My writing has led me to some of the most unexpected and fun connections in my life, and this is definitely one of them!
I still remember the first time I saw someone link to designer Shaherazad Umbreen’s gorgeous 18-Hour Heels (Shoes By Shaherazad). I gasped out loud because they were so gorgeous. I felt overwhelming insta-shoe-lust!
BUT. I have spent sooooo many years of my life wearing high heels that look pretty but absolutely kill my feet. It all came to a head last year, when I made a decision: I was never going to wear high heels again. The pain wasn’t worth it! I was done.
Sure, these particular shoes are called “18-hour heels” because their design is supposed to be so comfortable that you could wear them for 18 hours straight without pain. But I couldn’t spend money on luxury shoes when I was almost certain they would hurt my feet just like every other pair of high heels in my life always had. I couldn’t!
So I didn’t. But I followed them on Twitter and I sighed over each new photo, and I fantasized…
And then something really cool happened. The designer, Shaherazad Umbreen, came across my books and got in touch with me. She thought the themes of girl-empowerment in my MG novels resonated really well with the empowerment projects for girls and women across the world that her 18-Hour Heels support. (I didn’t even realize it at first, but Shaherazad herself isn’t profiting from any of the sales of these gorgeous luxury shoes. She is passionate about her fundraising, and that’s what these shoes were created to do!)
So she asked me a question: would I be interested in trying out a pair of her shoes in exchange for being interviewed on her blog while wearing them (with photos)?
Obviously, because I’m not foolish, I said YES PLEASE. And I desperately hoped but did not at all believe that the shoes wouldn’t hurt my feet TOO much, because ohhh, they were so beautiful…
And guess what? I wore them for seven hours straight at the Hay Festival without a single twinge. They feel SO GOOD. My feet felt great both in them and after them. I LOVE THESE SHOES! I treat them like gold now, because I want to wear them forever.
Shaherazad interviewed me over at her blog (it’s up today!), and that was super-fun for me. (I got to imagine which kinds of shoes Kat and her sisters would wear!) But by the time we finished doing that, I’d gotten to know her a little more on a personal level, and I was really impressed by her passion and dedication to the causes she supports, as well as the sheer artistic talent and skill it took to design these comfortable AND gorgeous shoes.
So I asked her if I could interview her, too. And here she is!
What inspired you to design these shoes?
I’ve always been a feminist and wanted to do something significant which would support women and girls to get an equal footing in the world. I’ve also always had a passion for business and for shoes, so I thought, why not combine all three things and create a shoe business which gives back to women and girls living in poverty. A business which allows women to empower women. So, that’s what I did. I’ve worked in retail for many years and have done very long days on my feet and I can assure you, there were always many achy feet “ouches” throughout the day from all of the activity I did. It was important to me that my product was pain free and allowed women to stand with poise, grace and elegance. A heel that could essentially carry women from boardroom to bar. So, that’s where the passion for comfort and my shoellery (shoe jewellery) concept came in. It took two years for me to develop the product but it’s been a real hit.
The comfort element of the shoes comes from the inspiration of how flamingos stand, often for hours on end, on just one leg. Essentially, it’s all about effective body weight distribution. As to the secret of the maths involved, I’m afraid I can’t give that away! I’ve also ensured that every shoe has an empowering name to keep the theme of feminism and equality running through the collections. Some of the names are: Equally Ever After, Dream then Do, Take My lead, Stand Tall Sister, The Moon is Mine and Time to Bloom.
Can you tell me a bit about the charities that the shoe sales support? What overall percentage of the sales goes to charity?
I have a brilliant partnership in place with GlobalGiving UK who are based in London. GlobalGiving source the right projects for my brand to support and they are all targeted to help women and girls living in poverty to gain an education so that they can then lift themselves and their families out of difficult situations. It’s important to me that the projects choose how they spend the money donated to them so that they can choose the most relevant and sustainable way forward. For example, one of the projects I support in Kenya have decided to use some of their money to build a classroom where girls can come and learn sewing skills so that they can then set up their own tailoring business. The girls come from very challenging backgrounds and some have had little or no access to education at all so the skills they gain become a real lifeline and mean they can support themselves to earn a living. I currently have projects in Kenya, Palestine, Pakistan and Peru. My aim is to be working in every country where there is poverty as the brand grows. Wouldn’t it be great if together, as women, we could eradicate extreme poverty altogether? That’s my dream and my life purpose.
I launched my business online in April 2016 and so have been trading for just over a year. 100% of profits went to my good cause projects last year which meant that my business helped 700 women and girls living in poverty to gain access to educational support. Going forward, 10% from every pair sold will go to good causes via GlobalGiving and the rest will be invested back in to the business to ensure that it continues to grow and that the brand is able to help thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, more women and girls.
I know you still work as a marketing director for the Co-op. How do you balance your energy between your design and your day job?
I love business and I love work so I feel that it’s a real privilege to be able to do such brilliant jobs alongside each other. My day job as Marketing Director is where I spend my full time focus. I normally leave home by 7am and get back home by about 7.30pm. So, I use the weekends to get my designs done – it’s my passion and I actually find it very relaxing. I also use a lot of freelance support and experts to manage the shoe elements of my life so that I can take a balanced approach to life. For example, I have plenty of social media, photography, graphic design, finance and other freelance resources which I use. The work I do on my shoes is also purely philanthropic; it’s my way of doing good deeds in the world in a scalable way. I love my work at The Co-operative (Central England Coop) and I love my shoe business too.
What has been the most satisfying part of creating this business?
There are so many, but if I had to choose one it would be hearing the stories of the girls that the shoes have helped. I love the fact that someone treating themselves to heels means someone else gets a better chance in life. Good deed heels are what make me smile. In fact the bottom of the my shoes has this “to do list” on it for every woman who wears them: