Dawn Dickson, the beauty and brains behind on-the-go emergency flats Flat Out of Heels, is helping women to steer clear of damaged feet by offering the alternative to sexy high heels.
EBONY: I love that you tell the story of women withstanding pain in heels and how you created your product out of necessity. Why do you think it’s so hard for shoe companies to make comfy heels?
Dawn Dickson: I think that “comfortable heel” is an oxymoron. There is no truly comfortable high heel shoe, not for more than a few hours. There are heels that are bearable, but comfortable is a stretch. I think it is hard for companies to make comfortable heels because the positioning of the foot in the shoe and the pressure that is put on the ball of the foot and the toes does not allow for comfort.
EBONY: Why do you think we sacrifice comfort just to look good?
DD: Many women are willing to suffer in the name of fashion. They love the way their calves and derriere look in heels, but after a few hours the pain sets in and they are ready to take them off. It seems like heels get higher every year, and so do the health risks. Recently Sarah Jessica Parker, the queen of Manolo Blahniks, announced that years of wearing heels caused her feet to become deformed and she has to stop wearing heels. Maybe if she had a pair of Flat Out of Heels to give her a few moments of relief on those long days, she could have saved her feet some distress!
EBONY: How did you actually design the shoe? What was the production process?
DD: My initial focus when I started Flat Out of Heels was to create a vending machine to sell emergency flats, and I did not put much energy into the design of my first prototype. I designed the shoe with the first thought in mind being light, compact and durable. Once I came up with a hard sole that is flexible enough to roll but comfortable and durable enough to walk the streets, I then focused on making it fashionable.
Since I wanted to offer S, M, L and XL instead of individual sizes, I had to make sure the shoe was adjustable without looking like a house slipper. So I added a bit of elastic to the back so that it fits securely on both ends of the size range. I also selected fabrics that can withstand weather conditions and are machine washable. I want my customers to get maximum use out of her Flat Out of Heels.
EBONY: What is your average business day like?
DD: I start my day at eight a.m. with emails and conference calls. Usually working on an upcoming production, coordinating imports and exports, touching base with sales, branding team, and meeting with investors. I try to finish my workday by eight p.m. and I have been doing a pretty good job lately.
I am in the middle of a capital raise right now, which is very intense. I am installing my Flat Out of Heels vending machines in four new locations this month: Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport concourse E, Mansion Nightclub in Miami, Cameo Nightclub in Miami, and LIV Nightclub in the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami.
EBONY: Did you always have a passion for fashion, or was this an out-of-the-blue idea that landed you in the style world?
DD: I actually have no passion at all for fashion. Flat Out of Heels was created out of necessity, not as a fashion item. My first prototype of Flat Out of Heels was not very fashionable at all, but I knew that in order to best serve my customers, the shoes must be cute and comfortable. The woman who needs Flat Out of Heels wants to be fashionable.
EBONY: What are your future goals for your company’s expansion?
DD: I plan to place 100 vending machines across the U.S. over the next 24 months using franchising as the key expansion model. The vending machines will be placed in heavy traffic venues and locations like airports, nightclubs, convention centers and concert venues. I am also expanding my retail outlets here and abroad. We are currently sold online and in 13 boutiques in the U.S., and we also have retailers in Egypt, Bahamas, Kenya, Zambia. I also plan to launch mobile retail outlets this year.
EBONY: What advice do you have for young women who want to own their own businesses?
DD: Think it through completely. Do your research to identify competitors and similar businesses working in your desired space. Examine them carefully to see what they are lacking, what can you make better, and how can you differentiate your product or service? Can your business idea be profitable and if so how soon?
Conduct a survey to see if your product or service is needed and how much people will pay for it. What are you willing to give up in order to see this through? Entrepreneurship is sacrifice. Once the research is done, write a business plan. Have a clear understanding of who your target audience is and how you will reach them. Find a mentor and read the right books. Entrepreneurship is continuous education. Have faith. Your faith will be the only thing to get you through the challenging days, and there will be many of those.