How a young entrepreneur builds an innovative company by converting waste into new valuable products.…
Founder of the second-hand shoe store AtelierFH encourages slow fashion and sustainability
Shera Lesueur, a mother of two, had a successful career in human resources. For over 16 years, she worked in corporate settings in Paris, Dubai and Zurich. But two years ago, she felt the urge for change, so she dropped everything and launched herself into finding her new purpose in life.
Today, she develops an online platform that buys and sells secondhand shoes, advocates for sustainability and slow fashion, and inspires others to practice mindful consumption. In this interview, Shera explains how co-founding a nonprofit in Rwanda gave her the courage to start her own business, what helps her overcome her weaknesses, and how to actively network even in times of pandemic.
Shera, what was the turning point in your career that urged you to make a professional change?
I couldn’t complain about my career path. I worked internationally and had held good roles in HR. I’m also passionate about diversity, inclusion and equality, and my job allowed me to make a difference in those areas.
But then it happened that I no longer felt balanced. I loved my role and the team, but I just felt like it wasn’t fulfilling me anymore. That said, I had no idea what other things I could do professionally.
What helped you define the next step and find a new, fulfilling field?
The first thing I did was get the support of a coach who helped me understand why I wasn’t happy at work, to find my why and my purpose. Gaining this clarity allowed me to become more confident in my next steps.
As part of my search for myself, I traveled to Rwanda with friends. When we discovered life there, we quite spontaneously decided to start a nonprofit organization – Momentum – to support Rwandan young women and promote education. This became a keystone for my new career path.
How has the development of this non-profit organization impacted your business path?
As the nonprofit sector was new to me, I started reaching out to different people who had experience with it and could give me advice. I also attended relevant conferences, read a lot, watched documentaries and fully immersed myself in the topic of sustainability. This helped me understand that diversity, inclusion, prosperity and our planet are all interconnected.
This transition into a new field was a gradual process. All the new knowledge and experience I gained made me realize that the next project I work on should have a real purpose, one that I can identify with. On the other hand, co-founding Momentum made me realize that I was also capable of starting my own business.
I have always loved fashion, but a few years ago, I started to become disgusted with the industry.
Why did you choose fashion over other industries when considering starting a business focused on sustainability?
I have always loved fashion, but a few years ago, I started to become disgusted with the industry. One of the turning points was the movie ‘The True Cost’, which made me change my perspective. It was then that I started paying attention to my consumption habits and trying to make more conscious purchasing decisions.
In my desire to make more sustainable fashion choices, I discovered several great second-hand stores in Zurich. This wasn’t a new experience for me – I had always loved going to thrift stores like this, even back in Paris. At the time, however, it was for me more about finding a few unique pieces than about sustainability.
Now, after gaining all this knowledge about how our behavior can positively impact the world, I wanted to share it with others. I realized that I could do much more than just change my own habits, so I started working on ideas for my project.
What motivated you to create a second-hand shoe store in particular?
When I started shopping in second-hand stores again, I noticed that shoes were not selling well. In my conversation with one such store owner in Zurich, he confirmed that customers rarely bought shoes unless they were unworn.
I used the lockdown period to conduct a survey to understand people’s behavior when it comes to fashion, secondhand, and shoe consumption. I also interviewed people in the leather and shoe industry, shoemakers and cobblers.
I discovered that if secondhand shoes were reconditioned and disinfected so that they were as good as new, people would be more willing to buy them. At the same time, I felt that by putting cobblers and shoemakers in the spotlight, we can support craftsmanship and set a trend toward repairing instead of throwing away.
How exactly do you approach these goals at AtelierFH?
We offer secondhand shoes that are curated and reconditioned (repaired and disinfected). We select shoes for their quality and style; in line with the concept of slow consumption, we feature timeless trends.
On our online platform you can find shoes in different sizes, all as good as new. You can also submit your shoes to us; we will buy them directly without commission.
Atelier FH’s mission is to help reduce waste by upcycling shoes, reduce the production of new shoes by inspiring more people to buy second hand, and shift the focus to slow consumption.
I also wanted this business to have a social impact. That’s why we donate a portion of our profits to organizations that align with AtelierFH’s values, such as education and equality.
What was the biggest challenge for you in starting this business? What/who helped you the most in this process?
I think the hardest part for me is dealing with the tasks that I don’t really like. As an entrepreneur, I have to do everything from sourcing and building the collection to digital marketing, finances, preparing orders, etc. I know I tend to procrastinate on the things I want to do the least. Three key approaches help me overcome this issue.
First of all, have a plan. If I know my goals for the next few months, I can see the bigger picture and move toward my goal one step at a time. Also, reminding myself why I am doing what I am doing helps me stay focused.
The second point is to shift the mindset. I know there are things I’m not really good at, but they allow me to grow. I’m learning every step of the way, so if I miss something, I don’t punish myself. Instead, I try to figure out what I did wrong. That way I know I can only get better next time.
Thirdly, get support from others. I firmly believe that being surrounded by like-minded people is very important. Since I don’t have a co-founder to share ideas and doubts with, I sought out a mentor, which has really helped me a lot. I am also actively expanding my network. Regular discussions with other entrepreneurs allow me to see different perspectives. In addition, I am a member of a Swiss women’s network ‘Women Lift Up’, which is absolutely wonderful: we support each other, share our competencies, challenge and discuss ideas. We continued to do that even during the lockdown via online tools. Last but not least, I am very lucky that my husband believes in me and my project and supports me all the time. That’s really important for me.
What advice can you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs or those who are considering starting their business?
Listen to your intuition, don’t be afraid to ask for advice, set goals and go straight to action. Start with your why and your purpose. Once you understand what drives you, everything will align.
When you have an idea, talk to as many people as you can, create a survey, conduct interviews. The insights you gain could prove to be very valuable, not only during the launch, but also for further business development.
Thank you very much for this inspiring conversation and your valuable tips. We wish you every success with your project!