Financial Times Europe - 23.09.2019

(Kiana) #1
Monday23 September 2019 ★ FINANCIAL TIMES 15

WORK & CAREERS


Haley Pavone
had the idea for
Pashion when
she was on a
night out
with friends
while she was an
undergraduate
WinniWintermeyer/FT

W


hen Haley Pavone,
founder of Pashion
footwear, pitches her
innovative high-heeled
shoe business to over-(
whelmingly male) sneaker-wearing
venture capitalists, she oftensuggests
that they discuss the idea with their
wives. Those who follow the 23-year-
old’sadvice tend to return less sceptical
and more intrigued, she says. “It’s
worked every time. It’s really funny.”
Pashionproduces heels that turn into
flats. The idea is simple: when a pair of
stilettos is making the balls of your feet
burn, you should be able to fix the prob-
lem without going barefoot, sitting
down or changing shoes. Pashion allows
women to take the heel off, but keep
their shoes on.
Pashion’s shoes do not contain the
metal rods that give stilettos their char-
acteristic arch. They seu flexible materi-
als — similar to those used in trainers —
that allow the sole to flatten out when
the heel is unscrewed. The company
also claims that its shoes re the “onlya
heels on the market with a comfortable
insole.”
Venture capitalistsoften don’t grasp
the high-heel problem during Ms
Pavone’s pitch. “I end up spending eight
of my 10 [pitching] minutes explaining
why women would want this, because
they’re like, ‘Do heels really hurt that
bad? My wife wears them all the time.’”
This is why Ms Pavone suggests the VCs
call their spouses.
Pashion has been three years in
development and has raised $1.7m. It
launched its first line in June and now
sells six styles. here is a team of 14,T
including four employees, plus the
board and contractors. It is one of a
wave of US female-led fashion start-ups
making practical and comfortable prod-
ucts. Others includelingerie companies
ThirdLove, which offers half-cup bra

sizing and a mobile app that lets women
measure themselves at home, and
True&Co, which fits bras remotely using
a quiz ather than measurements orr
photos.
Ms Pavone had the idea for Pashion
when she was on a night out with friends
while still an undergraduate in San Luis
Obispo, California (where the company
is still based). After removing her
uncomfortable heels and going barefoot
on the dance floor, another woman’s
heel impaled her foot.The incident
reminded Ms Pavone, who was major-
ing in entrepreneurship, that one of her
professors at Cal Poly’s Orfalea College
of Business had said that he most prof-t
itable products “usually solve some
kind of pain”. In the circumstances, this
hit a nerve.
To Ms Pavone’s knowledge, no other
company has tried to create heels that

turn into flats, and she is unaware of any
copycat products. She has patents pend-
ing in 30 countries.
Such innovation is not always an
advantage. Some potential investors,
she says, are concerned aboutsuch a
simple idea’s potential precisely
becauseno one has tried to do it before.
Ms Pavone thinks this oversight is likely
to have happened ecause leaders in theb
male-dominated fashion and footwear
industrieshave perhaps been less aware
of, or interested in, women’s pain. T hen
there is the cost: shoes with removable
heels are complicated and expensive to
make (Pashion’s start at $145).
Women still buy a lot of high heels.
Onestudy y Research Reports Worldb
estimated that the global heels market
was worth $34bn in 2018. This is despite
studies showingthat wearing heels can
cause long-term back and foot pain.

“Half the population deals with this
on a pretty regular basis, and no one has
really ever made an effort to solve it,”
says Ms Pavone.
Being a young female founder trying
to solve a women-focused problem in a
male-dominated industry has other
drawbacks.When pitching alongside
men who are similar in age or even
younger than Ms Pavone, she says hat,t
“I’m the only one that’s asked about my
age and experience.”
Research by the Axios news website
found that in 2018 only 10 per cent of
decision makers at US VC firms were
women, while only about 2 per cent of
US funding goes to female founders.
But being young also has its benefits.
Starting the company as anunder-
graduate gave Ms Pavone access to
student pitching competitions, univer-
sity resources and expertise that

she may not otherwise have had.
Starting it as a student was a big asset“
because of how many opportunities are
made available to students,” she says.
“As hectic as it was to be in both full
time, part time school and work, I think
it wouldn’t have been possible other-
wise.” She raised $450,000 before grad-
uating, and was able to file her patent
with the help of an Orfalea College
alumnus at a “pretty severe discount”.
Ms Pavone appears every bitthe con-
fident Californian founder, on top of
problems and brimming with ideas. But
she has already weathered a crisis. Nine
months ago, Pashion nearly went under.
The company began running out of
money in November, and by January Ms
Pavone had 30 days to raise $1m to
avoid going bankrupt. She was unable
to pay her employees for a month, had
to negotiate with suppliers and took out
a personal loan.
Then, on the final day, she secured
$1.25m in a round led by angel investor
Forrest Fleming and venture capitalists
Entrada Ventures.
She is confident it won’t happen again.
“Now we’re in a situation where the only
time we’d be raising... is because we’re
growing... I feel comfortable.” Ms
Pavone says she expects to raise more
funds next year. The company has not
yet disclosed customer numbers or sales
figures.
Ms Pavone says the next hurdles are
working out how to make Pashion’s
product better known, and reassuring
customers that the shoes won’t break.
It advertises on social media and if it
stops posting for even a few days, web-
site traffic “drop
Butshould any womenbe wearing
high heelsgiven the health issues? Ms
Pavone says research has shown that
many women feel more “confident” and
“powerful” in them. She tends to wear
themfor formal events. “It’s a psycho-
logical thing — although it’s probably
the fashion industry giving me sublimi-
nal messages,” she says.
And in her view, Pashion’s shoes are
“empowering”, precisely becausethey
give women a choice. “I’m 23 and if I’m
going out I want to wear heels. But I
don’t want to be in pain on my walk
home at one in the morning.”

How a start-up creates high fashion without pain


A US student had a simple
idea for high-heeled shoes

that convert to flats. Now
she’s selling them, writes

Camilla Hodgson


‘I want to


wear heels


but I don’t


want to be


in pain at


one in the


morning’


SEPTEMBER 23 2019 Section:Features Time: 9/201922/ - 18:50 User:dana.prince Page Name:CAREERS2, Part,Page,Edition:USA , 15, 1

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