Tell us about your experience shopping for size 11 shoes. Do many retailers cater to these larger sizes for women? Did you ever have to buy mens shoes?
Yes, most of my shoes are men’s shoes right now. I’m wearing some sports shoes right now and they are men’s size. I have a number of samples of my own brand so I’ve been happy wearing those shoes lately. My feet are actually size 11.5 so I don’t fit the length of size 11 or size 12. On top of that, my feet are very wide and large all over so I can never find a great or even good fit.
I stopped shopping for shoes altogether about a year ago now, ever since I started getting samples done. Not many women I know dread shopping, but when it came to shoe shopping I’d dread it so much. I take my children with me to help me find a size 11 or bigger. We would scatter around the store and quietly hunt for them as if our lives depended on it. I would walk in to a store and ask – what is your biggest size? Size 10 is the common answer, but occasionally there would be a size 11. I used to try on any size 11 but after a while I knew just by looking at it if it would fit or not – this would save me the embarrassment. The most embarrassing thing ever is when the sales person is literally standing there watching you try it on. You are then forced to admit that you have large feet and then the staring comes and they would tell you stories of other customers in the same boat. A number of years ago before I started my journey or even thought about it, I remember writing to some shoe companies to increase their size range and I never got a response.
What was the turning point or motivation that made you go, ‘If no one’s going to provide these shoes, then I’m going to create them myself’?
When the idea of a shoe store was first birthed in my head, I remember saying that exact phrase: “Well, if no one else is going to do it then I’m going to do it myself." My initial idea was to open a physical store and import plus sizes. I just couldn’t get the idea out of my mind, I was so excited and set on seeing this come to life from that very moment. I would stay up very late doing research and looking for a starting point. It wasn’t until I went overseas that I realised plus size is limited in other countries too. After my trip to New York making a pair of shoes from scratch, I decided okay – now I’m going to create my own shoes in larger sizes and just went from there.
I read your blog post on Staavias detailing the difficulties you went through growing up – it simultaneously broke my heart and inspired me! How do you think these struggles when you were younger shaped you into the businesswoman you are today?
Oh thank you for your reading my blog and I’m so happy it inspired you as that is my goal. Yes, my childhood was such a hard time for me. Thank god it’s over and I’m now an adult. I definitely believe that my experiences in life has definitely shaped me into the person I am today. The lessons helped me grow in every aspect of my life. I learned that you cannot control how other people act towards you but you can control how you act towards them. Love is the best way to respond to anything. This doesn’t mean you allow people to walk over you – I’m no pushover but you learn the art of communicating in a loving way. I learned to fight for what I want and what I believe in. Anyone who knows me well will tell you how much of a fighter I am both in and out of the ring, but I have a heart. I think back and I feel like I was misunderstood as a rebellious trouble maker, when really I was crying out for attention, for love, for a relationship. As a businesswoman, nothing is more important to me than building relationships with the people I work with – whether it be a customer, supplier, partner or anyone really. People have feelings and emotions and we need to have a genuine desire to know and understand people on a deeper level so we know how best to show them love in a way they understand.
What was the journey like starting your own footwear business in New Zealand? Was there much help available?
Starting a footwear business in New Zealand is not easy, especially when you have no experience in the industry yourself. I will be honest, there is very little help for newbies in the industry especially in New Zealand, sad to say. I sent so many emails to different people and organisations, made so many phone calls but I would never get a response. There is one guy named Peter from a company called LASRA (NZ Leather & Shoe Research Association). He gave me awesome advice earlier on in my journey, he tested my shoes and put me in touch with some other awesome people. I have a lot of support from LASRA. I did get some help from a number of amazing people in New Zealand who are in business in general but I must say that I found much more help in Australia & the US when I attended business workshops. I came across so many successful people, some my age, who started with nothing and are now making millions of dollars and they would even be willing to help me personally.
How did you go about creating Staavias' first range?
I met some people in the US who told me about some platforms to specifically reach footwear designers. Sadly, I cannot draw, but I can visualise something and explain it, I just need help with putting it on paper. I put an ad out on this platform and received many responses. I explained to each designer who we are, what we’re about and what it is I was looking for and they each came back with their own interpretation. I also looked into their backgrounds and working experience and I was able to get my list of about 16 down to just two and from there I chose our designer. With our designer being in London, it was great in terms of upcoming fashion trends and her prior experience with huge leaders in the footwear industry. We worked together to bring my vision to life. We created 9 different designs with two or three colour ways each. However, we didn’t end up launching all of them, but will be dropping designs throughout the year. I decided to name my very first collection after my 2 sisters Noah and Gardenia and also my nieces, seeing as I have no daughters - Serenity, Cassidy, Hailey, Elizabeth, Evania, Savannah and Selena.
On Staavias site, aside from bigger shoe sizes being a point of difference, you also mention your focus on building genuine relationships with your customers and making a positive difference in their lives. How have you built this close relationship with customers and what are you doing differently to other stores?
As I mentioned earlier, I understand the importance of building genuine relationships with people including my customers. I encourage them to email me directly and they do, so we have a lot of interactions going on in the background. I have been able to connect with my customers on a much deeper level and not just a seller/buyer relationship. As I am a very honest and transparent person, I have no problems sharing my hardships and experiences with them personally. I guess this helps my customers know me personally and make it easier for them to trust me. I really enjoy that, everyday my inbox is taken over by personal customer emails and I make time to reply and enjoy a good conversation with each one. We are always working on ways to improve our customer experience with our online store. I am very passionate about certain things e.g. helping people out of poverty mentality, healthy relationships, eliminating child trafficking and helping women out of forced prostitution. In the near future I plan to set something up and will be giving my customers the opportunity to have their say and help me build this from scratch so they too, can feel empowered that they played in part in helping others through our brand.
Where are Staavias shoes being sold now?
Right now through our online store, our Amazon and Etsy stores are being set up at the moment so we will then have the three different online stores.
Staavias is online only for now, but have you considered opening your own store?
Yes, definitely! I would love to open a pop up store later this year in Auckland and hopefully a few other cities.
Are you looking for NZ retailers to stock Staavias shoes?
Yes, absolutely! I have a couple of huge retailers in New Zealand approach me for a partnership so I will be meeting with them when I am back in Auckland. However, I am always on the look out for retailers in NZ to stock our brand. I’m also open to a partnership with clothing or handbag stores. I have so many customers asking me if I have a store they could visit so I know this would totally be an advantage for any store who partners with us.
To find out more about Staavias, head to its website.