Kimberly Catlett was in her late 30s when she started developing a new product to mix and match - and specially fit - women's shoes. It took about two years to reach the final prototype stage and start manufacturing samples. But she's now taking orders online and over the phone, with a goal of selling in boutiques and through direct-sales consultants.
Catlett, a former project manager in marketing and technical development, funded the startup on her own and runs it out of her home. Her target customers are women who "want to express themselves through fashion, have limited storage space at home or for travel, and who need the ability to alter the fit of their shoes."
Q: How did you get the idea for your business?
A: I wear a size 5.5 shoe and have always struggled to find great shoes in my size. When I wore out one of my favorite pairs, I found myself trying to repair them by removing the top and putting it on a new base. That is how the idea originated, and I have been refining and developing the product ever since.
Q: Where did you start?
A: The first model was literally sculpted out of clay and plastic. I used that model to work with engineers as a base for prototyping. I did more than two years of prototyping with everything from 3-D printers to manufactured samples.
Q: What makes your business unique and sets it apart from your competition?
A: Although shoes with interchangeable uppers are not a new concept, the patent-pending design of the Bella Modi shoe system is. The unique design allows you to place an upper component anywhere along the shoe base. This allows for [many] design possibilities and incremental adjustments for a perfect fit.
There is currently no other product on the market that offers this kind of [design].
Q: What challenges have you faced, and how have you met them?
A: I've really had three major challenges.
One of the most difficult components of this whole process was procuring the right materials: everything from the right plastic and rubber compounds, to the right glues, to the right metals that be would flexible yet maintain their shape and strength.
Another huge challenge is finding people with the right skill sets to move the product forward. Shoes are a specialty and require a good deal of industry knowledge. And finding an engineer who could understand the ins and outs of shoes was one of my biggest struggles.
Finally, like all small business, raising capital was and still is a challenge.
Q: What do you hope to achieve in the next three to five years?
A: In the next five years, I hope to have a profitable company that has an active force of direct-sales consultants. I love the idea of creating local jobs and new business opportunities, because it has such a profound impact on the community.
Additionally, I am currently making all of the uppers by hand, so I plan on expanding our production capabilities by developing a local production facility with a scalable infrastructure that is capable of producing uppers on demand to fill real-time orders.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey