In life, and especially in business, we find that the pivotal choice required in setting the course for new adventures and achieving great dreams lies in the decision to take that first baby step. This week we feature a small business that has not only experienced this figuratively, but literally too. From setting out to simply ‘get idle hands busy making happy shoes for baby feet’, Shooshoos™ is now the biggest exclusive baby shoe brand in South Africa and is making waves globally, exporting to over 20 countries.
In 1996, when Shooshoos™ was founded, comfortable and stylish shoes for babies and toddlers were very difficult to find. As a result, there was not only a gap in the market but also an opportunity to teach and share skills with disadvantaged communities in the process. 20 years and over 3 million* shoes later, Shooshoos™ continues to pride themselves in creating trendy, high quality baby shoes, with no toxic bits or harmful substances and which are 100% guaranteed handcrafted in Cape Town, South Africa – meaning the success of the brand directly benefits its own community.
Gillian Bowen, Managing Director and Co-owner, took over the company with her partner in 2014. With a strong vision, immense drive and passion, Gill took an 18 year old business and gave it a breath of fresh air. She updated the brand and identity, immediately introduced seasonal ranges with new designs and launched a new website in South Africa, Australia and USA. Gill then successfully signed a licensing deal with Disney, a month after the opening of their first stand‐alone flagship store. She is actively involved in all the company’s key activities including everything from design and conceptualisation to global sourcing, production and distribution.
She describes how becoming business owners in an unfamiliar industry poses its challenges however. ‘My partner and I are not from manufacturing, nor shoe design, nor export. So every single day is new to us – a new challenge, a new task, a new skill to learn, a new obstacle to tackle. Challenges find their way onto our schedules at least once per day. You have to be tough and be able to put on a million different job hats.’
She explains that, ‘Shoes are also a competitive industry – Asian countries do bulk but we do quality and we’re educating South Africa consumers one day at a time and slowly reshaping the landscape for this product category.’ Additionally she goes to say, ‘Every single day is a challenge when owning a business in South Africa. We have no idea what the outcome of our economy may be, we have no idea what impact there will be on our Rand, we don’t know how it will affect the local businesses that buy our shoes. We can only plan for the worst and take it one challenge at a time.’
It is in these times that she believes two of the strongest traits of an entrepreneur are required – tenacity and passion. ‘Tenacity is the ability to get things done and executed no matter how difficult or big the challenge, or how many obstacles stand in your way.’ She also explains how having a passion and love for what you do is essential, ‘because there will be times when things are not going well, you are exhausted and will have to keep pushing. Stay committed to yourself, your business and your goal – focus on your drive that burns deep inside to build something great and successful no matter what it takes.’
Gill is a firm believer in supporting small business and that they are, arguably, the key to lowering the massive problem of unemployment in South Africa. To her, ‘More jobs mean more growth and more growth should ultimately lead to improved prosperity across many more communities across South Africa.’ She also points out that, ‘Small businesses are more in touch with local communities and more likely to give back and uplift people in these communities.’ Shooshoos™ leads by example in this respect as they proudly employ 43 people in their community and as they continue to grow from strength to strength as a global brand so too will these numbers.
For more on Shooshoos visit:
Small Business Friday is brought to you by the National Small Business Chamber (NSBC) and Nedbank (Title Sponsor) and encourages all South Africans to interact and support small business everyday; especially every Friday and even more so on Small Business Friday, the first Friday of Spring every year. This grows local communities, drives job creation and ultimately builds the nation. With your support small business will be able to employ more, therefore reducing rates of unemployment and harvesting the entrepreneurial spirit.