NEWSLETTER | WOMEN MOTION
Finding your Feet
While success in the business world may involve a great deal of climbing, sweat and tears, it is often the first step that is the hardest when starting your own business. Jana van Vuuren is just starting out and she tells us about how her journey began in creating women’s designers shoes, building her dream from lots of soles, heals and classical styles.
Van Vuuren’s interest in the art of shoe-making was peaked when she was struggling to find the perfect pair of shoes for her wedding two years ago. Even the designer boutiques in Sandton brought her no joy. “It was an awful experience, the shoes I tried on were all small and uncomfortable.” She realised that in a world where some women will kill for the perfect pair of heals, there must be other women in South Africa who are also searching relentlessly for a pair of shoes that fit like Cinderella’s slipper. So after studying English at the University of Pretoria and working in the marketing and advertising industry for many years, 27-year-old Van Vuuren threw caution to the wind and started her own business last year
where she designs and makes designer shoes for her customer’s unique style, ensuring that comfort is never compromised. “I was very scared to leave the security of my job, but when you have a passion for something, there really is no other option but to follow your dream, you have to do it,” she says. Once Van Vuuren set the wheels in motion to start her own business, she went on a short training course for beginners and intermediates where she learnt the basics of shoe-making.
“I bought a shoe-making kit to put my new skills to practice and then organised to go to England to do an apprenticeship course in Surrey for three weeks to make bespoke shoes. I really learnt a lot but when I returned to South Africa, I soon discovered that there really was no one else making the same type of designer bespoke shoes that I was making, so I have to rely on my teacher in Surrey for advice.” Van Vuuren admits that her shoe fetish started a long time ago, where she would always notice other people’s shoes first. She says that you can get a good sense of a person by looking at the type of shoes they are wearing. “Believe it or not, but I actually don’t have a lot of my own shoes because I am so picky when it comes to shoes.”
She explains that she doesn’t follow fashion trends when it comes to designing shoes. Her customers fall into a niche category. “My shoes are couture. They are created to be classical and stylish, made from natural material. They are hand crafted for business women and for brides who are looking for something enduring in a pair of shoes.” A good example is brides who are looking for a pair of wedding shoes to match their beautiful wedding gown; they can bring the material that their wedding dress is made from and get wedding shoes made to match. Her shoes are made from materials that are imported because they are not easily available in South African and where they are available, they are more expensive than importing them. Van Vuuren admits that it is really scary starting your own businesses especially when it is in an industry that is completely new to you. “I now understand why businesses fold so easily. It is really important to do your research before you open a business and investigate the industry to see if there is a market for what you want to do.”
One of the biggest challenges that she has encountered is getting financial backing from a financial institution. Fortunately her family has been in a position to help her out financially until her business is established. Her advice to women who are thinking about starting a business is to definitely go for it. “I am happy to wake up every day and go to work, which is rare. My mind is constantly in over drive, thinking about new designs for shoes and ideas for my business,” she says. As with any smart business person, Van Vuuren has set her goals for the next few years. “I want to have my own boutique shop and be the best local wedding shoe designer, it is my vision and I really want to hone in on it.” For now, she is focusing on getting her website for her company, Maraschino Shoes, up and running and relies heavily on word of mouth for new clients.
“Getting a pair of shoes made to fit you perfectly is an experience in itself from the consultation to choosing the design and then finally wearing the shoes for the first time,” she says. “The shoes are unique, they are packaged especially for the client and you will never have to worry about running into someone else at a function or cocktail party with the same pair of shoes.” To anyone who is too scared to take the first leap and open your own business, have the courage to follow your dreams and, if the shoe fits, wear it.
by Kylie King