think about everything from PR to VAT returns. I worked every weekend – it never stopped. It is just starting to calm down a little but I am still very busy.
However, I am finding it so much more fulfilling. It is incredible. I now feel as though I am living every day in the present. As a lawyer, two or three years would fly by and I would hardly remember what I had done in that time. I would live for 25 days’ holiday a year and the rest of the time I would feel as though life was on hold. Even though I am very busy now, it is on my own terms, so I can go outside and enjoy the sun in the summer, or take my lunch or go to the shops whenever I want. I have taken a big hit upfront, financially, but, for me, that flexibility and control over my life is priceless.
I’m also seven months pregnant so I’m really glad that I will be able to work from home when the baby arrives!
mtl: So, what would your advice be to other lawyers?
Angeline: If law isn’t doing it for you on a day-to-day basis then consider your options. So many graduates go into it because they don’t know what else to do. They get hooked by the salary, even though they may be disappointed by the work. It’s a real shame as many of these people could do anything. If that sounds like you, get out there and start looking!
mtl: Well, quite. Angeline Tournier, thank you very, very much for talking to us and good luck with it all.
You can find out more about Angeline and her shoes at www.angelinetournier.com.
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
Send this feature to a friend