Iris Anson, founder of Solely Original, talks about the startup where you can design your own shoes online.

Solely Original has brought the design choice and fit of made- to -measure shoes online. The company, based in London, has developed its website so that you can experience the services without having to travel anywhere. By using the innovative 3D Fitting Kit and Foot Scanner, Solely Original can make shoes that will fit you perfectly. Using the website design engine, an image of your design is only a click of fingers away: by selecting the style and heels, then the materials and colours. Founder, Iris Anson tells us more.

I came up with the idea... I started Solely Original out of frustration. I was a fashion conscious city professional and I loved wearing heels at work, but too often, I found myself sacrificing comfort for style. But why does it always have to be trade off?

Having researched footwear production, I came to realise how unhealthy and flawed the current industry is. I decided to leave my career behind and to find a solution for women like me. After completing my Footwear Design studies at London College of Fashion, I progressed into training and research on the subject of individual fit for bespoke shoes. I created Solely Original to offer every woman the luxury of comfortable and stylish shoes, fitted to their own measurements.

The biggest challenge is... Building a fashion brand without a big budget is very challenging. It’s all about the details – on the website, packaging, communications and everything else to create the right brand image, and of course, hiring the best professionals to work on these elements comes at a cost.

Most consumers are unaware of what is involved in delivering a custom-made product, with customer service, shoemakers, logistics, designers and a technical team, so we are always bootstrapping to keep our products affordable. We cannot cut corners, however, as providing just a “good” product will no longer satisfy modern consumers – we need to “wow” them!

The average day is spent... No two days are the same for me. At startup stage, running a business requires a lot of different skills as I need to oversee everything from manufacture, marketing, IT, customer service and finance. Every department is interdependent on each other so I have to make sure the operations are consistent throughout, and the product we deliver lives up to the promises we make to customers in our marketing. I will often go from trying to come up with a marketing campaign one minute, to discussing design options with customers the next, and then sorting out our finance situation.

The team consists of.... Apart from myself acting as Managing Director, we have Barry our Production Manager, Dee our Marketing Executive and James our Technical Director.

My favourite quote... Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

I am where I am today because... I am a bit of a perfectionist at heart. After graduation I went into a well-paid job as a tax consultant and quickly grew frustrated in the corporate culture because I could spot how things could be improved, but as a junior employee it was very difficult to get my ideas heard. I decided to quit my job and pursue my passion for shoes, creating a business that not only put me in control of my own destiny, but also allowed me to make a genuine difference to customers’ lives.

The best advice I've been given... The success ingredients are: passion, persistence, people.

In five years I'd like to be... I’d like to help more than 100,000 women get their dream shoes made. Our customers come from all walks of life – they are brides adding a personal touch to their big day, professionals who want both comfort and style, athletes who cannot risk injuring their feet on a night out or women who just struggle with difficult feet. I’d like to think everyone can have at least one pair of shoes that are absolutely perfect for their own style and comfort, and that they really enjoy wearing. As a women myself, I think having a good pair of shoes is an investment and they can really take you a long way.

The thing no one ever tells you about running your own business... Having something go wrong is normal. Learn to expect problems, especially at a startup stage, because it is about solving issues and learning from it, rather than preventing issues.

The most rewarding experience we've had to date... One day a customer came to my office with a bunch of orchids as a ‘thank you’ gift for the shoes we made for her. It was a great reminder that this is not just a fashion brand I’m building – our shoes ease people’s long-term suffering and they make them feel special as an individual, and that gives me real satisfaction.

October 2016