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The Essentials: Dorian Howard, Founder of Milk & Honey Shoes

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Sitting in your corner office as the Vice President of Production for Paramount Pictures calling the shots on films like The Proposal, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and The Fighter sounds pretty darn nice (and really cool!), but having one of the most glamorous jobs in the entertainment industry wasn’t enough for Dorian Howard. She took a major risk, one some people may even consider a little crazy: She decided to start an e-commerce business with her sister Ilissa Howard, even though neither really had any experience in the field. And so began a great adventure for Howard.

The company, or adventure, is called Milk & Honey Shoes, a shoe company that allows women to design their own stilettos and pumps with the click of a mouse. Sounds pretty awesome, right? And the company is doing fabulously. In their first year, Milk & Honey was featured on “E! News Daily,” TV Guide’s “The Fashion Team,” and in publications including Lucky, InStyle, People Style Watch, Marie Claire, In Touch, and The New York Times. Their shoes have graced the feet of numerous celebrities including Ginnifer Goodwin, Selena Gomez, Busy Philipps, Emily Deschanel, Malin Ackerman, Whitney Cummings, and Kate Mara. Since launching in January 2011 sales have doubled, and the business has become profitable. We were lucky enough to chat with Howard about her interesting career path, working with her sister, never playing it safe, and her essentials for getting through the day—which may or may not include gummy worms.

Dorian Howard Milk and Honey Shoes

First of all, how did you end up with your awesome job at Paramount?

I had been working in the entertainment business since my first internship at MTV at 19. I jumped around from department to department until I found what I loved in feature film development. I spent a few years at New Line and another few years working at a production company before landing at Paramount. Lots of weekends filled with stacks of scripts, lots of meetings with talented writers, and lots of lunches/drinks/dinners with agents/managers and producers all led me to Paramount!

Then were you scared when you decided to leave? Did people think you were crazy when you told them what you were doing?

Ha! Yes, people thought I was crazy. Truthfully, it was a bit of a crazy idea, but so was going after being a movie producer. I’ve never been a big fan of playing it safe and I’ve always been a believer that if you’re going to bet on something, take a bet on yourself. That said, it was frightening. When you are launching a startup, the fear of falling on your face looms large. You just have to use that fear to motivate yourself, as opposed to letting it paralyze you.

Your company is so cool. How did you come up with the idea?

The idea of Milk & Honey started out from a basic need that both Ilissa and I had—we simply couldn’t find the shoes we were looking for. We figured that we couldn’t be the only women out there who wanted a broader selection and wanted some control over our fashion options. I think every woman, at some point, in some way, has had the idea for Milk & Honey!

Had you always wanted to work with your sister?

Yes! We are three years apart and have always really gotten along incredibly well. We are polar opposites and that has really served us well as business partners. Our skills and temperaments are really complimentary. She is an idea generator and I am an executor. She loves to sit in a room and focus on a big task. I love to be out and talking to people.

What is it like working with your sister? What is the best part? What is the most challenging?

Launching a startup is one of the most difficult things to do, and to have a co-founder that I implicitly trust is invaluable. We have a short-hand, we have similar values and morals, and a true commitment to each other and to this business. I couldn’t imagine being on this roller coaster ride with anyone else! That said, it’s not always easy. We bring years of baggage into this business dynamic, but our mom is a therapist who specialized in conflict resolution, and that has been helpful.

The Essentials

How many hours a week do you work? How is your exhaustion level?

It’s pretty nonstop. With the time difference between U.S. and Asia, it’s pretty important that I am on email no later than 7:00 a.m. And just when things start to slow down for us at 6:00 p.m., the Hong Kong office is just starting their day, so there is another rush of work that takes off post-6:00 p.m. As far as exhaustion, I’ve always had a lot of energy and figure that I’ll have a long life and I can rest later!

Do you feel like you have work/life balance, or are you stuck on a seesaw?

Well, I think I do, but my very patient boyfriend would LOUDLY disagree!

How do you unwind after work?

I go to sleep.

Do you ever leave work thinking the world is falling apart, but you leave anyway? How do you get comfortable with that?

No, I can’t. I have tried in the past, but you can’t enjoy yourself if you can’t stop thinking about work, so I just don’t do that anymore. It’s better to stay until things are under control than being at a restaurant and checking your phone under the table. In the early stages of a startup you just don’t have the luxury of a deep infrastructure that is prepared to handle everything.

What pieces of technology do you always carry? iPhone, tablet, laptop?

Computer and phone everywhere. iPad sometimes.

What shoes do you wear for meetings or presentations?

Heels, always. I’m more confident in heels—it makes me stand taller and have more authority.

What shoes do you actually wear to get to the meeting?

Usually ballet flats.

What do you usually eat for lunch?

A Mustard Seed chopped salad (no cheese, add balsamic).

What’s in your junk food drawer?

Gummy sour worms—I’m addicted. It’s horrible.

Drink at happy hour?

Vodka soda.

What items do you always keep under your desk or in your bag?

Lipgloss. I love lipgloss.

Exercise of choice?

Bootcamp! Keeps things interesting and varied. I love working out outside, with lots of other people every morning.

Blogs or sites you read on breaks at work?

Gofugyourself.com, PandoDaily, Mashable, Deadline.com, my Twitter feed, The Business of Fashion, Smashing Magazine, econsultancy.com, Fast Company.

Tell us about your own essentials in the comments!

Ask Linda Simensky, VP of Children’s Programming at PBS, what it’s like to work in television and film!

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