Meet the founders – Sante + Wade
I remember the first time I met Shola Asante. She reached out to me to consult for her start-up shoe brand. We had a coffee together in Patisserie Valerie, and she showed me her designs. I instantly connected with Shola and her vision to make beautiful shoes for women who had been forced to compromise on fit, comfort and style.
I’ve had the honour of supporting Shola on her journey towards launching Sante + Wade and beyond. Shola and her co-founder Agnès Cushnie launched the brand with panache in April 2019.
Shola: It all started with frustration. I’m in between a size 41 and 42 but my feet are wide. Off the charts wide. Sort of like those ancient maps, where at the edges of the known world they would tell you clearly ‘here there be monsters’. That wide! And it has generally meant that the styles I am most drawn to just don’t fit. A few years back I had two weddings to attend. I had the outfits but couldn’t find any shoes elevated enough to suit the occasion. And so what started off as frustration became a simmering rage. Why didn’t the kind of shoes I love come in my size and width? That was when I decided to investigate what it would take to make the kind of shoes that I needed, Once I started digging I realised there were more women with even bigger problems than I had. Women who wore size 43 and above! And so what began as a quest to solve a problem for myself became a clarion call to help as many women as possible find something beautiful that fits perfectly.
What is the part of being a brand founder you love the most?
Agnès: The fact that you are your own boss and that you have a very personal connection to the brand’s mission so you feel very invested in making it a success.
Being a co-founder gives me more flexibility mentally as I am able to share concerns and challenges with my business partner. I know from experience running my previous business that it can be lonely to go through this journey on your own.
Shola: The learning curve. You have to attain a certain level of accomplishment about so many things at the same time. It’s the most challenging part but also the most rewarding because I have always been someone who loves knowledge for its own sake. Of course you soon learn that you can’t do everything yourself and it’s just more efficient sometimes to outsource certain tasks but it is great knowing I am constantly adding to my skill-sets.
What has been the hardest aspect of starting your own shoe business?
Agnès: Definitely product development and finding the right partners. So far it is as I anticipated it to be honest. One thing Shola and I made sure from the beginning is that we didn’t want to cut corners. We always knew there was a huge technical learning curve as this market is specialised. For instance, as part of our product development process we’ve had to develop our own custom lasts, and work with an array of technicians.
Shola: For me it’s been the constant push and pull between what looks good and what feels good. The development process is like a graveyard of styles that didn’t make the cut; far more than the number we eventually launched. And it was tough to accept at first because we started this business wanting to give women who had been neglected as much choice as possible, all the choices that they had never had but as Agnes said, we didn’t want to cut corners. It takes time and a serious budget to develop footwear. There are so many factors that affect and impinge on comfort and function. We still want to offer as much choice as possible but need to do it in a controlled manner taking into account the costs of development.
How have I helped you to develop your brand?
Shola: In so many ways! You’ve been a great sounding board for ideas. You have generously shared your industry contacts and made me aware of industry events and pathways that I would not ordinarily of known about. I think mostly I appreciate that you have often given me a different perspective and one that is borne out of years of experience in the footwear industry.
It’s natural for start-ups to see their launch as a sort of end point. What do you think will be the key to success after the excitement of the initial launch has subsided?
Shola: Not sure if it will be just one thing but I think a combination of learning to accept that mistakes can happen and using them as opportunities for learning rather than being floored by them. Keeping costs lean but knowing where and when to spend. Being responsive to customer feedback while we are still small enough to react quickly. Keeping our sense of humour through it all. Sure it’s serious. There’s a lot of ourselves invested in this business – financial and emotional. But it’s also important to be able to take a step back and have a good laugh about certain situations!
What would be the one piece of advice you’d give to people planning to start shoe brands?
Agnès: There are a few that come to mind, but in particular I would say to never rush into building a proposition until you are confident your product or service will stand out against competition. But equally, you should not be afraid to take risks.
Shola: It’s a marathon not a sprint. So don’t sweat the small stuff. There are a lot of things that you need to get right at the beginning but also a lot of things that you can develop later. What you think you know will evolve and change. So try to eat well, rest when you can, disconnect when you can so you can continue to bring the same level of energy and attention to the business tomorrow and the next day.
To follow Shola and Agnès’s journey, you can find them here:
Are you thinking of starting a shoe brand, or have you already taken the first steps towards being a footwear company founder? I’d love to help you achieve your shoe brand goals.