A well-heeled business
In fall 2006, Monica Murphy of Old Greenwich and Becca Brown had everything going for them.
The respective Georgetown and Harvard University alumnae were in their last year of business school at Columbia University, with jobs lined up at Goldman Sachs upon graduation.
There was just one problem: Their stilettos kept sinking into grass and getting caught in subway grates. So the friends launched SoleMates High Heelers and never looked back.
SoleMates resemble upside-down golf tees and attach to the bottom of each heel, increasing its surface area and thus decreasing a woman's chance of sinking, sticking and slipping on tricky terrain.
Their Web site, thesolemates.com, launched July 4 and the plastic marvels are already sold in more than 10 boutiques across the country at $11.95 a pair. A "mini" style for skinny heels will debut within the next few weeks.
"My high school prom was the first time I thought about it," Brown said at Murphy's childhood home off Maple Avenue. "My heels were getting stuck in the ground when we went outside to take photos. It was pretty awkward, and I realized that it was this ongoing frustration."
It wasn't until the Philadelphia native took a graduate course in business enterprise, however, that she and Murphy channeled their frustration into a business plan for SoleMates.
"It was our final exam," said Murphy. "You could either take the final or design a business plan."
Brown said the experience forced her to critically examine her long-standing idea and, once it was all down on paper, the "whys" outweighed the "why nots" -- even if it meant eventually resigning from Goldman Sachs. "We weren't taking the decision lightly," she said.
"Clearly, there are great risks associated with giving up great jobs," added Murphy. "But it never really occurred to us that we wouldn't succeed."
The pair did encounter roadblocks, however -- like soliciting engineering advice from the male-dominated industry.
"A lot of the people we encountered were really supportive," said Brown, "but they'd never experienced the problem first-hand. They'd never worn heels."
It took the partners about a year to find the help they needed, as well as an industrial plastics firm that wasn't looking to take advantage of them.
"Some of the quotes we got from injection plastics were ridiculous," said Murphy.
Now that they've got a solid product, Murphy, who recently moved back to Old Greenwich from New York, and Brown, who lives in Chelsea, are spending their days marketing SoleMates.
"We're pretty much glued to our computers," Murphy said, "answering e-mails."
"Pounding the pavement," said Brown, who is often stopped in Manhattan by women wanting to know about her "New York City heel protectors."
"I've given them away on the street," she said of SoleMates, which can last up to several months.
Abigail Fox, owner of Abigail DeG. Fox Designs at 187 Sound Beach Ave., said she has sold SoleMates right out of her bag to curious strangers, though her store is Greenwich's exclusive carrier.
"We've already sold out three times," said Fox. "People have ordered them for weddings and a lot of people from yacht clubs have come in and said they're good for avoiding getting stuck in the grates in the dock."
"We're so happy," said Brown, who hopes that someday SoleMates will come with every new pair of shoes.
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