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Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight: Shola Asante and Agnès Cushnie

Co-Founder of Sante + Wade, Agnès Cushnie, shares her entrepreneurship journey as part of our popular Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight Series.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

The first part of my career was built in the corporate sector as a Market analyst. It was rewarding, but I wanted a change in my career towards the end. I fulfilled my dream when I became the Creative Director of my fashion label in 2008. I exited the business after eight years and two years later, I co-founded the footwear label SANTE + WADE. Becoming the Art and Marketing Director at SANTE + WADE felt like a natural fit. The company was launched in 2019 with my friend and co-founder Shola Asante as a premium disruptive footwear label, focusing on inclusivity and offering a range of high-quality and on-trend shoes, in Standard and Wide fit, with sizes going up to UK11 – EU46.

The SANTE + WADE customer is a woman who occupies cultural space with confidence. She wants to follow her moods and not be defined by her size, and it’s up to us to deliver the Cinderella effect!

How did the idea come to you for the company?

SANTE + WADE talk to the woman who isn’t interested in being restricted or defined by her shoe size but wants to have all options. Shola came to me with the idea, and I used my previous experience in the industry to shape the business proposition and USP of the brand. However, the process was very organic as Shola, and I are essentially our own customers. I am a size 8/9 and got used to never fitting into the designer shoes I wanted. 

How did you achieve awareness?

We achieved this by using social media channels, complemented with an influencer strategy. Offline, we ensured we also talked directly to consumers to test the proposition. In 2019 we took part in multiple consumer events (taking us to London, Birmingham, New York) targeting various sub-groups within our target audience.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

The company has been entirely self-funded and are looking at several growth scenarios to fund our subsequent growth phases.

What are the key successes?

Being shortlisted at the Drapers Footwear Awards two years in a row has probably been my biggest highlight so far. Having many returning customers and a low return rate associated with refunds is what drives us forward to deliver our best.

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

Traditional retailers were cautious because we position ourselves as a market disruptor. We overcame this by testing the market ourselves; selling directly online to consumers and communicating digitally to consumers. After successfully testing the proposition, we set up retailing agreements with selective online retailers. This approach enables us to gradually move from a pure DTC distribution model to a multichannel approach, and we have now started to open to the traditional wholesale market, with agents appointed in key target territories.

What are your plans now/for the future?

Our immediate plans are to expand our portfolio and our reach geographically. In the longer term, we want to continue innovating in a way that ties up with our sustainability commitments and reflects any change in customers’ preferences.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

The beginning of the entrepreneurship journey is an itch that can only be soothed with experience. It doesn’t matter how much you read about it. You need to find your own pace and your own journey. As long as you have a vision and believe that enough people will see value in it, you have to go with your gut. Don’t let mistakes paralyze you, but be ready to react and refocus your goals. Entrepreneurship is sometimes a rollercoaster, and you will test your resilience and adaptability along the way. In the long run, and this applies to personal goals as well, your ability to convert past failures into stepping stones to success is a big part of making this journey a success.

Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?

It is essential to surround yourself with people who can fill your skills gaps and give you impartial advice. It’s also important to remember that learning is a continuous part of the entrepreneurial journey. 

Another piece of advice is to take the time to test your proposition, whether it is a product or service, before launch. And come back to it with improvements if necessary. We used focus groups, but there are other appropriate market research methods that you may consider.

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

Anybody who has achieved something against all odds, like writing their first novel at the age of 70.

Anybody who has opened doors for social progress and equal rights among men and women.

My children whose kindness inspires me every day.

My grandfather who was an entrepreneur and made me first reflect on entrepreneurship.

Paco Rabanne, whom I had the privilege to meet and gave me some words of wisdom. His retrofuturist clothes always inspired me.

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

“You are enough”. It’s such a simple quote, but it means that you do not need to chase validation from others. Believe in yourself, and great things will happen! Self-confidence is the best way to project and achieve success.

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?

@santewade (Instagram)

@santewadeshoes (FB)