Ex-Con Shoe Designer Steve Madden Makes It A Point To Employ His Jailmates

See how being incarcerated boosted his sales.

We all know Steve Madden is the man and brains behind our favorite heels, go-to sandals, his signature platforms and Mary Janes, but who is the real Steve Madden? And how did he build this billion-dollar shoe company?

Last year, according to FortuneSteve Madden the company raked in $1.4 billion in sales — particularly impressive at a time when most of retail is reeling. But his journey to building Steven Madden, Ltd. didn't start out as easy as it seems. It started with $1,100. In his just-released documentary, Maddman: The Steve Madden Story, he gives us a glimpse of his life before he began his shoe empire and how he did it.

 (Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Steve Madden)

Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Steve Madden

(Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Steve Madden)

Steve Madden attended the University of Miami but later dropped out and found his love of for shoes. The entrepreneur began to hit the sales floors of retailers in Long Island before starting his own company, Steven Madden, Ltd.

When the company took off he made a deal with Jordan Belfort and other brokers at Stratton Oakmont, but according to Business Insider, "Belfort ratted out Madden and others profiting from the brokerage firm’s illegal activities," which you might remember from his nerdy role in the The Wolf of Wall Street.

In 2001, Madden pleaded guilty to securities fraud and money-laundering charges for helping two penny-stock firms manipulate a number of initial public offerings. Steve spent over two years in jail for stock fraud, but that didn't stop him from working. Some joke that the fashion mogul was "running his business from jail," but he couldn't have done it without the help of his lead employee, Wendy Ballew, who he later married and had three children with.

(Photo: Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Steve Madden)

Photo: Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Steve Madden

(Photo: Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Steve Madden)

After his release in 2005, Steve told Newsweek, he was "stronger physically, mentally, spiritually" from his experience in jail. This led Steve to giving jobs to fellow inmates he spent time with in jail at Steve Madden distribution locations around the country. He particularly grew close to Vern Neely, who is now the head of South Florida's shoe operations.

Steve also works with the The Doe Fund, which is a nonprofit organization that provides paid transitional work, housing, educational opportunities, counseling and career training to people with histories of homelessness, incarceration and substance abuse. The New York native makes a commitment to help former inmates that have been in the same position as him because he understands the struggle of getting back on your feet.

And not to mention all in that same year Steve Madden, Ltd. made a comeback in sales and was even named Company of the Year from the Footwear News Achievement Awards. Talk about a turnaround!

See below the trailer to get the full scope on Steve Madden's story:

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.