A woman I lived with had a closet full of pointy-toed, stiletto-heeled boots. Each time she bought a new pair I’d joke, “How is it that women’s fashion footwear is the only dangerous product sold in this country without a warning label?” Pretty soon she stopped laughing at my joke, and I thought, “What would the warning label say?
I made a pair of “Watch Your Step” boots and brought them to a party. When I took the boots out of my bag it was liked I’d switched on a giant vacuum cleaner. Suddenly all the women in the room were around me, wanting to try on the boots.
Shoewawa.com had a “Shoe of the Week” that women could vote “yay” or “nay” on, and leave comments. The boots got more comments than any other shoe they’d featured, and the votes were overwhelmingly negative. Boots had to be black or brown, women said. These women took their heels seriously and were offended that I’d made a joke about their footwear.
Then I made myself flip-flops with grass that moves around with you.
Then I thought, what if you could wear three pairs of boots, each disappearing into the next?
I called the concept Bootchkas. Women who saw the Bootchkas had to try to them on, and when they tried them on they loved them. Here’s a video I made:
We sold nothing on our website, or on our Kickstarter campaign. The lesson was that women enjoy shopping in-person, and trying on clothes. We tried retailers but no buyer would talk to us. I’ve since learned that getting a new product into retail takes two years and three million dollars.
We got a booth at a Christmas fair.
Hundreds of grandmothers bought boot cuffs for their granddaughters. We saw no one in our target demographic, and we sold zero Bootchkas.
My next plan was to have boot cuffs knit in China and dyed in colors for sports teams. High school girls could wear Bootchkas in their school colors, or sports fans could go to games wearing the team colors. Boot cuffs from a Chinese factory cost only about $3/pair, and women would happily pay $10/pair or more. The samples that the factory knit were excellent quality, better than hand-knit boot cuffs. I ordered dozens of colors.
Months later, a truck arrived, we unloaded the boot cuffs, opened the boxes…and saw colors unlike any in the NFL. The Vegas Gold of the Colorado Buffalos and the New Orleans Saints was a pale green. I talked to people who’d sourced to China and they said that everyone knows that Chinese knitting is excellent and Chinese dyeing is not even close. And the Chinese sales rep will insist that the colors are right. Apparently the Chinese are color blind. If you want to buy boxes of boot cuffs in weird colors, please contact me.
Some of the colors were good, and I identified the high schools in our area whose colors we had right. I planned to do the Steve Madden thing. Madden designed the platform Mary Jane in 1992. He drove around to high schools in New Jersey and sold the shoes out of his trunk. Soon thousands of girls wanted his shoes. His grade school buddies were running a penny stock scam, and they offered to sell Steve Madden, Ltd. to investors, get him some capital, and then rip off the investors. With the capital Madden was able to open a retail store in lower Manhattan, which was soon elbow to elbow with teenage girls, and then Madden and his buddies went to prison.
My plan was to sell to high school girls and skip the penny stock scam. I hired a model and we drove around to high schools. We discovered that in Colorado high schools are on large campuses, each with a police car parked in front. You can’t park in front of high schools and sell shoes out of your trunk.
We went in and talked to the athletic directors, who were enthusiastic when they saw the model wearing Bootchkas with their school colors.
They’d be happy to sell the Bootchkas in their school store. We just had to get permission from the vice-principal, the cheerleading coach, the spirit club president, and three other people. Everyone we met with was happy to sign off but there was always someone we couldn’t reach.
I then signed up for the cheerleading grand national championship, which was in Denver. The company that does these has grand national championships in cities across the country. I arrived early in the morning with two models.
Then the cheerleaders arrived. They were from six to twelve years old. I didn’t realize that there are little cheerleaders who go to private cheerleading gyms. I let the models go home early, packed up my Subaru, and gave up on the Bootchkas.
I enjoyed working with the women. Working in tech I mostly work with men. With the Bootchkas I got to work with a production designer, seamstresses, and lots of models.