Next up in our spotlight series is Sam Dong, founder of ALLY Shoes, one of the coolest, most innovative brands of footwear we've ever seen. And, the ALLY Shoes team has been kind enough to share a special discount for Solemates customers for $40 off any order off their website. Use the code SOLEMATE40 at checkout (valid through July 31st).
Who are you?
My name is Sam Dong, and I’m the founder of Ally Shoes. I was born and raised in Shanghai in a retail family: my parents are both veterans in the department store business, and my cousin is an apparel designer. I came to the US at the age of 17, as a freshman at Cornell. After graduation, I started my career as a management consultant in New York, then moved to SF to join an early stage startup called OrderAhead (acquired by Square). I went on to get my MBA at Stanford, and that’s when I started working on Ally Shoes.
What is your business?
Ally Shoes (www.ally.nyc) is an innovative fashion brand designed for women by women - creating power heels minus the pain. With a patent-pending design and inclusive sizing options, our mission is to be an ally in fashion for all women. We re-engineered the statement heel with a a podiatric surgeon to create a flexible structure that secures your foot and looks fabulous. Each shoe is designed to stretch with lightweight cushioning built into the soles to relieve all pressure points, available in inclusive sizes (US 4-12) and four widths (narrow, medium, wide, extra wide).
Why and when did you start this business?
A former management consultant, I always wore heels to work. Then I hurt my feet hiking and could no longer wear heels without pain. That’s when it clicked - why do heels have to hurt in the first place? I made it my mission to find the best in the business to create pain-free heels for women. ALLY Shoes’ founding leadership team includes Podiatric Surgeon, Dr. Roxann Clarke, and acclaimed shoe designer, Sarah Jaramillo. Our diverse backgrounds and varying professional experiences inspired the overall concept of our unique pain-free heels and shoe design. We each bring our expertise to the table and together we created a heel that can be a woman’s ally.
What is your FAVORITE part of your job as a founder/small business owner?
I love the process of creating something new and useful, that benefits a lot of people. It’s a joy to lead a mission-driven brand and to experience customer reactions when they first step into our shoes. Our customers are real women who love heels and style, but also appreciate comfort. They inspire us as they take on the world and stride through life in our shoes. They are the inspiration behind our upcoming marketing campaign highlighting real women – our customers and their powerful stories. ALLY is never just about the shoes - we want to be the brand that represents the qualities of a modern woman - beautiful, strong, and uncompromising.
What is the most DIFFICULT part of your job as a founder/small business owner?
I think the most difficult part is to stay optimistic while being intellectually honest. As a founder, I’m extremely passionate about what I’m working on, and would love for everything to work out the way I intend them to. But that’s almost never the case. A startup business is inherently high risk, fragile, and unproven, and creating something new often leads to many mistakes along the way. When things get hard, true resilience requires optimism based on clear analysis and rapid actions. It’s easier said than done, and I’m still learning :)
What SHOES are you wearing right now?
Like many people, I’ve been wearing slippers to work at home, but I do slip on my ALLY pumps whenever I have an important conference call. That’s my secret weapon to feel more confident and put together.
What's the best piece of advice you've received as an entrepreneur/business owner?
The best advice I received has to be to listen to your customers and to trust your gut. It’s important for entrepreneurs and creators to listen to those who are actually using your product. Before launching our first product, we ran many small group testing sessions, and gave our samples to real women to test drive them, and gave us feedback. They challenged and inspired us to offer more width options and sizes, which became one of our major selling points. As a women-owned brand, we also bring our personal experiences into our products. For example, before launching our nude collection, our team looked at each other, and realized we are all a different shade, and one shade of nude doesn’t fit all. So we decided to launch with five different shades of nude colors, to offer more suitable options for women of all backgrounds.
What changes or pivots have you made to your business due to COVID19?
When COVID 19 hit, we had to shut down all of our offline channels including our showroom, store partners, and trunk shows. As a result, we launched a new “at-home trial box” that allows customers to try different sizes before buying, aiming to re-create our fitting room experience in the comfort of their homes. We believe the concept of a remote fitting room is going to be more popular even after the lockdown is over, as people are wary of going back into the store.
In addition, we believe office-life will be changed after the recovery as well. Many offices will stay closed in the foreseeable future, and remote work will be more acceptable in the long term. We are adapting our product line by developing high quality footwear more suitable for walking outside, including lower kitten heels, block heels, and flats with arch support.
What’s one thing you’ve been doing during this time that’s helping to keep your sanity?
I’ve been waking up early every morning and starting the days with meditation and yoga. With no more commute time and boundaries between life & work, this small ritual helps me build in some “me time”, and clear my mind every day.