When Haley Pavone is not in class or at an Alpha Chi Omega sorority event, she is in Pashion Footwear’s SLO HotHouse office.
Pashion Footwear, a student-run Cal Poly startup, has combined practical fashion to create a convertible high heel that can transform into a flat. The startup launched their Kickstarter July 1.
“I want us to become one of the big names in footwear,” business administration alumnus, co-founder and CEO of Pashion Footwear Pavone said. “I think we can release annual fall and spring lines that use our technology and are keeping up with trends and just become a really dominant powerhouse in women’s footwear.”
The story began during Pavone’s sophomore year at her sorority’s spring formal, where a sorority sister accidentally danced on Pavone’s foot with the spike of her stiletto. From that moment on, Pavone became fixated on the inconveniences of high heels. She began to research the market of working women who routinely change their shoes or go barefoot in the workplace.
“It just seemed ridiculous. I started getting obsessed with this idea of ‘What’s really so different between a high heel and a flat other than the heel and that arch support?’ and I thought there should be a way to safely engineer that to be removable,” Pavone said.
After being accepted into the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery program in Fall 2016, Pashion continued through the other CIE programs and eventually reached the HotHouse Incubator, a two-year small-business mentorship program. She got funds for the startup from CIE competitions and the accelerator program, as well as from investors.
Over the course of three months, Pavone and her team interviewed and surveyed about 500 college students and local women about their high heel experiences. They found that, overwhelmingly, both women and men were enthused about the idea.
“I’m just excited to stand behind a product that really benefits women,” journalism junior and Pashion Public Relations Coordinator Krista Hershfield said. “It’s crazy how there hasn’t really been a solution, we’ve kind of just accepted it, and I’m proud to be a part of something that’s trying to better the everyday lives of women.”
As the business increased in development, Pavone hired people from her personal network of peers and sorority sisters. The Pashion team is now composed of 20 people, 70 percent of whom are women.
Business administration sophomore and Pashion Footwear Sales Manager Tori Hemphill said she likes how the company, in many ways, empowers women.
“I love it because it’s a company started by women, and a lot of the shoe industry is male-dominated,” Hemphill said. “Men are designing heels and that just kind of is annoying because we’re the ones that have to suffer through it, and I have so many experiences, terrible experiences, with heels.”
Shoe engineering was a collaborative effort of Pashion Footwear Designer Seiji van Bronkhorst, co-founder Tyler Unbehand and independent contractors from Portland. The shoes are being manufactured overseas in China.
The heel on each shoe can be removed by a quarter turn, which prompts it to come loose along with the sole support. The shoe’s flexible arch flattens out, transforming the entity into a sandal. The removed pieces can then be placed in a small, sunglasses-sized bag and tucked away. The process takes no longer than 10 seconds, according to Pavone.
Three styles have been developed, each inspired by a different archetype. The “Pashionista” is aimed toward the event-wearer, the “Goddess” is aimed for the partygoer and the “Girl Boss” is aimed toward the working woman. “Pashionista” will come in black, champagne and Millennial pink. “Goddess” will come in black, brown suede and metallic rose gold. “Girl Boss” will come in black, champagne and red.
The Kickstarter launch occurred through the month of July. Pashion Footwear Insiders, members of a Facebook feedback group, were able to purchase shoes for $100 throughout the month. November 2018 will mark the launch of Pashion’s consumer website, where shoes will be sold for $150.
Pashion held a pop-up shop at Avanti in downtown San Luis Obispo June 30. People were able to try on shoes and make pre-orders at the event.
“A year-and-a-half ago, I drew a shoe on a napkin and showed it to some people and was like, ‘Hey, do you think this is cool?’ and that’s literally all it was,” Pavone said. “Now, all of a sudden, it’s going to be a real, actual product that people can buy and put on their feet and wear and hopefully make their lives better.”