Women and their love for shoes never goes out of fashion. And as online markets are taking a lead in our generation, we are spoilt for choice. But one unarguable issue about buying your favourite footwear online is the fitting, which is quite uncertain!
But for childhood friends, Kuppal Palaniappan (5 feet 10 inches) and Pradhima Shyamsunder (4 feet 11 inches), the struggle to find the right pair of shoes has been real! Shopping for shoes in Australia for sizes 5 and 11 was a difficult exercise for them; as it is for women here in India.
“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!” says Kuppal.
Every shoe they got in the market were either outdated or didn’t fit them right. Both determined to address the misfit, turned their problem into a one-of-kind startup.
Soleful Shoes, an Australian business venture, initiated by these ladies is an online shoe store exclusively for women with shoe sizes 4, 4.5, 5, 10 and 11 feet, basically inspired by their personal needs.
“The idea of starting a shoe store for women with larger feet came to me when I was 18. Every now and again, I would get some inspiration to research on how I would set up such a business but I sat on the idea for a long time because I wasn’t willing to take the risk of starting my own venture,” says Kuppal.
“After telling Pradhima one evening that I was planning to start my own shoe business, it got us thinking. How great would it be to start a brand that not only catered for small shoes but also larger shoes? It eventually felt like a no-brainer and yet still nerve-wracking! I was also keen to start a social business. I’m quite passionate about social impact, not-for-profit and international development. It’s been so fulfilling to work on something that brings together creativity, fashion and social impact,” she adds.
While Pradhima, for whom every shoe of choice was simply too big, at 21 she was convinced that she had to take matters into her own hands,
“I had personally struggled to find shoes for myself. It would take days of unsuccessful trips to shoe shops to find work shoes. 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! After a few years of enduring this and realising there’s no solution for shoes for women with small feet, I felt I had to do something.” she tells Newsd.
With the help of supportive friends and family, this duo decided to turn their dreams of entrepreneurship into reality. 7 years after Pradhima was done with her studies, she started Teacup Shoes for women of smaller foot size, which received an overwhelming response from the community. Even after learning a lot for two years from her start-up, Pradhima was not still unconvinced.
“I stopped taking action around the business, I realised that I was not inspired by simply selling shoes,” she says. “During my time selling petite shoes, I saw that there were also women with large feet struggling with the same issue. I’d known Kuppal since I was 10 (years old) and she had shared with me about her idea to start a shoe company for women with large feet. We then decided to become business partners and Soleful Shoes was launched to cater to both sides of the market – big and small feet.”
With hopes of expanding their business in future, Soleful Shoes strives to be a one-stop shop for shoe purchases in Australia. Kuppal and Pradhima’s dreams were fuelled by Divya Sethuraman, a talented shoe designer who makes shoes in her workshop in Bangalore. Her brand, Plumtree Shoes, taught the Aussie ladies the essentials to kick-start their venture.
Soleful Shoes is much more than just selling shoes. The startup encourages its customers to donate worn out footwear. Soleful Shoes is associated with Dress for Success — an organisation that improves the employability of women in need in New South Wales by providing free of charge, professional clothing, a network of support, and the career development tools required to help women achieve self-sufficiency.
And about plans for India? “Yes, India is in our sights! We think there is great opportunity and diversity in India to expand our brand there. We’ve noticed that India is an early adopter in many areas such as fashion trends and social change, we can’t wait to be a part of it!”
Their mission of ‘buy one, give one’ is still new in Australia and gives their idea an edge. With plans to expand their business in future and driven to follow their hearts, the young duo says, “We haven’t felt that we really had to market our idea, we wholeheartedly believe in what we are doing.”