I came across the Zaccys brand via Instagram. They approached me to ask if I’d like to receive a pair of their shoes and after looking at their website and reading about the brand and its creation I accepted. The Zaccys range is stunning. My shoes came beautifully packaged with great attention to detail and are incredibly comfortable.
After reading Meg’s story, I realised that in her place I would have most likely fallen to pieces. I admire the way in which she adapted her lifestyle and work balance to manage what was a tremendously difficult situation. Meg went from being a successful eye surgeon to finding a solution that worked around her family and Zaccys was born.
1: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Being half Armenian & with my dad’s side of the family full of doctors I was always destined to follow the family tradition into medical school along with my elder brother & younger sister!
I found my niche & absolutely loved my job as an ophthalmic surgeon specialising in paediatrics & adult squints, I worked in the NHS for more than two decades. Surgery was my first love & my passion, I loved operating & teaching surgical trainees. The camaraderie of being in theatre is very special, each person equally essential to the smooth running & successful outcomes.
The other part of the job I relished was the interaction with people. Being in a position to reassure & help someone who is worried & experiencing difficulties with their eyes or vision is an enormously privileged & rewarding pursuit.
Of course it wasn’t all plain sailing, I chose a very competitive branch of surgery, my colleagues were all exceptionally bright & I often doubted myself. Over the years NHS hospitals sadly became an increasingly challenging environment to work in, with huge constraints & massive pressure. But the team spirit which is so strong in the NHS & my patients kept me going. I combined working as a consultant & head of my department with motherhood reasonably successfully but I was aware I was missing more of their early years than I wanted to.
2: At what point did you decide to give up your job?
My youngest child – Zaccy – was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia on Valentine’s Day 2012 when he was two & a half. Our worlds were instantly turned upside down. Unfortunately he had the worst type & needed almost a full year of intensive treatment, which meant I remained on an enforced career break for that time.
After a further two & a half years of chemotherapy, he was in remission & I was enjoying being a full-time mother too much to return to work. It felt like the silver-lining in his illness, that I suddenly found myself at home with my three wonderful children. Having seen how much of their lives I was missing I couldn’t go back.
Those years (three & a half in total) were exceptionally difficult for all of us, my husband’s work took him away from home frequently & although Zaccy was the most heroic we all had a lot to cope with. I no longer felt the same about medicine, my perspective had altered & knowing I wasn’t returning to my job, I took the difficult decision to relinquish my license to practise.
Zac finished his treatment nearly 3.5 years ago, we have to wait 5 years before we can be fully certain he is cured, but the odds are on our side. I feel unbelievably lucky that he had a treatable disease. He is now 9 years old – a kind & sensitive, bouncy boy with a brilliant sense of humour.
3: What was the idea behind Zaccys and what inspired you to progress down this route?
During the many long periods in hospital, my love of design & drawing kept Zac & I occupied. I also started drawing designs for the perfect low wedge espadrille that I had been trying to find a replacement for…this ultimately turned into a whole collection of summer shoes designed on the basis of comfort, versatility & that would be flattering. I wasn’t a fan of the ubiquitous ankle straps that I feel foreshorten the leg. Knowing my love of fashion, my friends & in particular Tamara (aka Sweaty Betty founder) encouraged me to take it further. I starting researching materials & manufacturers about 4 months before taking my first trip to Spain. It took a further 13 months, working with 3 different factories & an insane amount of work to launch the website & my first collection.
4: You were a successful eye surgeon. Can you tell us the ups and downs of running your own business and trying to manage family?
Building a start-up is enormously challenging, particularly if you don’t have any credentials for doing so!! It was sheer determination & blissful ignorance that kept me going! However demanding it was, it was flexible & I could work around my children’s needs. This was the greatest motivator & such a stark contrast to my previous career. Even after 6 years away from my old job, I still relish giving my kids breakfast every morning!
It’s been 2.5 years since I launched Zaccys London & it has been another rollercoaster ride. I have been on such a steep learning curve & if I ever doubted myself in medicine it’s nothing compared to the doubts I have now! As a specialist eye surgeon I trained for years to become the expert I was, in running my business I had no formal training at all. But I think I’ve made it work, I found it satisfying creating & designing all the unique anatomical details that are the hallmark of a Zaccys shoe – the custom made deep high-density memory foam insoles, the light weight, shock-absorbing cork interiors, the high abrasive coefficient, hard-wearing, anti-slip soles, the versatile colour palettes & timeless, flattering & practical designs. Seeing women wearing & enjoying my creations is an amazing feeling. We also donate £5 per pair sold to the incredible children’s cancer charities (Children with Cancer and CLIC Sargent) that supported us during Zac’s treatment, this is a small token that still connects me with my old world, which of course I do miss.
5: Does this now mean that you will no longer be going back to your previous job?
The answer to this question has changed over the years, certainly after Zac finished his treatment I couldn’t envisage I would ever want to go back. But as ever, time is a healer & now I wouldn’t completely discount it as a future possibility. Clearly I couldn’t return to the same role as a consultant surgeon but perhaps as an eye doctor in a less demanding job.
6: What would you recommend to others in the same boat of running their own business and juggling family?
I think one of the greatest challenges is to compartmentalise work from home when there isn’t a physical separation.
It is extremely difficult to switch off when you have your own business. I use the principles of triage in managing my endless to do list – giving myself a few achievable & urgent tasks each day.
I am also stricter about ring-fencing family time & try to only work when my kids are at school or have gone to bed. In many ways it’s much more demanding than medicine & at this early stage in the business – when doing everything yourself, it can also be lonely.
Outsourcing any jobs that can be achieved more quickly & efficiently is a good idea. I use a brilliant site called Upwork.
I love to cook but being short of time find my slow cooker indispensable – I can speedily throw everything together in the morning – so that a delicious meal is ready when I get the kids home, as well as making the house smell divinely welcoming!
7: Do you ever feel that you can only wear your own brand of shoes?
Because of of the comfort factor & also where we live at the moment, I rarely want or need to wear any of my other shoes anyway!
8: How did you go about designing the range? Do you have a team of people to help you?
My first designs were based on what was missing from my summer wardrobe – it was a capsule to cover all your summer needs. I had a slide planned in that first collection but we couldn’t get the prototypes right. We finally got there with the third collection in SS18.
Subsequent styles have been inspired & requested by friends, family & customers but ultimately all designed by me.
The small family-run factory I work with in southern Spain have a ‘modelista’ – a pattern maker, I work closely with him to bring my sketches & ideas to life. Having no formal training in shoe-making, I also rely heavily on my relationship with the owner who is a font of knowledge on all shoe crafting matters. It was challenging at first to convince him to help create the extra space needed for the signature 6mm deep insole in every pair. He understands now that Zaccys are trying to do something different & we work well together.
9: What is the brand about and what are you hoping to achieve from this?
Look good, feel good is at the heart of Zaccys – comfort is our key concern. Luxury high-quality handmade products using high specification & where possible sustainable materials. Versatile, flattering & timeless designs together with the ultimate feel good factor in our support of worthy charities. Zaccys are inspired by warm sunny Mediterranean memories, I try to incorporate a little sunshine in all the styles!
Alongside my life in medicine I have always loved design & fashion – there was little scope to indulge my creative side in surgery. Creating Zaccys – developing an idea, some drawings, all the subsequent research of materials, methods, testing prototypes & samples until we achieved a final product has been fascinating & rewarding. Ultimately I wanted to create classic shoes that women could return to year after year, that remained relevant, desirable & comfortable whilst also giving something back.
10: How did you find the transition from eye surgeon (medical, science) to shoes (design led, creative)?
The transition was such a welcome escape in the early days, the lightness of decision making was particularly liberating. Considering the benefits of colours & textures for a shoe is a rather less onerous task than weighing up the pros & cons of high-risk cataract surgery. I had a lifetime of ideas & love of fashion to put into the first collection. In many ways it felt very natural.
There was also a surprisingly greater overlap than you might expect in the manufacturing side – with various material compositions to research & consider – my knowledge of chemistry proved very useful. The last designs for each model & the physical characteristics of the shoes relating to comfort are also based on physics.
The starkest contrast was the lack of any formal training – there was such freedom & satisfaction in achieving something totally different using entirely instinctive skills.
In terms of building & running a successful business I feel I still have a mountain to climb! Financial modelling for a retail business is crucial, marketing, sales & daily operations are all equally essential, if not more so, to a great product. This is the challenge for all start-ups. As much as anything my tenacity has got me where I am today & will hopefully help me make Zaccys London the successful business it deserves to be.
A truly inspirational story, I hope you enjoyed this interview. As always any feedback would be appreciated and remember to go take a look at the Zaccys website.