This business scanning women's feet to make heels that don't hurt

Helen Cahill
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Iris Anson went to the London College of Fashion to learn about shoemaking (Source: Solely Original)

Leaving for work in the morning, a City worker will check they have their keys, wallet, and phone. And some of them will also check that they've packed their shoes.

Many women in the City bring a second pair of shoes because the ones they wear in the office aren't actually suitable for walking in. It's a strange phenomenon, but even when women buy designer shoes, they can't really guarantee they'll be comfortable.

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It was this conundrum that prompted Iris Anson to start a business making shoes for women that fit like a glove. She was tired of carrying shoes to work - and wearing shoes that hurt her feet.

"I've got wide feet so I always find shoes uncomfortable," she says. "I always saw women bringing shoes into the office. Why do shoes have to be a trade off? You can hardly ever get both style and comfort."

Anson gave up her job working as a tax consultant and enrolled in a shoemaking course at the London College of Fashion. The aim, she said, was to find out as much about shoemaking as she could before setting up a business.

In particular, she was keen to discover the technology that would allow her to make her shoe business scalable. Her research lead her to a simple, 3D scanning method. Customers can either visit her in her office (she hires rooms in co-working spaces at the moment) or she sends them a cast in a silver package. The cast is essentially a sock, which her customers dip in water. It then hardens on their feet in minutes, and they send the foot mould back to her.

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But, the bespoke nature of the service goes further than that - customers can also design their own shoes online. They can choose the overall style of shoe, and then customise it however they want. The website is rudimentary at the moment, but now that Anson has completed her first round of crowdfunding, she has the capital to improve it.

"Most of the money is going into marketing," she says. "But I'm also polishing the website - it's not enough for a luxury brand."

On Crowdcube, where Anson has been bidding the funds, she has valued her company (which has now been operating for two years) at £800,000. She has raised £94,000 so far and has been amazed by how well-received the business was online, given here the initial target on Crowdcube was set at £70,000.

But she has also been looking for investment from angel investors and accelerator funds, and, to push beyond her growth target, is open to additional funding of up to £160,000 in total. At the moment, she is in talks with e-commerce fund TrueStart, and she says there are two or three more parties who have asked to jump on board.

"One investor just invested because she loves shoes, and wants to make her own," Anson says. "Some people are emotionally invested as much as financially invested."

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By the end of 2017, Anson hopes to have made £250,000 in sales. Last month, Solely Original made £5,000 in sales, so clearly, she's expecting a huge amount of growth - but all of her sales so far have been achieved with no marketing.

Anson's ultimate goal is to open a physical store, where consumers can have their feet scanned, and talk to designers. Increasingly, this is how retail businesses get started. Entrepreneurs set up a brand online, build a customer base, and open a showroom. Most recently, online fashion retailer Missguided opened a shop in Westfield Stratford. Perhaps Solely Original will follow in its footsteps.

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