Upper Street rule

I went along to the launch of Upper Streets new line of shoes by Nicole Summerwood last night, a sleek event attended by lots of sleek looking girls with immaculate nails. Drinks were flowing and the music was pumping by the time I got there, but I barely noticed all that as I was mesmerised by the shoes. There they were, elegant, sophisticated, and fashionable, perched on their white columns, in all their glory.

There were some real stand outs for me, among them the dark grey, glittery heels, perfect for just about any dressy occasion and certainly the ones I’ve got my eye on for the party season. Also, some black suede ankle boots, very similar to ones you’d find in any high end high street shoe shop, but that is the beauty of it.Up to now, ladies with larger feet couldn’t buy these kind of shoes from any high end high street shop.

With prices starting at £170 they wont be a casual purchase but I actually don’t think they’re particularly over priced.  You get what you pay for when it comes to shoes, much like make up, clothes and other fashion items and these are quality products, well made, using good materials and most importantly engineered for larger sizes, important for insteps and heel sizes.

I thought it was unfortunate that they weren’t displaying the shoes in the larger sizes – I saw a lot of 40’s and no 44’s. There is a difference in feel in a shoe along the sizes and it would have been good to have felt them and seen them in the flesh. Maybe even try them on at the event – I can’t have been the only one wanting to slip those beauties on and give them a test run!

But, all power to Upper Street – they have got in there early on what will be an increasing market and they will hopefully establish themselves as a brand to contend with in the larger sizes category, making other suppliers raise their game to compete. Long live Upper Street!

iPhone September 2013 043

The need for heels

When I was in my early twenties, I bought a pair of shoes from LK Bennet. This was obviously in the days when (a) I fit in to LK Bennet shoes (b) LK Bennet made fabulous & sexy and not just Kings Road-tastic loafers and (c) I didn’t mind being agonisingly uncomfortable with every step I took.

The shoes were red snakeskin pointed stilettos, with a 4 inch heel. They were amazing. They went with everything I owned, from twisted Levis (remember them?) to tiny (tiny tiny) skirts.

They were with me when I met my future husband when I was about 26. In fact, they were a deciding factor in whether he was actually going to be my future husband – although I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t really leave him much of a choice (think tiny tiny skirt, those heels and quite a lot of tequila).

One day, in fact, one birthday, around the same sort of time as meeting my FH, I went to pick them up from the cobblers (where I’d taken them for about the 7th time in a year to be re-heeled). The cobbler told me, with no more of a look on his face than if he were telling me that he’d run out of milk, that they were unfixable. He had no concept of the trauma he’d brought in to my life. On my birthday too.

I was, literally, devastated.

Since then, for reasons well documented in this blog, I haven’t owned a pair of killer heels.

Now, without wishing to be too obvious, the need for a pair of killer heels has diminished (the last pair doing their job very well) and these days I am rarely* staggering out of night clubs at 6 in the morning with a man in tow. But as I reach my late 30’s, I think the time has come for me to own, once again, a pair of killer heels. Just one pair of shoes which when on, I feel like I can tackle the world and bloody well win.

Until very recently, there was no point in wishing for a new pair of killer heels. I couldn’t have them. But now, it may be a reality. I’ve written before about Shoes of Prey and Upper Street, retailers where you design your own shoes via their website. Shoes of Prey have always done larger sizes, and I’ve spent quite a long time designing several pairs of shoes.

But now Upper Street (a home grown company, based in North London) have entered in to the mix and are launching their larger sizes collection on Monday. Nicole Smallwood, stylist to the stars and general fashion big fish with big feet to match, has designed a collection specifically for larger sizes.

A revelation! Those who want them in standard sizes have to pay £20 extra for production costs. I think this is the first time ever I’ve heard of larger footed ladies paying less for shoes! Sorry, shouldn’t gloat. Also in the last month, Upper Street have provided us with the ability to design a pair of shoes up to size 44 (which, happily, is my size).

Upper Street formed as a company through the needs of three, larger footed women, who, like me, were fed up with not being able to buy cool, sexy or merely sophisticated shoes. They clearly had a better business plan and a bit more cash (as well as know-how) than me, hence a business which is expanding rapidly and creating a stir as it does so.

The shoes aren’t cheap – but there has been so much in the press recently about how cheap shoes are so bad for your feet, that there can’t be many women out there who don’t want to spend £250 on a pair of life-long shoes (want and can are two very different things, so I’m definitely not assuming that everyone can spend that kind of cash – but I for one am going to save and scrimp on other things to do so)

But my dilemma is, when designing these shoes, do I try to recreate the red snakeskin stilettos, or would that be a mistake? Would recreating them be like trying to relive my 20’s, which although fun, were fraught with self doubt and anxiety? I’ve moved on in so many ways since then, that there’s a big part of me that thinks I should be wearing some very different heels to those ones.

The only man I’ll be wearing them to go out with is my 6″7 husband (which means I could even go higher on the heel if I wanted – the only bad thing about my last pair was that it meant I had to stay sitting down to speak to most men)

But – they were fabulous. And killer heels are killer heels. So, when I’ve saved some pennies and pounds and the time is right, I will be aiming to design shoes which transport me from mother of two, battling to retain a sense of style, to Hannah, owner of some pretty fabulous, nay, fucking awesome heels.

6am will still be too late though.

*never, although a month or so ago it was 5am and I was dragging my husband in tow as I left

Shoe porn - Christian Louboutin A/W 13. They don't make them in my size, so the picture is simply to drool over

Shoe porn – Christian Louboutin A/W 13. They don’t make them in my size, so the picture is simply to drool over

More shoe porn. Just, fabulous. Christian Louboutin A/W 13

More shoe porn. Just, fabulous. Christian Louboutin A/W 13

The end of the line

Hi all

It’s been a while hasn’t it? Well, that’s summer holidays for you – weeks on end trying to entertain the kids, failing, getting quite stressed about it and then – THE HOLIDAY! 2 blissful weeks of having someone around to help out with the childcare, an opportunity to catch up with some old, great friends, a chance to watch the kids go feral for a while, actually reading a book (or in my case, a trilogy) and rather a lot of du pain, du vin & du fromage.

And then – back to reality. The school run, the rain, the packed lunches. And the business. This has been the one which has been bothering me the most (although I have to confess my autumn wardrobe issues have also been quite a sticking point).

Shoes for Ruby has certainly given me lots to think about and has been a fantastic learning curve. It has given me real purpose and reminded me of who I used to be before kids – driven, committed, focused and tenacious. But – in the world of business, having a good idea and sticking to it is not enough. So, in a decision not taken lightly, I’ve decided to call it a day. Shoes for Ruby will no longer operate as a business.

I have genuinely loved being the Chief Executive (I’m obviously joking) of my own company, managing schedules (joking), juggling deadlines (joking), dealing with staff (joke) and outside suppliers (ha). And I’m often quite keen at throwing money at problems, which is something my husband is acutely aware of. (I have to mention here how endlessly supportive he’s been throughout the whole experience). But any money being thrown now is our own money and it’s just not feasible.

So – without further ado, this is it. The final curtain. I’d like to thank everyone who’s been so supportive over the last few months, friends, family and all those kind fellow bloggers & tweeters who have given me such positive feedback and retweets and likes.

I’m still going to blog, about much the same things and I do have a few pairs of shoes I need to shift from the bloody wardrobe, but I’m taking down the shop and throwing away the business cards. Might keep one or two though, they are rather pretty.

The funny thing is, the phrase ‘shoes for Ruby’ is one I find myself uttering rather a lot at the moment, trying to find suitable shoes for my nearly two year old, beautiful, tall & big footed daughter.

Hopefully, when she’s older, she’ll appreciate my efforts – and I’m confident that she won’t have the same problems I had as a girl, because it does seem that the fashion world has realised that not everyone is a standard size. There has been a shift in attitude.  

And that, dear reader, was always my aim.

xx

Thank you Amsterdam

For someone like me who spends more time wearing Haviana’s than anything else, despite repeated attempts at varying my daily footwear diet (much like the time I tried to stop wearing denim every day and lasted a full 3 days before relapsing), these Suave Soles are ace.

I first saw them on the rather excellent blog En Brogue, which is dedicated to all comfortable footwear (read no heels allowed), and is well worth a look for all shoe lovers.

You buy a pack of Suave Soles which includes the flop of the flip and 3 flips of the flop, so you can interchange them, depending on what you’re wearing that day or what your mood is or indeed if you just want a change of scene on your feet.

I would obviously have to buy the men’s versions, so no pretty colours for me, but these white ones would fit the bill, with red and blue straps to interchange when I need an outfit change. I guess they may be a bit gimmicky, but at least it would alleviate the guilt I feel for only wearing flip flops when it’s hot.

suave flip flops white

The company has been set up by a Dutch doctor and engineer, using a theory his grandfather used whilst designing some of Amsterdam’s buildings – that they should be ‘softer than the ground, tougher than your feet’. I don’t know about you, but there is something about Dutch design that I love.

It’s the same when I visit Amsterdam, the Dutch just get it ‘right’. I am not a designer, architect nor even a great traveller, but I’m comfortable with the Dutch mentality and the way they approach things. They cycle around, looking  healthy and robust, with their kids in those cart things at the front (which in Amsterdam don’t look like you’re offering your children to the nearest lorry as a sacrifice, which is what they look like on south London streets) and life generally looks pretty good as a Dutchman. My experience is limited to Amsterdam though, so forgive me if there is more to being Dutch than being healthy and cycling everywhere.

it's just so lovely isn't it. Wish I were there now.

it’s just so lovely isn’t it. Wish I were there now.

Tell you what, its easy to digress when you’ve got things like Pinterest at your fingertips isn’t it.

The Suave Soles are obviously available to buy at their very own website. Of course my colour choices match the Dutch flag, just a small way of my showing appreciation for their design and input in to the world.

Boden b**locks

I got the Boden catalogue through the post yesterday and just out of interest, I picked it up and had a flick through its glossy, well fed, happy, well adjusted pages. I have a thing against Boden (not even against the clothes, although they are a bit ‘Boden’), it is mainly against the catalog and the styling, those models:

“Tatiana – best trait in a man: ‘his own estate in Gloucestershire’’

” Anoushka – favorite place to be: ‘my family’s private beach in the Maldives’”.

It makes me want to rip my eyes out as I read. In this seasons catalogue they have different sections, one of which is a mummy section, yet another way for them to set themselves firmly apart from life as a normal person.

The images show pictures of a ‘mum’ – she is gorgeous, smooth skinned, happy, even though her ‘children’ are apparently tearing a library apart, because obviously she’s the kind of mother that spends time in the library with her kids rather than in the park hoping to wear them out enough to be able to go home and have some peace and quiet, and she’s tearing around after them, in beautiful clothes, there is not a hair out of place, the kids are happy, life is great, she’s not worrying about money, or what to do with them next or their behavior yesterday at her friend’s house and what that friend might think of them now and dinner isn’t a problem because her kids eat anything.

I know it’s a catalogue and I know they are not going to show images of that kind of normality, but I refuse to subscribe to that kind of mentality. It is the images that companies like Boden portray of motherhood and also the scrutiny that our newest, most famous mother is going to be under in the next few weeks that make me cross.

Kate will be expected to be a Boden mother. She will be expected to enjoy every minute, value every second of the endless feeding and changing and napping and screaming. I think back to the early days of me being a mum with my first, and all I did for about 3 weeks was leak and cry. Maybe longer.

Imagine if she feels like that?! I do have sympathy with her (although I’m aware that she’s going to have more help in the first few months than most people have in a lifetime). Every line on her face is going to be scrutinised, every tired smile analysed and heaven forbid she ever admits to sometimes being bored or frustrated. Boden mothers never feel like that, although I suspect that Boden mothers have Au pairs in the beginning and Nannies as the kid gets older too. And Kate has got quite a family to contend with. Imagine having the Queen as your GMIL.

Boden have also pissed me off because they are selling boots which I would chew my right arm off for, but of course not in my size. They get a lot of their clothes and shoes right and I think if you mix them up a bit you can avoid the ‘Boden’ look. These boots really do cut it for me – lovely soft leather, the heel is the right height, the toe the right curve.

Boden Boots Boden tunic

Damn you Johnny Boden and Tatiana and Anoushka, you present me with a lifestyle I cannot dream of having, and frankly, don’t want to have and yet you tantalise me with offerings like those boots and those tunics which I don’t want to like but I do. It’s no wonder I start throwing the catalog around the room.

Of course if I were a Boden mother, me and my gorgeous children would cut the catalog up and make wonderful, creative, fun collages out of the pictures of the beautiful women.

Hang on – where are those scissors……

http://www.boden.co.uk

Must not’s

I’m on twitter, which for the most part I find funny and sometimes informative, often annoying. One of the most annoying aspects of it is being constant bombarded by companies telling you what you should be buying and when. It’s all done in a chatty, informal way and it is something that I do too – social media is, after all, one of the best ways to promote your business these ways.

But, I’ve decided to change my ways. Today I got a tweet from a brand who I like, whose clothes I have bought and whose marketing I generally respect, telling me that this seasons ‘must have’ is a maxi dress. It may be because I’m tired and possibly a little bit hungover (am enjoying the Dark & Stormy’s at the moment) but the phrase ‘must have’ made me see red. ‘Must have’ is water. ‘Must have’ is food. ‘Must have’ is safety. A maxi dress is not a ‘must have’. Its something which, if you like it and have the money to buy, you could purchase, and it will make you feel happy and possibly better dressed. It will not enable you to be alive.

Another phrase which I’ve become increasingly annoyed with is ‘go to’. “These shoes will be a go to staple in your wardrobe”. ” A go to dress for summer” etc. I’m guilty of it, I know I’ve used it quite a few times in the last few months, but as a phrase it doesn’t really make sense and it is now badly overused. So, from now on, I will try to use different terminology in my marketing.

Instead of saying ‘go to’ I will say something like, “you’ll find these shoes really useful and wont know how you lived without them” or something equally as snappy. And if I ever say ‘must have’ about a pair of shoes, my caveat will always be ” you can totally live without these shoes, but they will enhance your life and make you happier”.

Right, glad I’ve got that cleared up, I’m going to look at that maxi dress now. I’ve been thinking my wardrobe is lacking in something like that for a while…

http://www.twitter.com/shoesforruby

x

Business is a winding road

the long and winding road-pi-192_800x600x0

I know that retail is a funny old game, a point compounded the other day by the news that a Peckham stalwart, Fenton Walsh, had closed down after 12 years of business on Bellenden Road. I was in the shop the week before, having a lovely chat with Maria, the founder and owner of the business, who was full of sage advice about being in the retail/fashion industry.

Aside from the fact that she told me not to invest any more money in the business at this stage, she was positive and helpful and I thought quite upbeat, despite having serious issues with the new tax computer system (I feel I should be more knowledgeable about this, considering that I am going to have to submit information to this same system soon, like, for example, its purpose….)

I went back a week later to find the door firmly shut and notice up saying she’d had to shut up shop and close down due to various issues including the tax system and shit weather. A real shame as it seemed to me that she had a lot to offer and contribute to the local area. This led to the question of price points and what people consider to be an appropriate amount of money for certain items.

I feel that I have a moderate attitude to the amounts I spend of items of clothing and am quite happy to do a cost per wear comparison. For example, I have been known to spend hundreds of pounds on jeans, because I literally live in them and feel that for items which you rely on so heavily to provide comfort and cover, you should be prepared to spend money on them. The same can’t be said for more seasonal clothes, like t-shirts or jumpers, because they are more prone to be trend led and so different from one season to another. I would love to be able to spend £500 on a classic cashmere jumper which would get handed down to the next generation of our family, but that isn’t going to happen. So I go to H&M and spend £20 on a jumper to wear with jeans in the knowledge that the following year I will be buying another, different jumper for the same purpose.

Shoes are difficult though, as, unless you are buying from New Look, they are going to be more expensive than other items of clothing, due to their very nature. It’s been difficult for me to price my shoes because I pay in dollars, which changes in value and I import them via various different carriers, the cost of which varies according to the shipment value, weight etc. I for one do not like wearing really cheap clothes or shoes. Things that do not cost much in monetary terms usually have a high human or environmental cost. I also find I don’t look after things very well if I have not paid anything for them. It’s like they are disposal. So they tend to get left on the floor in a heap, or be put on hot wash rather than a cool wash, as recommended on the label.

But – as demonstrated by the closure of Fenton Walsh, it’s tough out there in the retail world and people do not have money ( I know that’s a generalisation but in general I think it’s true) . So retailers have to get the balance right.  We have to demonstrate we are selling a valuable product that is worth what we’re charging, for an amount our customers are prepared to pay.

I think it’s a balance that is hard to strike. As a long term purchaser of larger than average shoes, I know that as a customer base we have to expect to pay more than average for our footwear. Paying upwards of £120 for a pair of leather heels and anything from £150 – £270 for a pair of leather knee high boots is pretty standard for us larger footed ladies. Obviously now, I don’t have to pay that, which is good, because I wasn’t able to buy more than a pair of those shoes every three years and I haven’t had a new pair of leather boots since my feet grew in size (strangely the Hobbs boots that I bought in 2003 still fit me now despite being two sizes too small, although I think that I have to accept they have finally reached the end of their particular line)

The business model I have adopted in the last few weeks for Shoes for Ruby, is designed to keep the cost of the shoes down as low as possible – in gathering enough orders to put a big order through to the States, I am paying much less for the shipping and it takes up less of my time – all things to take in to consideration when working out how much to sell the shoes for. When I set up SfR, I also knew that I wanted to keep the cost of my shoes to the customer below £100. This is possible as long as I’m not selling leather boots, which I will be in the autumn.

In an ideal world I would have a few loyal customers, who buy from me once or twice a year and could rely on me to provide them with the shoes they like to buy for the money they have to spend. One of the key bits of advice I was given at the beginning of this road, was that it’s better to have 10 loyal customers than 1000 fickle ones – and as an ethos, that agrees with me.

So I’m continuing along this rather bumpy track, keeping my eye on the horizon and trying not to get diverted from my purpose – to provide women in the UK who have larger feet with trendy, affordable shoes.

To anyone who hasn’t seen it, the shoes are up for purchase at http://www.shoesforruby.co.uk

If you just want to follow my blog please bookmark http://www.shoesforruby.wordpress.com

Thanks x