A love affair with shoes: The tale of That Shoe Lady – a business that started with one lady with a love for shoes.
While trying to find quality, designer shoes at an affordable price and having no luck in South Africa, Jess discovered Jeffrey Campbell and Doc Martens overseas. She asked a friend to bring back a pair for her while travelling to the US and, as they say, the rest is history.
Fortunately, this article is all about the history of That Shoe Lady, so this tale doesn’t end there. Jess realised that South Africans would have to go through considerable effort to get their hands on these quality brands and saw an opportunity to provide this service to them, registering the business in April 2014.
Starting in her bedroom at her parent’s house, with just two pennies to rub together, That Shoe Lady started importing and selling Jeffrey Campbells (in particular some of the more quirky ones like the Lita) and Doc Martens in small quantities to friends and friends of friends. Social media came to the rescue, in the form of Facebook, expanding her reach and getting people from all over South Africa to visit her parent’s house in search of shoes. The demand was increasing, only surpassed by Jess’s ambition and belief in the product she was selling, and the business started to grow.
That Shoe Lady needed a website to make this fledgling business more official and scalable, and so it was that thatshoelady.com came to be, thanks to the efforts of Dane, who still supports That Shoe Lady to this day. The website further increased the company’s reach, receiving orders from all around the world.
Collaborating with boutique stores in Claremont, the Waterfront, Gardens, and Braamfontein, That Shoe Lady started selling on consignment. This move showed the demand in those areas, and further solidified the positioning of That Shoe Lady as a purveyor of quality shoes at a reasonable price.
The move also brought the understanding that South African consumers were hesitant to purchase fashion online without a branded physical presence (not your parent’s house). That Shoe Lady opened their first (tiny) store in Woodstock and hired their first official employee, Aimee. On a side note, Aimee has been with the company for over 4 years and has helped shape the company, growing as the company has, finding her passion becoming Creative Marketing Manager.
The physical presence changed the game, the explosion of online and physical sales was unexpected, catalysing faster growth and expansion (including moving the store to a bigger shop across the street).
Realising the need for a closer relationship with their suppliers, Jess travelled to Hong Kong by herself (notably the first time she had ever left the country) to meet with the distributor of Jeffrey Campbell for all countries outside of the US. The bold move bore fruit, and That Shoe Lady became the sole distributor of Jeffrey Campbell shoes in South Africa.
Within a year of opening that first store, That Shoe Lady had established another two stores, first in Sea Point and later in Claremont. Perhaps a little too ambitious in retrospect, the opening of the third store showed the need to consolidate and establish best practices and management frameworks. This was a difficult time in the tale of That Shoe Lady, with a number of staff resigning and company culture at risk. To stem this tide, support staff were required. A special mention goes out to Danni, who stepped in and helped to stabilise the ship, supporting and guiding the sales team, becoming a big part of the culture of the company.
Toward the end of 2018, That Shoe Lady began to flourish once more. Once again, social media was a hero, the visual nature of That Shoe Lady’s product made it a great fit for Instagram. Consumer reach increased and That Shoe Lady was able to get in touch with its public more frequently, gathering a following of incredible supporters.
In an attempt to cement a relationship with Dr. Martens, hoping to emulate the success of her first trip to Hong Kong, Jess travelled to Dr. Martens HQ in the UK. Negotiations are still underway, but That Shoe Lady is now recognised as the only company in South Africa affiliated with the Dr. Martens brand.
That Shoe Lady established a warehouse in 2019, hiring a number of support staff to assist with the increased demand and administrative work. The company looked set to begin expansion once again, looking toward Gauteng as its next home.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The world changed in a matter of days, and That Shoe Lady was left with a website, Instagram and a Facebook page, harking back to the early days of the business. And so That Shoe Lady celebrates its 6th birthday, within the close confines of lockdown. It seems like an apt time for reflection and appreciation. Appreciation for the incredible team that has been so incredibly strong in this time, and for whom That Shoe Lady continues to fight. Appreciation for the ability to still engage and sell via digital channels. Appreciation for the companies that That Shoe Lady works with, and the understanding and empathy that they have exhibited. But most of all, appreciation for the incredible support and understanding that our customers have shown during this terrible time. Without the support from our customers, and the patience that you have all exhibited, That Shoe Lady would not have survived this lockdown. We thank you.
What started with one shoe lady in 2014, has become a community of shoe ladies and shoe men and for that, we are eternally grateful and proud.