Admittedly, the world crumbled beneath my feet as the reality of my situation finally dawned upon me. Helplessly, I stood there watching, one happy traveller after another, picking up their treasured belongings from the delivery belt.
Whilst they pranced towards the long-awaited goal line, ‘Exit’, I nervously dragged my overweight hang-luggage towards the help counter. “Sorry madam, we don’t know where your bag is. This could take up to one month…”. As I stared down onto my worn-out travel boots, all I could think was “How will I ever find size 41 shoes in China?!” Little did I know that a silver lining would soon appear.
The tragedy was that Chinese women are known to have notoriously small feet, meaning that most shops will not stock much above size 37. After days of searching without success (and becoming the awkward owner of one pair of oddly-coloured Zara men’s shoes bought purely out of desperation), my saving grace came in the form of a tip by my good friend Em. This long-time Shanghai local and fashion guru suggested a visit to a discrete store tucked away on one of Shanghai’s romantic avenues in the city’s historical former-concession area. As per usual, his instincts were 100% correct: ‘The Collection’, a private label created by designer Frank, who turned out to be a treasure box for the modern woman.
Whilst his cosmopolitan mind-set and worldly manners would never betray this, Frank comes from humble beginnings. He started his career at the very source of global leather goods supply chains – the factories of Guangdong in Southern China. It is here that he gained a deep understanding of this multi-million-dollar industry, from the raw material to the blingy luxury shoe or bag displayed by high-end retailers around the world. His passion and know-how quickly led him to gain critical positions in major brands such as Coach and Nine West, contributing to their product development and quality control capabilities whilst also widening his own knowledge of the trade. Soon he would even be sent to work in Vietnam’s buzzing capital, Ho Chi Minh, an event that changed his life entirely. It was his first time outside of China, and Frank immediately embraced the city’s vibrant, multi-cultural social-scape. Upon returning to China one year later, there was no turning back – Shanghai, due to its highly cultured nature, became an obvious choice for relocation.
It is here that three years down the line, Frank maxed out his credit cards and took a leap of faith by opening a tiny 10 square metres store with only 50 pairs of shoes. What he had realized was that women in the city were crazy about shoes, but the shoes they wore were expensive and often times uncomfortable. Coming from an industry where he understood the production and raw cost of these items, he knew that he could make shoes that were just as stylish, yet affordable and comfortable. But not only this – he could make much more elegant designs than those usually on offer in the Chinese market, and cater to the larger sizes required by Shanghai’s expat community. His dream? “That every woman should be able to afford a good pair of shoes”. Women city-wide saw his vision and could not agree more. From then on, things moved very quickly. News about his shop spread like wildfire and within six months he had already recouped all of his investments.
Today, you can find Frank in a larger shop on Anting Road, offering about 30 new styles each season. A firm believer that buying shoes is about more than the object but about the experience and lifestyle, Frank is always busy with organising fun events for his fans, from champagne-fuelled private shoe parties with expert stylists to launch parties and pop up stores in people’s homes.Despite many competitors within China’s emerging fashion scene, Frank continues to stand out. And with this, his shoes have been picked up by buyers to be sold in other outlets, in addition to collaborations with local designers such as Daniel Wang and sponsoring brands at New York Fashion Week. The next step? To expand overseas and create a world where Compeed and Birkenstocks become redundant.
If you happen to be in Shanghai, this is one place not to miss out on for the female fashionista. I mean really, who wouldn’t agree that we need more comfortable and beautiful shoes in our lives?!