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'My initial failure just made me try harder'

The Boss series profiles different business leaders from around the world. This week we speak to shoe designer Luis Onofre.

Luis Onofre openly admits that his first foray into luxury shoe design could have been his last.

The Portuguese designer launched his first namesake collection in 1993, shortly after taking over his family's shoe factory.

His father had warned him it wouldn't sell, and his dad was proved correct. Consumers weren't interested, and the shoes bombed.

"My lack of market knowledge was to blame," says the 49-year-old. "It was heartbreaking, a big lesson for me. It was very humbling

Today things are very different. Luis's glamorous designs are sold worldwide, and Michelle Obama, actress Naomi Watts, and socialite Paris Hilton are among his fans.

He has also become a symbol of a recent renaissance in Portuguese shoemaking, helping to put the country firmly back on the haute couture map.

By the late 1980s, Luis's father was running the business, which was producing high-end shoes for French brands such as Cacharel and Galleries Lafayette.

But when he asked Luis to join the company, the younger Onofre was reluctant, having set his heart on studying interior design.

"I remember seeing the stresses my parents brought home and thinking, 'I want to run away from that,'" Luis recalls.

He changed his mind, however, and took a degree in shoe design, before becoming managing director of the company in 1993.

Keen to shake things up, he got the factory to start producing its own designs, not just those of other people. And the pain of seeing his first collection flop only made him more determined to reach his goal

Luis, who was born in Oliveira de Azemeis near Porto, in northern Portugal, grew up around shoes. His grandfather opened a footwear factory in the town in 1938, and the business has been run by the family ever since.