Marilyn Monroe famously said, “Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world”. In Michaela Longstaff’s case the right shoes were high spec, high quality, comfortable, stylish and European – and she’s well on her way to conquering the traditionally male-dominated world of the shoe industry.
Mikko is an unusual name. What’s the story behind it?
When I started out my focus was on European shoes, so I wanted a name that was both European in origin, and that I had a connection to. Mikko (pronounced mee-ko) is Finnish and translates to Michael, which is the male version of my name.
What is your background?
My first real passion was clothes, so I did a Bachelor of Design and Fashion at AUT. I started out as a patternmaker then moved into clothing wholesale, finally ending up in the footwear business.
How did you end up owning your own stores?
It was a natural progression really – retail is in my blood! We are a family of retailers, and in this case I had the passion, and my family had the knowledge and support. So we’re a true local, family owned business.
So why the change from fashion to shoes?
The creation of shoes is a niche market, with the technology and craftsmanship handed down through generations. It’s definitely not a skill that is easily trained – there is no degree for shoe making in New Zealand – and each different shoe goes through about 200 processes before the final product emerges! My research showed a gap in the market for high quality European footwear that was also stylish and comfortable, and once I started the ball rolling I very quickly became obsessed.
Does this obsession extend to a wardrobe full of shoes?
I don’t overdo it. I probably have 50-60 pairs of shoes, and whilst I’d love to use the shop as a wardrobe, it is a business after all. Besides, I figure I have years ahead of me to generate a collection!
Has the advent of online shopping affected you?
While we do have an online store, I think with shoes in particular there’s been a real resurgence back to bricks and mortar stores. Fit is so important! We have fantastic, talented staff, with an eye for detail and size, and our customer service focus is very strong. We provide an ‘experience’, a ‘connection’ that you just don’t get online.
Do you travel to Europe much to buy shoes? That sounds quite glam!
Not often, as we have international agents who come to us. I do it every couple of years though, as it’s a good chance to see what’s happening in retail on the other side of the world. It’s quite hard work and not at all glamourous – we fly in, walk a lot of miles at a shoe fair and then fly out!
Why did you choose to open in Remuera?
I really like the village aspect, which is similar to our flagship store in Milford. Remuera has its own identity and personality, and we love getting to know our local customers.
Do you have many regulars?
We get a lot of repeat business, our customers are very loyal. We’re on a first-name basis with most of them, and this connection to the people in our community is really important to us.
What are your future plans for Mikko?
It’s a constant work in progress. We’ve been in operation for 3 years now, so have developed a real ‘feel’ for what works, both for us and our customers. We have five branches (Milford, Remuera, Pakuranga, Pukekohe and Hamilton) and we often have customers wanting us to open in other centres, but we want to protect our boutique nature. We don’t want to become mainstream and lose our personality! People always come and shop with us when they are holidaying in Auckland.
Are there plans for a summer sale?
Our summer sale has started already! We have reductions on summer shoes in-store and online now. But as always with Mikko, we only bring in very limited numbers so sizes sell out quite swiftly. You’ll need to be quick!
Photography by Vanita Andrews and words by Fiona Wilson