It was the search for the perfect flat that prompted Bedford resident Vanessa L. Seide to design and create her own line of shoes, Very Lovely Soles, which is a play on her initials. The Rippowam Cisqua, John Jay High School, and Manhattanville College grad had worked at Nine West for more than 13 years in sales, merchandising, and product development. During her tenure there, she learned about every aspect of the footwear business from sourcing the materials to developing important relationships with manufacturers in Italy and China. After she was laid off during the recession, she started interviewing at other companies. “But I asked myself if I really wanted to work for someone else and possibly find myself in the same position another five or ten years down the road. And the answer was no—I wanted to create my own destiny.”
She asked everyone she knew in the industry for advice—was trying to start a shoe business all on her own feasible? Would her manufacturing contacts help her? “No one said it was a crazy idea, and they all agreed to work with me,” Seide recalls. “Then I asked my parents if they could help me financially for a while, and they said yes too. All the stars were in alignment.”
Knowing she couldn’t compete with large footwear companies, Seide decided to narrow her focus to a niche market. “I’m tall, and hate towering over people, so I have always preferred flats,” she says, noting that the market had no perfect flat at the time. “There was a huge disconnect between a $20 flat that might last a season and a $600 one—there is no reason to spend that kind of money for a flat! I wanted to create a shoe that was cute, comfortable, and the same quality as a high-end brand name shoe.”
The VLS flat is available in three styles: toe cap, plain toe, or embellished—which are perfect for the holidays and special occasions. They come in 32 different colors, ranging in price from $150 to $195. The sandal comes in four colors, priced from $40 to $45. “Because of my direct connections, I am able to produce my footwear at reasonable price points while still using beautiful real leather and snakeskin. My shoes last and look great season after season.”
The difference between a Very Lovely Soles flat and a standard ballet flat—and the secret to the all-day comfort these shoes offer—lies in the unique foot bed that Seide designed. It features a half-inch rubber heel and a combination leather and rubber sole on the bottom of the shoe and layers of sneaker-like foam cushion hidden inside the shoe.
Very Lovely Soles are sold in select boutiques, but the majority of the business is online, and Seide does all the marketing, shipping, and social media for her company. “I get 98 percent of my sales from Instagram—it’s my best friend!” She has found that it’s much more efficient working for herself, with just a few select partners. “When I was at Nine West, I would go to about seven shows a year—now I just do one annual materials show in Italy.”
After seven years of steadily increasing sales, does she plan on branching out? “I’m a less-is-more kind of gal,” Seide says. “I want to focus on one thing and do it well.” She releases limited edition collections twice a year, depending on what materials she sources and what inspires her. Each shoe style is named for a place that is special to her or a person who has made an impact on her life. “There’s a story behind every pair,” she says with a smile.
Married last June and living with her husband in an antique home near Rochambeau Farm, it’s a given that Seide will have many more stories to tell in the future. “I grew up on Upper Hook Road—the inspiration for my Upperhook shoe—and moved back to the area from White Plains last August. I love exploring all the little shops and restaurants like Truck and the Bedford Gourmet for my breakfast or a quick grab and go lunch. I also have a lot of “working” lunches at The Bedford Post. Most of my recent purchases have been for our new home, which I found at Country Willow and Consider the Cook. But when I’m shopping for me, I head straight to Bubble & Tweet.”
VLS START UP ADVICE
- Make sure you are really passionate about your undertaking.
- Be ready for more downs than ups while growing your business.
- Be prepared to manage without a regular paycheck for a while.