It all started after a foot injury, when Samantha couldn’t find shoes that fit her. So she teamed up with designer Sara Jaramillo and podiatric expert, Dr. Roxann Clarke, to create the perfect heel for women.
On top of being an amazing CEO, Samantha is also a member of the Female Founder Collective, which is a network of businesses led by women looking to support women as well.
We were able to speak with the wonderful mind behind ALLY shoes on the major lessons she has learned started her own business, how she started off as a former management. Read more below to on our interview.
Why did you start your company and what motivates you every day?
As a former management consultant, heels have always been part of my work uniform. They make me feel put together and powerful. It’s amazing how just a few inches can lift your presence and confidence. So even though they often hurt after a 12-hour work day, I learned to just deal with it. Things changed when I injured my toes climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. After that hiking trip, my pain tolerance for heels dropped to zero. That’s when it hit me: Why do heels have to hurt in the first place? And In a world where women are doing it all, why are we still compromising between style and comfort?
So I decided to create ALLY Shoes – to make heels women’s best friend. Whether you’re presenting in front of clients, exchanging business cards at conferences, or attending your best friend’s wedding, we will be by your side – to support your stride and hustle. What motivates me every day is knowing we’re making an impact on women’s life. Since launching our online store last year, we’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback and stories from our customers. We are honored to be there for all their big moments, as they argue in court in our Little Black Heels, walk down the aisle in our Bossy Beige, and rock the dance floor in our Gutsy Garnet.
What are some of the major lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Empathy is the starting point of any true innovation. From day one, it’s important to me that we’re creating a brand by women, for women. To accomplish this vision, I partnered with two leading female experts – Dr. Roxann Clarke, a podiatric surgeon, and Sara Jaramillo, an accomplished footwear designer. We involved real women every step of the way, from designing, sampling, to real-life wear tests. Thanks to their feedback and support, we successfully re-engineered the statement heel with long-lasting comfort.
2. Embrace the Power of a Diverse Team. I was convinced that in order to build a ground-breaking product, I needed a team of women from different backgrounds and professional expertise, so we can bring not only our disciplinary experiences, but also our personal experiences, to build a product that WE always wanted. When you look at our founding team, you’ll find a fashion shoe designer, a doctor, and a former tech startup person, who grew up in three different countries. If it weren’t for such a diverse group of minds and backgrounds, we wouldn’t have been able to combine best practices from footwear design, podiatry, and data science to create a product that didn’t exist before; we also wouldn’t have thought about launching five different shades when we launched our nude colors.
Tell us about a setback you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
From day one, it’s important to me that we’re creating a brand by women, for women. But as a fashion outsider, it felt almost impossible to find the best talent to work with me. I remember spending days searching for people and cold reaching out on Linkedin. After many unanswered messages and dozens of conversations, I met our product adviser, Jeff Henderson, the former Innovation Director from Nike who also led the design team on the Cole Haan project. I was surprised he would meet with me and even more surprised when he agreed to help me with my project. From there, he also introduced me to two leading female experts in the space – Dr. Roxann Clarke, a podiatric surgeon, and Sara Jaramillo, an accomplished footwear designer. We involved real women every step of the way, from designing, sampling, to real-life wear tests. With their feedback and support, we successfully re-engineered the statement heel with long-lasting comfort.
The same challenge happened when we were looking for a factory. I remember cold calling every factory in the US, and even showing up unannounced at a factory in LA after many unanswered calls. Often, they would turn us down because of our small volume or because what we were trying to do seemed crazy. Finally, on a trip back home to Shanghai, a modern city that also kept the tradition of bespoke craftsmanship, I decided to try my luck there. I walked the same streets as I did in my childhood, walking into every shoe store I could find, and asked if they would make shoes for me. I was able to find a few that were willing to partner and finally narrowed down to our current partner, one of the best bespoke shoemakers in the industry.
What advice do you have for women who feel stuck in their careers?
I was lucky that I had two years in business school to explore and experiment, but career transition is possible without going to business school. For those that know what your dream role is, I would work start with the goal and plot out steps to get there, including what skills and experience you need to acquire. For those who aren’t sure, spend some time thinking about what you really enjoy doing (and/or also good at) in your current role, and start exploring a few options that apply to your “superpower”. A good way to do initial screening is to read relevant articles or attend conferences and speaker events. In either case, with some clarity in mind, you can start taking calculated risks. For potential entrepreneurs, you can start a project as a side hustle. For those looking for career transitions, you can experiment with different roles and industries, as long as the roles give you the capacity to learn from the best people, and transferable skills you can bring with you.
We all know how difficult work/life balance is, how do you draw the line to create separation in these two spheres?
I carve out me-time throughout the work week. During the week, it’s my morning time of meditation, making coffee/breakfast and doing a bit of reading. Over the weekend, Saturday is my day to catch up with errands and resting up a bit. I also try to maintain my social life by having date nights with my husband and making sure to catch up with friends on a regular basis.