Former tax consultant solves style v comfort fashion stand-off

Growing tired of the age-old style versus comfort debate in women's fashion, former tax consultant, Iris Anson founded a footwear start-up that combines both. Here's how she started up.

The average British woman owns 17 pairs of shoes, but only wears two to four pairs from her collection. According to Iris Anson, this is because in the stand-off between style and comfort, the latter always wins in the long-run. Most women understandably settle on the most comfortable shoes for pounding the pavement, especially in a city like London.

For many, store bought shoes are either gorgeous and impractical, or sensible (read: dowdy), says Anson. Her start-up, Solely Original, creates made-to-measure shoes with customisable heel height, colour and fabric for all styles. Here’s how she started up.

Name: Iris Anson
Location: London
Date launched: December 2014
Number of employees: 4

What does your business do? is a website that enables people to design their own made-to-measure shoes, at an affordable price. Our revolutionary 3D technology ensures that each individual customer can not only pick a look to match their outfit, but they will also be the perfect, comfortable fit.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I have always been fashion conscious and love wearing heels to work, but during my time working in the City I often found myself sacrificing comfort for style. I asked myself why there always has to be trade off, and after researching footwear production, I came to realise how unhealthy and flawed the current industry is.

I decided to leave my career behind to create a solution for thousands of women facing the same problem. After completing my Footwear Design studies at London College of Fashion, I progressed into research on the subject of bespoke shoes. I created Solely Original to afford every woman the luxury of stylish shoes fitted to their own measurements.

How did you know there was a market for it? Any research?

As with many of the best business ideas, I initially thought I would be a customer of this product myself. However, after speaking to my female friends and colleagues about their shoe experience it was clear I wasn’t alone. I then surveyed about 200 women in shopping malls, which helped me narrow down who my target customers really are.

How did you raise funding, and why?

To start with, I applied for Startup Loan. We have also recently launched our own crowdfunding campaign using Crowdcube. Our company philosophy has always been about putting our customers at the heart of everything we do, so we were incredibly excited to give our loyal fans the opportunity to invest in Solely Original alongside professional investors. It is great for real customers to join us on our journey as they’ll be the ones that help us become the UKs most loved footwear brand.

Describe your business model in brief

As well as our in-house specialist expertise in shoe design and shoe production, we work with some highly experienced shoemakers in China who are able to create the high quality shoes cost-effectively. This means production is very scalable so we can take on any volume of orders at any time and still surpass customers expectations in both standards and production times. Our business doesn’t conform to traditional retail seasonal trends and outputs are demand driven, so we never have problems with stock accumulation.

What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?

It feels like almost every day since the launch of the brand has had some kind of milestone. I remember the circumstances of our first sale very clearly; the first time we received a heartfelt thank you email from a customer; the first time we received an international order; the first time we were approached by a journalist too many to choose from. Each and every step of the journey has been a big milestone and there is something exciting happening almost every day to mark the growth of our brand. I heard somebody describing parenting as “a stage of lifes journey where the milestones come about every fifty feet,” I think running a start-up feels a bit like that too.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

As a startup business, it is very normal to have something go wrong. It’s not something people like to admit, but the truth is most successful businesses accept there will be problems, the key is learning from them.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

My goal is to help more than 100,000 women get their dream shoes made. They may be brides, professionals, mothers, athletes or just someone who has problems with their feet, but I think everyone should have at least one pair of shoes that they feel great in.

Long-term, we want to build international presence in fashion capitals like Paris, New York and Hong Kong, extend our range into men’s and children’s footwear range, and maybe even other accessories.

If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be

I would be a very bad employee. Not because I lack drive, but because I am a bit of a perfectionist so when I see things are inefficient I like to experiment with different ways to improve them, rather than just follow orders and carry on doing things in the way they have always been done.

What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.