It's 58 degrees in New York City today and seems like it was yesterday that we were sunbathing on the beaches of Martha's Vineyard. As we prepare for the holidays, we wanted to give you a recap of our summer/fall adventures in the United States. Our road show kicked off in early July with a pop-up shop during Ankara Swim week in the Wynwood section of Miami, Florida. Full of vibrant murals and art studios, we felt like we were in Brooklyn. Our customers were so excited to purchase African designed footwear and they were even happier to know that they were our first customers in the USA.
Our next stop was the Phoenicia Flea in Mount Temper, NY. Located in the Catskills Region of New York State. Trees, streams, nature and clean air. A retreat from the hustle and bustle of NYC. Most of our customers were bankers, lawyers, teachers and musicians who have mastered the sacred 7 letter word "balance.” From Spring through Fall they would escape from the concrete jungle to their cabin homes in the woods. The Phoenicia Flea consisted of a handful of unique artisans and we were so proud to be the only African brand selected to participate. Our customers were excited by our bright, vibrant colors and looked forward to wearing our shoes during their subway commutes and trips to the Hamptons. We returned to the Phoenicia Flea in September for the grand opening of the posh boutique hotel - Hasbrouck House and had some new customers as well as repeats.
Now it was time to explore the west coast - one of JG's favorite places to visit. We headed to the Treasure Island Flea. Located on a small island that used to be home to a US Military base, between Oakland and San Francisco. The views of the San Francisco skyline were beautiful but we weren't prepared for the wind and temperatures in the 60's. Customers urged us to come back in the Fall when it would be hot and sunny. I'm sure you could image the look of confusion on our faces. We subsequently returned in late September and the weather was gorgeous. T-shirts and shorts weather. Treasure Island was one of our favorite stops. The customers were so diverse and gave such insightful feedback. We look forward to returning to the Bay in 2017.
Between Treasure Island and our next stop, Martha's Vineyard, we suffered a great loss in our family. As we were planning for this trip, we struggled to find accommodations on this small, remote island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We flirted with the idea of driving there in an RV but never really researched the option. We remember our beloved sister telling us to “go for it”! That was Deb, full of love, life and adventure. Well, when there were absolutely no housing options for us, we decided to take Deb's advice and rent an RV. We used an online service called Outdoorsy and found the perfect mobile home for our excursion at an affordable price (we highly recommend them 👍🏾). Her name was Bertha - a Mercedes RoadTrek. She was a five star hotel on wheels: King size bed, shower, toilet, dining table, air conditioning, gas stovetop, sink and even a retractable canopy that came in really handy for the 4 pop up shops we did while on Martha's Vineyard. This was such a peaceful and unique experience for us that we didn't want to leave. Our customers were mostly retired women and their daughters and granddaughters. It was amazing to see 3 generations of women fall in love with our shoes.
Next up was Afro Punk in Brooklyn, NY. The no judgement arts and music festival for lovers of all black everything. Our shoes were well received and came in handy for the ladies who came in their high heels and wedges but wanted to come back down to earth and enjoy the grounds without any restrictions. The biggest bonus during this 3 day event was getting to see NWA perform live!
In September, we had two stops. First was at the Congressional Black Caucus (“CBC”) in Washington DC. This was our busiest stop yet, as the conference attracted tens of thousands of attendees. Before we setup our booth we made a quick stop at Howard University to give a presentation on Entrepreneurship aka “Trep” to a group of very inquisitive MBA students. We really enjoyed sharing our story with them and telling them about the thrills and pitfalls of the Trep life.
Now back to the CBC. This was quite a different experience for us because we were dealing with a mostly professional customer base. Our shoes were also featured in the fashion show, which garnered us some traffic. Customers flocked to us because we provided them with a comfortable shoe option that relieved them of the foot pain they were having from wearing heels all day. As they say, our products were available at the point of pain!
After DC, we headed back down to the South to participate in the Maya Angelou "Ladies Who Lead Luncheon " event hosted by the Charlotte chapter of the United Negro College Fund. The ladies were dressed to the nines with exquisite hats, fascinators and high heels. Thando's yet again, came to the rescue. Our vibrant colors and gel foam insoles won them and their feet over.
Our last stop in October was the Circle of Sisters Expo at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. The premier exposition targeting women of color in NYC. Attendees were able to take advantage of free health screenings, explore new brands and meet their favorite radio personalities from WBLS, WLIB and Hot 97 - three of the tri-state area's most popular radio stations. Our shoes were a hit and we look forward to participating again next year. Overall our US tour was a huge success. Getting to meet our customers and soliciting feedback directly is what makes our business journey fulfilling. Although we like those online purchases.
We love meeting customers like "Bree" who was so overjoyed that she could actually sit down and try on a pair of shoes for the first time in her shoe size - a size 15. This #summersixteen trunk show was full of insight, engagement, and most of all fun. We plan on doing a lot more pop-shops of this kind in the future because they give us a unique opportunity to engage with our customers.
I have a serious question to ask, Why do companies in (Africa primarily) feel they can ignore what their customers want? There is no regard for solving a problem or creating innovative user experiences. Most brands don't even have a design team or understand what R&D(research and development) is. Products must stem from ethnographic research, otherwise you stand to fail as an established brand if confronted by a start up with more validity.
Now let me start the story that influenced this post. It was a long day of walking around Balogun market looking for certain prints for our collection, little did we know our current WINDOW shoe would come from this trip.
We had no intention of buying this fabric much less making it into a shoe but when we saw it, we had to have it. Then we went to the lab, mocked up a CAD (Computer Aided Design) of the shoe and asked our customers if they would want to buy. We even pit two colours against each other. The responses were swift and unanimous, there was major interest on both side of team yellow and team blue.
This brings me to my final point on this matter, most companies today keep creativity in a room where the customers are locked out of. They need to make it a point to get a conversation going with their customers on whether a product will sell or not. In the wise words of Hypebeast, will you Cop or Drop?
Women living in a commuter culture have gotten used to carrying around purses and handbags that weigh just as much as carry-on luggage. The average womans’ handbag weighs over 6 pounds! Not only are our necks and backs suffering but so is our posture. There are key moments in our day like lunch and routine errands that require a bag for those essentials (currency, glasses, cellphone and keys) but we don’t want to be weighed down by that oversized bag. Our team took this pain point into the design lab with the hopes of coming up with a solution.
Introducing the Thando’s cross body bag. Each pair of Thando’s shoes comes folded inside of a reusable carrying pouch. So we’ve taken our pouch and given it a few upgrades to provide you with even more functionality. An adjustable strap gives you the freedom to carry those necessary basics while remaining hands-free. Doctors approve of bags worn with a strap over the chest (like messenger bags) because they help disperse the bag’s weight and this is so much better for your neck and back. You prefer the classic carrying pouch? No problem! Just remove the cross body strap all together. The perfect combination of versatility and functionality.
We would love to get your feedback before we put this into production. So what do you think? Are you ready to get cross-bodied?
Growing up, I witnessed first hand, the difficulties my Mother went through wearing her high heels. Don’t get me wrong, she was always dressed to impress, but I remember always having to fetch a bucket of water for her to soak her feet in when she returned home from work. So it goes without saying that one of my primary motivations in starting Thando’s was to develop a product that was stylish, multifunctional, and comfortable enough to aid my Mom’s tired soles.
We aimed to develop a shoe that a woman can wear in various settings while feeling comfortable and fashionable. We believe we have achieved this with the Kach Me If You Can Midnight (“KMIYC Midnight”) co-designed with celebrity stylist, Kanayo Ebi.
The KMIYC Midnight is a classic accessory that women can fold up and carry with them wherever they go. Its clean yet, fierce aesthetic will make any woman feel rest assured that her feet are well taken care of no matter what outfit she’s wearing.