After experiencing difficulties in finding suitable shoes, Saudin Noddings launched her own online design-your-own-shoe platform, Shoenvious. Using exclusive 3D technology, it allows women to choose from over 50 design options and 250 choices of leather and material, before revealing a 360 render of their creations.
Despite having just launched, the Dubai start-up is already receiving inquiries from Europe and the US, though Noddings say she is eyeing the GCC first.
How did the idea of Shoenvious come about?
As a busy career woman, I’ve always loved the convenience of online shopping. When I got married in 2009, I purchased my wedding dress from an online boutique in New York City. With just a few clicks, the dress was shipped to me in beautiful packaging in less than a week. But while I spent only hours researching and finding such an important dress, it took me three months of browsing online and visiting every shoe shop in Dubai to find the perfect shoes to match. I understood the importance of how shoes can make the outfit and I wasn’t going to compromise. Nine years later, Shoenvious was born; created for women like me who are looking for specific shoe styles but find it difficult to find the right fit for their unique needs.
Is there space in the market for this kind of platform?
With above-average mobile and internet penetration rates and a high disposable income, the GCC is becoming one of the fastest growing e-commerce markets globally. It’s not surprising that in the last few months we’ve seen the entry of global players. A competitive market ultimately improves the local e-commerce infrastructure including payment systems, logistics and last mile delivery, facilitating more growth here.
Who is your competition?
Because of the high cost of entry to launching an online design-your-own-shoe platform, there are no other companies in the region that offer the same service. If we’re talking about the traditional footwear market in the UAE and Saudi, online sales are growing and account for the larger share of the local retail sector. This affirms our decision to base our operations in Dubai.
We’re not only disrupting the way women shop for shoes, we are also disrupting the shoemaking industry as a whole”
What were some of the challenges you encountered?
As a non-technical founder, it was especially difficult to manage the development of our online shoe designer. And because our platform is so bespoke, we had to build everything from scratch.
It was difficult to find a shoe atelier that understood what we were trying to do, would believe in our vision, was willing to work with the intricacies of our operations and was able to hand-make our shoes to the quality needed. In a way, we’re not only disrupting the way women shop for shoes, we have found that we are also disrupting the way the shoemaking industry has operated for years.
There is also a lot of market education that we need to do as “bespoke and customised” are often perceived to be expensive and exclusive. Our shoes fall within the luxury category: they’re handmade, customised and made with premium leather. But our price points sit comfortably between high-street and luxury shoe brands.
Were you ever afraid to set up your own business?
I’ve always been a risk taker and it was never a question of “can I do it?” but “when is the right time?” The idea grew wings every time I saw women, and even men, struggling to find the right footwear in brick-and-mortar shops. Buying shoes is almost always a compromise on quality, style, heel height or colour. No wonder women wear only 10 percent of the shoes they store in their closet. So, there was no fear at all. It was more of an idea just waiting to be executed.
Was there ever a time you felt you were going to fail?
It’s a daily challenge juggling dealing with platform development, operations, financials, marketing and business development. Once or twice, I might have been ready to throw in the towel. But I’d tell myself that if this were easy, everybody else would be doing it. Those thoughts are very powerful.
What are your future plans for Shoenvious?
We’re already busy working on shortly introducing very small, large, narrow and wide sizes to cater to customers with Cinderella sizes and who have to settle for unfashionable shoes. We will also be adding new styles and materials for the weddings market. Plans for introducing design your own bags and “mom-and-me” shoes are also on the drawing board. We would like to establish our presence in the region first before venturing overseas, but with the internet and social media, there are already inquiries from Europe and the US.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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