Building a business from the ground up
"I’m intrigued by how businesses work and I’ve always loved shoes, so solving the problem of uncomfortable footwear seemed like a great place to start."
Rachel Bowditch didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur; the Australian-born founder of Alice Bow was working in London as a management consultant helping other companies flourish when she started the business as a side project in 2012.
It was driven by personal need—and something very close to her heart: shoes. “I’d tried to replace a beloved pair of Isabel Marant heels that I’d worn to death—you know, those perfect heels that go with everything—and absolutely nothing fitted as well as they did. Every shoe I tried was uncomfortable in comparison.” When the only solution shoe stores could offer was a generic, ugly insole, Rachel decided there had to be a better way.
“It was one of those classic, “wouldn’t it be great if…?” moments,” she recalls. So, having spotted the gap in the market for slim but padded insoles made from soft coloured leather, Rachel set about learning how to turn her idea into a reality. And that meant starting right from the beginning.
Learning the trade
“Whilst I loved shoes, I had no technical experience whatsoever. I didn’t know much about anatomy or podiatry—two things that are very closely linked to footwear comfort.” Rachel approached specialist trade school Cordwainers, part of London College of Fashion, where she intensively studied the craft of making footwear. She also travelled to Spain and Italy to meet suppliers and manufacturers, and sought the advice of top podiatrists.
But creating a footwear product was a million miles away from management consulting—and while her business know-how helped, Rachel soon discovered that persistence and tenacity were the way to gain the cooperation and support of her new peers. “Parts of the industry are still very traditional,” she explains. “And while it’s not usually overtly sexist, you do need to push to get your foot in the door.” What really seemed to clinch it was her unshakeable passion for what she was trying to achieve. “Once people buy into your vision, they want to be part of the journey,” says Rachel. “As a result, I was able to do deals with people who wouldn’t normally talk with first-timers like me.”
A pivotal moment
Armed with new skills, expert knowledge and an industry network, Rachel spent six months testing prototypes before coming up with the signature Alice Bow insole design. Fast-forward to June 2015 and Alice Bow was a commercial reality, operating from a studio in Hackney and growing a community of happy customers. Then, suddenly, everything changed.
“I woke up thinking our website had been hacked,” remembers Rachel. “But it turned out that overnight, the international press had reported that the Duchess of Cambridge was a fan of Alice Bow. We were inundated with orders.” There was, however, a problem. Alice Bow was still a solo side-project for Rachel, while she continued to work as a management consultant. “There was no way I was going to keep up with all the demand myself, no matter how much coffee I drank!” she laughs.
It was a turning point. Rachel asked her friends, network and social media communities for urgent help and was met with an overwhelming wave of support. “We made it happen,” she says simply. With all hands on deck and what Rachel describes as “a real ‘let’s make this happen!’ vibe”, she and her team made over 20,000 pairs of insoles and shipped more than 9,000 orders.
Today, Alice Bow has customers in over 70 countries and passionate communities on Facebook and Instagram. According to Rachel, Italian customers in particular love to engage with the brand, sharing photos of their shoe collections featuring a rainbow of Alice Bow insoles. Rachel’s time is now devoted to Alice Bow, although she is also keen to share her knowledge and support other entrepreneurs. She has already run workshops from the Alice Bow studio, teaching people with great ideas how to create and manage a business around them. Next up is a series of online courses.
When asked about what drives her these days, Rachel says she’s still just as crazy about shoes but that her motivation now goes deeper. “It’s about bringing happiness to people, myself included. If each of us can share a little joy every day, we can create little ripples of wonder that are contagious.”
Learn more about Rachel Bowditch and Alice Bow: