What would it look like for your entire world to be turned upside down and everything that previously worked and made sense in life, suddenly didn’t? It’s almost like life’s rules suddenly changed. That was how COVID-19 introduced itself, and I’m sure you can relate, as we were all thrown into this together.

In March 2020, TSL had roughly 30 employees, and we fought very hard to keep it that way for as long as we could. To this day, we have not had to retrench a single person, and I am so grateful that we could all keep our jobs and, in that regard, keep some semblance of a normal life. I’m writing this, so that perhaps just one person would feel slightly less alone than they did before, and that this could serve as a reminder to keep fighting for what you love. I, myself, need a reminder.

When COVID-19 first hit, I didn’t really think it was going to be a long term problem - TSL had always grown at a good rate since it opened its doors in 2014, really closing a gap in the market for unique and good quality, comfortable footwear. However, those first few weeks of the pandemic were by far the most stressful. Even though at the time I naively thought that the lockdown wouldn’t last that long, we had not prepared for sales to stop so abruptly. As is normal for growing businesses, generally you put most of your capital straight back into the business in order to promote more growth. This, however, is not at all good when your business’s income grinds to a complete halt and you’re therefore looking at a month ahead where you are unable to pay rental or salaries. As a business owner, that is probably one of the scariest things to face. I am, by definition, a people-pleaser, and letting my staff down in any way has been incredibly difficult to live with.

After the initial lockdown was enforced in March 2020, I decided to auction off my personal shoe collection (having no other ‘assets’ in my name) - at the time I had a rather remarkable collection of shoes and I thought we could use the TSL Instagram page to sell them all off in order to fund the business during the first initial heavy lockdown (the irony of ‘That Shoe Lady’ having no shoes left in her closet didn’t elude me). The business kept me up all day and all night, and I couldn’t have been easy to be around - it wasn’t long before the pandemic started affecting my personal life. Life for the next few months became all about keeping the business afloat and attempting to keep accumulating debt at bay as much as I could. Although my partner at the time had a stable job, we were forced to move in with my parents, as we could no longer afford the rental for our home.  

By September 2020, things had eased up slightly, and there seemed to be a bit more breathing room. Things looked as though they might be going back to normal and we launched our Willowbridge store in October 2020. We were also lucky enough to be offered a place in the mall, as a few tenants had just pulled out. Over the festive season, we also usually like to do a pop-up in a mall, as it usually serves as a great cash injection. In November 2020 we had the opportunity to open up a pop-up in Canal Walk, so we grabbed it while we could. We would have loved to stay in the mall, however, it just was not feasible and we had to pull out after the pop-up lease expired. I still miss this store very much, and perhaps we can open there again someday. 

By the time we launched our Canal Walk pop-up that November, I had finally reached burnout. If you have launched a store in a mall before, then you know how much red tape there is, and how many all-nighters you have to pull in order to meet deadlines, especially as a small business. People assume TSL is a franchise, but all the stores are owned by me as the sole director and shareholder, and the more remote your store locations become, the more difficult it becomes to manage under a unified team. After the launch of Canal Walk, I didn’t feel 100% equipped to be the person I needed to be for my business - my support structure was crumbling and I needed to focus on my personal life. As a business owner, sometimes things get carried away at the office and your whole life gets consumed by it - this was not fair to my loved ones and I needed to make a change. 2021 thus became a year of stepping slightly away from the business and letting my management team run things while I tried to mend what was left of the relationships in my personal life. Without a strong support structure, for me, being a business owner is unmanageable and lacks meaning. Many of us run businesses to support and provide for the ones we love, and love can be a strong driving force.

By the end of 2021, I could see that TSL staff had also been under so much strain, as, although we still have 30 staff, the workload increased significantly in order for the business to stay afloat. This also goes out as an appreciation message to all of our TSL ladies and gents who form part of the team that makes the magic happen. Although things have not been easy, I have never met a team that is so strong and determined to make things work. Through all ups and downs, we have grown and supported one another as best we could, and for that, I am very proud.

Sadly, for most of my personal relationships, 2021 was an end to many of them, but I have stepped away feeling stronger every day, and having learned so much from all the mistakes I’ve made, both in my personal life and in my business. 

2022 is the year we rebuild what we lost in the last two years. 

2022 is the year that we appreciate what we lost in the last two years. 

2022 is the year that we rediscover what we love, and I hope that we all find that burning passion in life that makes you get up every day - mine is That Shoe Lady.

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