Mike Silverstein's Lesson on Success

The Nina Shoes co-founder opens up about his passion for design and the glory days of footwear.

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When forced to close Nina’s original factory in New York’s Greenwich Village, they moved to Long Island City, Queens, and later to Italy and Spain. “Spain became famous for kidskin, so we started doing a lot of dressy shoes. It was a total fluke and didn’t have anything to do with a business plan.”

Later, Silverstein was one of the first to manufacture in China at the suggestion of Chinese Laundry chief Bob Goldman. “Bob convinced me to give him a couple of samples, and he came back with a price. It was 75 percent cheaper than what we paid in Spain. So that’s how we got started there, and eventually I got involved with the factories. One thing led to another, and we had a very successful operation.”

Beyond his sourcing prowess, Silverstein was known for his animated sales presentations at FFANY, which packed crowds of buyers into the penthouse at the Hilton New York. “I enjoyed the show business [aspect],” Silverstein says. “I’ve always been a ham.”

But, he insists, his popularity at show time had to do more with the message than the presentation. “People didn’t come to listen to me because I entertained them, they came because they walked out smarter. They knew what to do. I gave them a reason to buy something.” (Silverstein was known to tell buyers, “If you don’t buy these shoes, you’re making the mistake of a lifetime!”)

Dick Jacobson, a former Nina EVP, remembered those heady days at the Hilton.

“Mike was a fabulous financial and merchandising man, and he’s very famous for shoe shows,” said Jacobson, who went on to start FFANY, where Silverstein was a board member for 10 years. “He was rather off-the-cuff and sometimes off-color.”

Scott Silverstein also saluted his father’s singular approach to sales.

“He created his own unique style within the industry — no one could ever, and perhaps should never try, to merchandise, present and sell shoes as he did,” said the younger Silverstein, who also noted that his father “showed us the importance of creativity and gave us the courage to go our own way on the path to success in the fashion business.”

Today, Scott heads up the company, while his brother Neil is a divisional president at the firm. Yet the elder Silverstein actually advised his children against following in his professional footsteps. “But they want to be like their father, and they are successful. I don’t have any problem with [their decisions],” he says.

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