In Her Shoes
Peep-toes. Platforms. Pumps. This is familiar fashion vernacular to most, with the average woman owning 17 pairs of shoes. It is precisely this female fascination with footwear acquisition that Julia Grinham based her new business Upper Street on – a made-to-order luxury footwear label that lets you create your ultimate pair of designer shoes.
Prior to setting up Upper Street with her sister Katy, Julia had been working as an internet business consultant, running consumer websites including UpMyStreet.com. Launching her own online business was always on the cards.
“I’ve always wanted to have my own business since I can remember really. When Katy and I made the decision to set up Upper Street, we felt passionately that we wanted to create a successful brand, product and business that we totally believed in and felt fiercely proud of. Ultimately, running our own company is also about achieving the flexibility in our work / life balance that we feel is just so important, especially as we both have a young family.”
Upper Street is an online fashion business that allows women to design their own luxury bespoke shoes. A wide range of styles and finishes are available, with customers able to save and share their own shoe creations online, which are made to order. The website is seriously addictive.
So why start a fashion business? The idea stemmed from co-founder Katy Grinham’s experience in the Far East where she had been designing and making her own shoes due to the lack of choice available for women with larger shoe sizes. “We just thought it would be a fabulous idea to be able to design your own shoes online. So it wasn’t really a conscious decision to enter the fashion industry per se. For us, enabling women to create their own individual look, rather than having to buy what the fashion industry dictates you should wear, is very empowering.”
After launching in 2010, the sisters have been overwhelmed by the reaction from press and customers. “The most frequent comment we get is “Why didn’t I hear about Upper Street before, this is a brilliant idea!”. Basically, imagine a room full of women squealing, and you’ll get the picture.”
Julia’s proudest moment was when Upper Street collaborated with fashion designer Jasper Garvida for his past two catwalk shows. Sitting front row with the A List must have been a moment of validation for the new fashion entrepreneurs. So is running your own business everything she expected it to be?
“When we wrote the business plan by the poolside whilst on holiday in Dubai, Katy and I thought that this was the kind of lifestyle we might have when Upper Street was up and running. Ha! Couldn’t be further than the truth. Running your own business, especially during the early years, means working pretty long hours and doing everything, from customer services, writing marketing emails, to putting the bins out and making the tea! When things are going well, having your own business is the most amazing feeling in the world, but on days when we’re up against it you do take it very personally – it’s certainly a rollercoaster ride.”
Being surrounded by shoes all day would bring a smile to most women’s faces. But for Julia, it’s all about the details as she passionately discusses their focus on quality and delivering an amazing customer experience.
“Women who are designing their own bespoke shoes are pouring their heart and soul into their creation, and we love making their dream a reality. Not only is each pair of shoes handmade by our experienced craftsmen to the highest standard, but we personally quality control each pair that goes out, before beautifully wrapping them in a sumptuous dust-bag and gorgeous shoebox with a big pink ribbon. And if the fit isn’t perfect first time, we’ll alter the shoes at no extra charge. “
Offering over 150 material and colour options in leather, suede, patent, snakeskin and satin, the choice is endless. Is there anything they cannot do?
“Our belief is that every women should be able to design their own beautiful shoes, no matter what their shape or size.”
With the average customer buying several pairs of shoes on their first purchase with regular monthly “top ups”, it seems a woman can never have too many shoes. “Actually I’m not too bad” defends Julia. How many pairs of shoes does she own? “Probably around 50 pairs, although I tend to rotate them during the seasons.”
With a new launch of ballet flats in the pipeline and a growing fan-base, this fashionable female entrepreneur is set for the high life in high heels.
1. Be really clear about your proposition and who it’s aimed at.
2. Create an exceptionally strong brand and product offering that meets that niche, and stay passionately true to this.
3. Make sure you’ve got a well thought through business plan and cash behind you; in particular don’t underestimate your marketing budgets, as establishing a new fashion brand won’t happen overnight.
We invited our Sorority sisters to design their own pair of shoes.
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