The perfect pair of heels is pretty much impossible to find: let’s face it, one shoe never fits all. If they look great, chances are they’ll be uncomfortable after a few hours wear, and comfort often comes at the cost of style. Enter Shaherzad Umbreen, founder of 18hourheels who seeks to empower the women of the future with shoes which are not only easy on the feet but also easy on the eye. We chatted to the lovely Shaz, about how she came to own her own business, the challenges she has faced, and what she sees for the future of 18hourheels.
Shoe designing is a pretty niche line to go into – tell us about your journey to creating Shoes by Shaherazad.
I’ve had the idea of creating a sustainable shoe for as long as I can remember, I just didn’t have the know-how about how to get the business off the ground. At university, I did a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Masters Degree in Psychology and I didn’t think that either of these were particularly suited to a career in business. So instead, I began a career in retail management which I thoroughly enjoyed for many years.
But the unique idea for my shoes just wouldn’t go away, so one day, I decided to make my vision a reality. At this point, I still didn’t know how to develop a product line, although I knew what I wanted it to look like, so I got myself onto a footwear design course at the London College of Fashion. From there on in, everything worked like a dream. My experience of running businesses coupled with my new knowledge of footwear design helped me to create a fun, fresh and funky new shoe brand.
What drove you to start your own brand rather than working for another company?
The ethos of my brand is central to why I set it up. I’m a great lover of shoes, but I have an even stronger belief in women’s advocacy. I set up my own brand so that I could use shoes to help empower women. Essentially, for every pair of shoes sold a woman or girl living in poverty is given the opportunity to gain an education through my partnership with GlobalGiving UK. Working for another company would not have allowed me to take this empowerment journey either for myself or for others. Last year my business supported 500 women to gain an education – that’s something I’m so very proud of.
What makes your shoes different? Tell us about their unique design and the materials you use to make them.
My shoes are worn plain by day and then turn into a sparkly pair of shoes by night. They are designed for the woman who wants to move with poise, grace and elegance from the boardroom to the bar. The innovation which allows the wearer to choose their design is known as ‘shoellery’, or ‘jewellery for shoes’.
What has been your biggest business challenge?
Taking that first step. There’s always a good reason to delay starting your own business and it takes courage to actually begin. There’s always a better reason to start straight away … it’s just a matter of seeing this!
How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
My work is what I love, so I see it as ‘life’ in its own right. Particularly since my brand has the women empowering women aspect to it. However, I do leave enough time to go for afternoon tea with friends, read books, travel to new countries and net walk (it’s my only exercise at the moment!). I manage to achieve all these lovely activities with focus and determination – you have to plan your social activities as well as your work activities in order to ensure a good balance. That’s why I love net walking so much – it’s work and play at the same time!
Do you have any business regrets?
Yes! I regret how long it took me to take the decision to set up my own business. I’ve loved every minute so far and I wish I had started sooner.
How do you market yourself and your shoes?
With authenticity being the conscience of my brand. This means that I only ever use ‘real women’ in my photography so I never know the age, size or dimensions of my models when they arrive at a shoot – it’s about representing women and not a selected view of women. This is hard because other brands will pre-select the women they use in their shoots. For me though, an empowered brand always empowers women, no matter what their age, size, race or look.
It’s also for this reason that I never pay bloggers or celebrities to endorse my products or brand. I’ve had lots of positive celebrity and blogger feedback and I’m proud to say that it’s all organic – authenticity is key to my brand’s success. So far, this has worked very well.
What has been your biggest business achievement so far?
Helping 500 women in Kenya, Pakistan, Palestine and Peru to gain an education in 2016. This will help them to help themselves and their families out of poverty. This makes me so happy, and the fact that my shoes and my customers enabled this makes me happier still.
What are your hopes for Shoes by Shaherazad over the next year?
To empower even more women who wear my shoes, and as a result, help educate more women in yet more countries where there is poverty. We do not need miracles to change the world, we only need each other.
With beautiful shoes should be coordinated with beautiful nails: what’s you favourite polish colour?
I love natural colours such as blush ink and fawn beige. Nails look so elegant when they look like a more polished version of the natural nail. Poise, grace and elegance from you fingertips to your toes!