A Q&A With St. Louis Businesswoman Claire Flowers

St. Louis native Claire Flowers had been working in sales for years, where it was required to wear a business suit—which meant heels, every day. If her shoes began hurting her feet by noon, she’d have to pull every woman’s favorite trick: heading to Marshall’s for a pair that could quell the feeling of knives stabbing her feet as she walked.

One day after her heel had already gotten stuck in a grate, she slipped and fell on the way to an all-week training session. She remembers sitting in training, gazing at her shoes and thinking of the ways they weren’t working, and how they could be solved with a few simple design tweaks. She came up with a list, and that’s how she began developing and designing her own shoes.

After talking with a few close friends and family members, many also expressed interest in a pair of shoes similar to what Flowers described, and eventually the vision became a reality. Flowers’ heels include a non-slip sole and cushioned insert, a protective heel plate and a specially designed heel that widens slightly at the bottom, protecting the wearer from it getting stuck. The heel caps are made of a dense, hard plastic that rarely, if ever, needs to be replaced.

Flowers has teamed up with several St. Louis-based retailers who sell her shoes, and today her eponymous brand, Claire Flowers, is her full-time endeavor. Read below to learn more about her thoughts about building a business and learning to trust her instincts.

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How did you make the leap from sales to business?
Self-promotion has been kind of hard for me—going out and saying great things about yourself. At times it feels like it’s less based on merit. Where I came from, expertise and talent carried you through. But sometimes you just have to catch a break—for example, after Sarah Jessica Parker started wearing manolo blahniks, everyone wanted to wear them. I’m still hoping for something like that to happen, just waiting for some of the right people to notice.

What do you love about this business you’ve created?
There are people out there who have seven pairs of my shoes—not because they’ve had to replace them, but because they love them. My favorite is when I start describing my shoes and a woman starts finishing my sentences. I’ll say, “The stiletto is wider—” “—so it doesn’t get stuck in grates.” That’s my favorite. I know they’ve had those problems before, too.

Fashion isn’t anything I’d say I was interested in growing up or in school, but I think the business side of me is more what’s gotten me where I am today. The shoes, they’re beautiful, but they’re fairly basic: black pumps, navy, nudes. I’m not trying to appeal to the fashionista who wears Louboutin’s or Jimmy Choo’s. A lot of the women who are my target market—professional, value-oriented women—have a go-to favorite brand of shoe that is in my price range. But now that the shoes are more out there in the world, it’s less of a challenge. I’m becoming a lot more known. In the St. Louis market I have a pretty broad reach, but I just expanded to Dallas, and I can tell by my web traffic that I am gaining popularity here.

Would you consider yourself a creative person?
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a doctor. I’ve always been more analytical—not the creative type. If anyone had said “You’re going to be a shoe designer,” I would have said they were crazy. I am more creative than I ever thought I was. But the creativity shows itself in how there are solutions—for example, I’m working on a wedge right now that allow you to put on different uppers to match what you’re wearing. I wouldn’t say my designs are creative as far as their aesthetic, but they are creative in that I’m solving problems that shoes typically have. [The style debuts in March].

I surprise myself with that, and I can certainly hack it as a designer. But my shoes need to be more classic in style, because if they last a long time, I don’t want the durability to outlive the fashion. I want them to work in tandem with each other. I don’t want them to throw away a shoe because it’s gone out of style. So what I try to do with my classic pumps that are black, brown and navy is to add something to the aesthetic: the gold nameplate, studs, hot-pink heel caps and different colors—so they are interesting, but you can still wear them with a business suit, jeans or a dress.

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What have you learned through this process?
I’ve learned to trust my instincts. I’ve gotten advice, solicited and unsolicited. Some people are adamant that you need to do this or that. Every time I’ve gone against my instincts, I’ve regretted it. And when I’ve gone with my gut, it’s worked out. I’ve learned to trust my decisions more. That’s what I would tell young entrepreneurs.

I’ll have an instinct, then research and get the advice of others. But when all is said in done, if my instinct is still stronger than all that information, I’ll go with it. It’s better to have a good plan today than a perfect plan tomorrow. I think about that all the time.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
With anything, you can research it until you can’t see straight. That’s not always a good thing, because you’ll “muddy” your brain, if you will. When you research and get too much advice, you can lose yourself and your initial solution. You can actually prolong moving initiatives along. There’s a lot of inaction with young entrepreneurs because they want everything to be perfect and they’re scared to make mistakes. I’m not scared to make mistakes. A lot of people have paralysis as entrepreneurs, but you have to be willing to take risks, put yourself out there and make mistakes.

For more information or to purchase a pair of Claire’s specially-designed heels, visit her website.

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