After Nearly 30 Years At Jimmy Choo, Sandra Choi Isn’t Easily Ruffled
Her practical approach to work stress.
In TZR’s franchise Scare-Free Sundays, industry leaders discuss the all-too-common weekend anxiety (aka Sunday Scaries) that can rob one of the relaxation and rest they so desperately need to properly take on the week ahead. Here, we sit down with Sandra Choi, creative director for Jimmy Choo, for her tips on how to keep work stress at bay.
Twenty-seven years. That’s how long Sandra Choi has served as creative director for Jimmy Choo. As it happens, it’s also how long the company has been in existence. (Choo joined forces with Tamara Mellon in 1996 to launch the legacy brand, placing apprentice and niece Choi at the helm of design.) What started as a small accessory label, known for its glamorous, celebrity-loved footwear has evolved into a global lifestyle empire, encompassing apparel, handbags, fragrance, and makeup.
And Choi has been in the driver’s seat through it all. After Choo and Mellon sold their shares of the company to private equity firms. After the great recession of 2008. After the “unprecedented” lockdown of 2020. Weathering every storm, she has remained loyal and true to the family legacy and brand that ignited her love for design ... and shoes.
Which is likely why not much seems to phase the bright and bubbly Choi. On our April call I grill the smiling 50-year-old designer on all things work stress. The admittedly “very British” mother of two is quick to approach the topic practically, with the air of a seasoned general. “Sometimes you make a mistake and sometimes you just learn from that mistake and don't do it again,” she says matter-of-factly. “I remember over the last 20 something years, I would get a bit freaked out thinking ‘Well, am I worthy of this position?’ But then you work with and talk to and absorb what the other people [around you] do, and you think, actually, we've done a great job, thank you very much. We went with our gut instinct and we did it our way.”
To be clear, even with nearly 30 years under her belt, Choi confesses she still doesn’t know it all. But she falls back on her touchstone passion of footwear, art, and design to guide her through the ever-changing waters of business and fashion. “Yes, it's tough — we work in a very tough business,” she says. “It looks really glamorous, but we make it fun. If I come in and if you see me not laughing and smiling and bouncing around, then you should be worried that there's a problem. But I come in [every day] and I talk to people and I'm still behaving like I am 20-something, so I guess that's what has kept me here.”
Ahead, Choi unpacks her daily life as a jet-setting creative director, what she likes to do in her downtime, and how she navigates the dreaded Sunday Scaries.
Can you walk TZR readers through a typical work day?
It’s quite normal — you'd be disappointed. We have two children, a 12-year-old and a nine-year-old. Life is quite normal because when I'm here, I have to do the mom things. Recently, they have been on holiday because it's been Easter, but otherwise it is morning call, get them out the door. My husband and I are like a tag team. Then, by the time I get into the office, the first hour is lovely because it's mine. If you see my office, it's like a big cupboard. Everything just gets dumped and I've got lots of projects going on. It's an organized chaos. When I come into the office, I work.
I have adapted this very clean cut of when I'm home, unless it's very urgent, everything else can wait. So [on the] weekends and things like that, I try to shut off. I'm one of those people where, when it's Friday, I like to wait for anything to go out or any question to go out maybe on a Sunday night [so as not] to ruin the other people's weekends or time off. I think that is very important. I always tell my team that they need to think about themselves. I always say, ‘You work to live. You don't live to work’ — that is my motto.
Do you have any strict rules you abide by during the weekends or OOO days to avoid working or thinking about work?
I diddle. Literally, I faff. I'll be like, ‘OK, there's no school in the morning. Let's just take my time.’ I stretch something out. I set out to achieve lots of different chores, but sometimes I don't actually achieve them. My work has trained me to deliver, to have deadlines, to also be responsible around the team itself, but when I go home, I'm a bit more relaxed. If it doesn't get done, it's not going to be the end of the world. So I'm a little bit more chill when I'm at home.
What does your Sunday evening routine look like? Do you do anything in particular to mentally prepare yourself for the week ahead?
Sunday is probably my favorite time just because we always have a family lunch. I love cooking. We are big food people. In fact, my husband and I have declared that we eat best at home. Forget about Michelin-star restaurants wherever we are — we eat really well at home and love that. Our children are the same. They're very polite and they'll eat everything, but they know that home is where their taste buds and their [favorite] foods are.
As for preparing for the week ahead, I usually just think about what the week looks like and what shoes I need to wear! I have a think of what events during the week [I have planned] and then I think about what kind of look I want to put together and just mentally prepare that way. I write a lot of lists. If you look at my phone, I've got lots of packing lists. I've got a packing list for Venice, I've got a packing list for LA. I've got a packing list for Marrakesh. I don't like to prepare until probably about 8 p.m. on a Sunday because I want my weekend to be open and free.
Oh, tell me more about the food. What’s your favorite thing to cook with/for your family?
I love a roast chicken, pecan and beet roast chicken. Then you do this great big meal and you have leftovers for the week because weekdays are always quite hectic. I think a roast chicken solves everything.
But, we [also] cook Japanese, Thai, and Chinese. Home cooking is my domain. Italian's my husband's, but yeah, we join forces and we get the kids involved. I bake with them. I [love to] bake bread. I think cooking is probably my relaxing downtime. It's very specific because you have to be precise, but at the same time you get a lot of satisfaction out of it.
What are some common or typical anxieties or concerns you face ahead of a busy work week?
Sometimes I overthink things, usually things I can’t control. Everybody, they have a degree of that deep down, but then you think, well, ‘I've seen worse. What can this do?’ You just have to face up to it. I just think, ‘What can happen to me? It's not going to take my life away, so what can happen to me?’ So I dissect things. I'm so English, I get to complain about it for five seconds and then I have to sit down and think, ‘Right, how can I get through this and how can I actually dissolve the matter and help myself.’ I'm quite practical that way.
Do you get any form of Sunday Scaries at all?
Probably, but then again, I always like to say [to myself], what can I do? I can't stop the clock.
So how do these anxieties or stressors manifest for you and what secret power or practice do you call upon to combat them?
Look, I'm at an age where I do get affected by insomnia. Because, sometimes it is not even just your mindset, it's your body. I don't know which one comes first. Maybe my body, because I’m so tired. But, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking, ‘OK I will not give in to my...’ whatever it is I have to do [for the week]. Those are the times where I have an app that I play music on so that I can drift back into sleep. Or, I’ll pretend that I'm on a walk somewhere and I'm seeing things. I built up this scenario in my head so that I don't have to give in to real stuff creeping into my head keeping me from sleep. I have this imaginable thing that I made up. I could be imagining I'm walking on the beach in the summertime and I'm going to just get on a boat. I think about what I'm wearing, what I'm carrying, what I'm smelling. I try to pretend that I'm somewhere else to escape.
How else do you combat intrusive intrusive thoughts?
Occasionally, I might receive an email and straight away, it's sent to a part of my brain that overreacts, ‘Oh, no, this is crazy, this is terrible,’ and the negative thought is all blown up. When that happens I say to myself, ‘Don't react straight away. Sit on it.’ I think our system sometimes is in shock from the [received] message and already, you are reacting to it with your worst self. So I say to myself, ‘Calm down. Sit tight. Breathe. Sit on it overnight. Reread it, and then we'll see.’ Invariably everything is much more positive in the morning.