By Veronica Perry, reporter at Grow Wire
⏰ 6-minute read
In founding Pashion Footwear, Haley Pavone proved that experiences are often drivers of great ideas, but it requires grit and resilience to actually see those ideas through.
As the CEO of her business and chief proponent of its vision, Pavone must manage the strain of knowing that her everyday decisions can make or break the company.
Pashion excels partly due to Pavone’s consistent analysis of industry trends and engagement of consumers to determine which products will be successful.
Haley Pavone is the founder and CEO of Pashion Footwear, whose convertible high heels transform into flats with the quick pull of a detachable heel.
Pavone started Pashion as a sophomore in college after suffering a high heel related injury. She was attending a formal event and had, of course, worn six-inch-high heels. Dancing in the shoes was proving difficult, so she abandoned them and took to the dance floor barefoot. Her bare foot ended up getting impaled by the point of another woman's stiletto!
As Pavone tended to her injured foot, she noticed that the majority of the women at the venue were also barefoot. It is no secret that high-heels can be uncomfortable, and Pavone imagined a practical alternative to going barefoot or hauling around an extra pair of shoes.
“It struck me as odd that [going barefoot] was the most widely accepted solution,” she said. “The entrepreneur in me was inspired to find a better solution -- fully convertible high heels.”
Haley Pavone launched Pashion Footwear, which makes shoes with detachable heels, in June.
The market for a convertible shoe
With the majority of its revenue sourced primarily from direct to consumer (D2C) web sales, Pashion appeals to any woman who considers heels part of her standard work attire or enjoys heels but finds them either painful or inconvenient at some point, Pavone said.
Although the company’s D2C approach provides customers with a convenient purchasing outlet and the brand with a broad consumer reach, Pashion is currently testing retail sales via Hudson’s Bay, Canada’s iconic department store chain.
High heels, big decisions
Pashion launched last June. Within the past three months, it has more than doubled its inventory, released four new products and hired two full-time employees. Website visits have jumped from 2,000 to 388,000, a 19,300% increase, in the same amount of time. (An “average” jump in visits is tough to peg and depends on the retailer's size and marketing budget, says commerce marketing analyst Greg Zakowicz. Flypchart published a case study in which a brand tripled its site visits over three months, suggesting Pashion’s increase is impressive in any regard.)
👉 Pashion launched last June. Since then, it has more than doubled its inventory, released four new products and hired two full-time employees. Website visits increased 19,300%.
To get there, Pavone contracted a professional footwear development team in Portland, OR whose members have years of technical experience working for major footwear brands such as Nike, Adidas, Ariat and Keen.
Getting this team to work with her nascent brand was relatively easy, Pavone said.
The experts helped to develop the footwear technology Pavone envisioned with scalability of design as the primary focus. The detachable heels are designed to function with a variety of shoe styles and can be mass produced, unlike the handmade products offered by most of Pashion’s competitors. This increases affordability on the backend and helps speed up production.
Pavone also pursued patent protection in the U.S., Europe and China to secure Pashion’s (ahem) foothold in the market.
“We are patent pending on this technology in 30 countries now, which gives us a distinct competitive advantage in this new market,” Pavone said.
Pavone also involves customers in the development process as much as possible.
“As a D2C business, we assume all the liability on our inventory -- probably our biggest risk,” she said. “So we figured, in order to mitigate that risk, why not involve our potential buyers in the development process?”
Pavone incorporates interactive polling on social media as well as directly contacting customers for feedback and future product requests. For example, social polling determined Pashion’s shoe colors for its debut season and how many pairs of each color it manufactured. The system will continue, allowing the footwear brand to offer shoes styles and colors it knows will perform and to stay at the forefront, trend-wise, of what customers are interested in purchasing.
Pashion lets customer feedback drive how many pairs of a shoe it produces per season.
More growth, more challenges
Pavone referenced the difficulty of determining which decisions impact growth the most, describing how “every single decision at this phase in a company feels like a life-or-death moment.”
“Every single decision at this phase in a company feels like a life-or-death moment.”
She also touched on specific challenges, like how Pashion almost went bankrupt at the start of 2019. Pavone described this time as “incredibly challenging,” skipping payroll and terrified of missing her own rent payment. But these feelings only motivated her to follow her instincts.
“It kicked me back into the gear of listening to my gut and doing what I felt was right despite what others might advise,” she said.
With this shift in self-confidence, Pavone’s determination intensified, and she was ultimately able to secure $1.25M in funding within 30 days, helping Pashion formally launch and bring its product to market. In order to secure this funding, Pavone travelled all over California, taking every opportunity she could find to pitch her idea to angel investors, angel groups and venture capital firms until something closed. She leaned on connections made while winning multiple startup competitions on her college campus and sought out angel investors who worked with companies similar to hers.
👉 With a shift in self-confidence, Pavone secured $1.25M in funding within 30 days, helping Pashion formally launch.
Pavone said her main challenge while growing her business is overcoming personal insecurities. As a 23-year-old female entrepreneur, she noted that investors would often raise questions about her experience and qualifications. For a period of time, she struggled with making decisions and trusting her gut when faced with self-doubt. She said this may have held the company back for a time but ultimately yielded a valuable tenacity.
“The whole journey [of getting funding] taught me that although I may not have years of business credentials to my name, I am without a doubt the person with the most experience running Pashion Footwear and developing convertible heels,” she continued. “This realization boosted my confidence, and I haven't turned back.”
Passion and pressure
Pavone still faces pressure in her role as CEO, where she is constantly making choices about the direction of the company, priorities and spending.
In addition to Pavone and two other full-time employees, the Pashion team consists of about 14 members, which includes executive board members and fluctuating numbers of contractors. With make-or-break decisions determining outcomes such as payroll and employment, Pavone describes day-to-day decision-making as the most “anxiety-provoking” part of her job.
“I feel a lot of pressure to never make any mistakes, which sadly is close to impossible,” she said. “I've learned that all I can do is do my best, diving into each situation headfirst to make decisions that I'm proud of and can stand by.”
“I've learned that all I can do is do my best, diving into each situation headfirst to make decisions that I'm proud of and can stand by.”
Pavone is diligent about observing the fashion industry to inform her decisions, paying close attention to what works for other D2C fashion brands. One specific trend she has adopted is offering free returns and exchanges, which has reduced consumer apprehension to purchase Pashion’s product and created strong brand advocates.
The company’s main drivers of growth are its digital marketing, PR efforts and referral program, she said. After a purchase, every customer receives a “referral ambassador code” to share with friends, for example.
More than that, the nature of Pashion heels makes wearing them its own referral mechanism.
“We've gotten countless stories sent in from customers discussing how they got stopped on their way to work after disassembling their heels,” Pavone said.
Growth on the horizon
One unique aspect of the Pashion technology is that it only impacts the underside of the shoe, leaving a multitude of design possibilities. The fresh footwear brand intends to continue releasing biannual lines of boots, booties, sandals, pumps and more. Pavone also mentioned an emphasis on customization.
“We can just as easily also release heels of different shapes, heights and designs to partner with our shoes, paving a path towards Pashion being not only the first fully convertible heel on the market, but also one of the first to integrate customization options. The design possibilities between styled uppers and various heels are endless,” she said.
Pashion's detachable heel technology can apply to call kinds of shoe styles, Pavone says.
Advice to young entrepreneurs
With knowledge gained from her own experience, Pavone advises other young entrepreneurs to trust in their visions and to bounce back from difficult situations.
“Trust your gut! Your inspiration, drive and resilience are some of the strongest assets your company has,” she said. “There will be ups, and there will be downs -- but the one thing all successful people have in common is that they never quit.”