3 Mar 2017

Designer shoes for larger feet

From Nine To Noon, 10:16 am on 3 March 2017

An Auckland woman who created a shoe business after struggling to find pairs to fit size 10 and above has found plenty of other women face the same problem.

Gustavia Lui has an online high fashion shoe design, manufacturing and retail business, which she runs out of her Manurewa home.

The mother of three is the founder of the online business staavias.com selling women’s shoes catering for wide and large feet, from sizes 10 to 14.

After a life time of wearing jandals and men's sneakers, Lui decided to do something to improve the lot of women who have difficulty finding a great pair of large shoes.

Lui told RNZ’s Kathryn Ryan she found it incredibly frustrating having to work in men’s sneakers and jandals, as there were few other options out there.

“There were times where I was able to get a few pairs but they would literally kill my toes and I would just have to hold my breath until the end of the day.”

At the time she dreamed up the idea for the business, Lui had been working at Work and Income.

“I did research over a few years, from 2013 onwards I started travelling and doing a lot more research.”

To realise her dream, she attended an entrepreneur school in Sydney, did a three-day shoe design course in New York, trade shows in Las Vegas, and then found a manufacturer in China to produce her designs.

She says she never felt quite ready to start the business, but took the plunge anyway.

“Even when I left I still didn’t feel like I was ready to start a business. I was actually quite scared but I thought, you know, I only live once, I’m going to be 30 soon, if I don’t do it now it’s never ever going to happen.

“In the end I just made that decision to do it and try and figure it out from there.”

Lui doesn’t draw, which she says has been a major challenge in the design side of the business.

“I just cannot do it. I have it in my mind, and basically I just needed someone to put it on paper, whatever I tell them to sort of sketch it out onto paper.

But she found designers who were able to draw her creations for her.

They talk using Skype or video chat, where she makes suggestions to designs to reach the final result.

Lui says the whole process has been a huge challenge, particularly the launch of the website.

She was up for three days continuously before it went live in January last year.

“We had our first sale literally within two minutes and I started crying.”

A newspaper article several months after the launch saw business explode overnight.

She didn’t have enough shoes to cater to all the sales that had come through, and had to tell customers there would be a wait.

One of Gustavia Lui's designs.

One of Gustavia Lui's designs. Photo: Supplied

“I emailed every single customer that ordered a pair in April to let them know that I wasn’t expecting and if you could please be patient it may take a little while.

“Everybody was so lovely about it… everyone was so supportive it was such an awesome time.”

Lui says she loves the challenges the business presents and describes herself as a problem solver.

“I’ve become so caught up in things I always want to see what it will look like in the end.

“So I pictured that I was going to own a shoe store and I thought, ‘oh yes, that sounds cool’. And I just kept on pursuing it, even though I had all these problems.”

She says the challenge is what keeps her going today. Lui says she’s been surprised by the number of women who do have larger feet.

“It makes me wonder, where did these women get their shoes from in the beginning?”

And says she has some excellent, loyal customers.

“So they buy one pair, they come back and get another one and another one and another one and they end up getting every single pair that we have for sale.”

New Zealand and Australia are her biggest markets at the moment, but she’s sold shoes in America, Fiji, Niue, Singapore.

Lui says the business is looking at expanding physically into countries where it has established customers, especially Australia.