Specialising in stylish footwear in sizes 2 to 5, New Zealand online retailer Indigo River came into being as an act of defiance, when its founder realised she’d had enough of trawling children’s stores in search of appropriate footwear… for herself.
A proud size 3, Nicky Harding-Ifield is a former primary school teacher who once had a year 7 pupil ask where she got her shoes from, as the pupil had the same style at home. Until she founded her own company, this was the story of her life.
The relationship between women and their shoes is a time honoured one – ladies and shoe shopping go together like apple pie and cream. And yet, most of us take this special bond for granted; shoes don’t exactly fit the description of a niche market. But what if your feet were small? Really small. So small that the idea of finding a pair of real, grown up heels was as likely as tripping over the Holy Grail. This was Nicky Ifield-Harding’s dilemma until she founded a business to solve it.
“I didn’t own my first pair of heels until I was in my late 20’s. I was living in England and purchased most of my small shoes online. It was quite depressing really. I wasn’t able to wear dresses or skirts because I didn’t have any fashionable shoes. I could get trainers but that was about it,” she says, adding that weddings and special events were particularly dreary in this regard. Returning home from the UK, the dearth of desirable small sized shoes in New Zealand was a turning point.
“The more I got frustrated, the more I though I just have to bite the bullet and do something about it myself.”.
Clearly, working to the adage that “it takes one to know one” is as good a basis for a business as any. Operating since 2008, Indigo River has gone from strength to strength, catering to women whose style far outreaches their shoe size.
Early on the company’s unusual offer secured it a spot on prime time television, creating a sudden growth boost. Furthermore, Harding-Ifield’s own small feet have created instant customer empathy, and the fact that she wears her own product makes her a walking advertisement. Located at IndigoRiver.co.nz, the company also regularly sells through temporary shops in hotels in Christchurch and Dunedin and holds focus groups twice a year to gauge customer demand.
The bulk of product is sourced from Europe and America, and Harding-Ifield says finding suppliers that make good quality, reasonably priced size 32-35 shoes has been her biggest challenge. “We strictly work with suppliers who can provide shoes in sizes 32 upwards. I also have customers that are smaller than size 32 so I am constantly annoying my suppliers to make them smaller.”
From September the company will stock Australian shoe label Esther Perez – an exhibitor at the Australian Shoe Fair in Melbourne from August 30 to September 1. Over the longer term, Harding-Ifield hopes to produce her own line of footwear and is also eyeing opportunities in Australia.
“It is very much a niche market but really there’s no one in Australia specialising in selling small-sized shoes.”