Shopping for shoes can be a lot like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Plenty are too big. Some are too small. And if your feet dare to be smaller or bigger than average, it’s very, very rare you’ll find a pair that are just right.
Knowing this feeling all too well, childhood friends Pradhima Shyamsunder and Kuppal Palaniappan set out to find the solution.
"I was 21 years old when I had the idea. I had personally struggled to find shoes for myself. It would take days of unsuccessful trips to shoe shops to find work shoes," Pradhima, now 31, told Mamamia.
"I would then find something, pay too much for it and then a couple months later it would stretch and not fit. It was painful!"
"I had been struggling to find my shoe size for many years, I would often go to the popular shoe stores to find no size 11 shoes or buy size 10 shoes and squash my feet in, much to my pain and discomfort," agrees Kuppal, 29.
"I would then visit specific shoe stores that catered for people with large feet, however the style of shoe, was outdated or for an older target market."
After years of both thinking about doing something but with full-time work and other career ambitions getting in the way, it was a chance conversation only recently that saw the pair finally decide to come together and create shoes for both the bigger and smaller-footed women of Australia. Soleful Shoes was born.
"Soleful Shoes is all about advocating for an inclusive fashion community. We’re hoping to be the voice for the many women in Australia who are struggling to find shoes that fit – those with feet sizes below 5 and above 10 (Australian sizes)," Pradhima says.
"These are women doing shopping binges overseas, shopping in men’s and children’s shoe shops and we’re not ok with this – there should be a solution."
The brand bridges these holes to provide on-trend, affordable and long-lasting footwear.
While the idea was a no-brainer, bringing it to life wasn't so easy.
The pair met up regularly to really flesh out what the business would be, creating business plans, lean canvas, researching shoe designers and manufacturers, determining their target market, market size and meeting with other entrepreneurs.
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"Using Kuppal’s experience in social impact, technology and consulting at Deloitte, my background as an accountant and experience running an earlier business, we combined our strengths to come up with the business," Pradhima said.
The one thing they were missing? Experience in designing, manufacturing and supplying shoes.
"This is where a friend of mine, Divya J Sethuram came in. She is a talented shoe designer who designs and makes shoes using her own workshop in Bangalore, India. Her brand is called Plumtree Shoes," she said.
"Kuppal and I thought it would be invaluable to learn from her and Divya was very generous with her time to teach us."
The result are leather shoes designed in Sydney and 100 per cent handmade by artisans from India, available in Australian sizes 4,4.5, 5, 10 and 11.
With two collections dropping each year, you'll find a mix of classic heels, boots and vibrant sandals.
The customer feedback has been phenomenal, but the pair are always working to improve the brand.
"Initially we had feedback that our pricing was too high which is why we revised this to be less than $100," they said.
"We feel this has hit a sweet spot with customers and is more of what people expect for an online brand."
And if the concept wasn't good enough already, the brand also has a serious social mission. With each purchase, you'll have the option to donate a pair of old shoes to Dress for Success, a charity who empower women in difficult circumstances for economic independence, professional clothing and shoes and a network of support.
When you select 'yes' for this option, a pre-paid postage bag will come with your shoe order. Simply pop your used shoes in the bag and drop it off at your nearest Australia Post, where it will be sent to Dress for Success Sydney.
The pair hold big hopes for Soleful shoes.
"In five years, we see that we would be known as a business that solved the problem that many women with small and large feet face in finding shoes. We would be known as the pioneers of inclusive shoe fashion for people in Australia," they say.
"Much like the plus size fashion industry has taken off, we would have successfully proven to shoe retailers that these sizes are needed and Soleful Shoes would remain as a key supplier of these sizes globally. And through Soleful Shoes thousands of shoes would have been donated to those less fortunate."
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