Local businesswoman turns market stall into successful international business

Local businesswoman turns market stall into successful international business

A PASSION for uncomfortable high heels has seen a Muswell Hill businesswoman grow a small market stall into an international business and win a top award.

Janan Leo was the first to come up with the idea of the fold-away ballet-pumps which women can slip into their handbag for those moments when they just can’t take the pain of their heels any longer.

Ms Leo, 30, now sells the clever shoes from an online business based at her Muswell Hill home as well as top boutiques across the world, but the successful brand first came to her because of her own aching feet.

“I love high heels and I would get quite upset when I couldn’t wear them for long periods of time, so I thought we could make some fold-away shoes – it really was a eureka moment where it flashed up in my head,” she said.

“We were definitely the first to come up with the idea three and a half years ago – we’ve seen a lot of competition in the last 18 months or so, but we’re very happy with our brand.”

The business won the HSBC start-up stars award for Greater London and was even in the running as one of 10 regional winners to scoop a �30,000 national prize this week – unfortunately Ms Leo just missed out.

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But after the stress and toil of starting up a business in the recession, Ms Leo, who now runs it full-time with her partner Gareth Austin-Jones, is thrilled with the company’s growth.

“There were three years where I had a double life – still holding down a full-time job as a new product development manager for Virgin trains,” she said.

“But now I just think it was totally worth it – we could not have got it off the ground on its own.

“I needed the financial stability as well. Especially with the recession, it was difficult to get investors and banks on board.”

After the initial idea, Ms Leo said her first home-made prototype was “absolutely hilarious” so she sent herself to the London College of Fashion to study shoe design and merchandising by night, while also running a market stall in Brick Lane around her day job.

“The stall was really good – you build up a family of people exactly like you, who have a passion for design, their brand and their vision and it was also good in terms of getting customer feedback and building brand awareness,” she explained.

After years of hard work the business is now run from her “shoe-doir” at home, being one of the very few start-up companies to survive the recession.

“When we look now, compared to when we dealt with buyers at the beginning, they were a lot more cautious – but maybe it was because we were a new brand and we had to sell the concept, whereas now people already understand it and even actively seek it out,” she added.

For more on the shoes go to www.cocoroselondon.com.