Studying abroad is great for so many reasons — like discovering new friends, learning new cultures, and embarking on a journey of self-discovery. But for the Co-Founders of CoIX (pronounced COY) shoes, studying abroad became the start of an unexpected journey in fashion and entrepreneurship. Charlotte and Sherene are two (proudly) tall women of color who, after a chance meeting while studying abroad in London, realized that their shared fashion struggles could be an opportunity to create a much-needed shift in the shoe game. The comradery between these two London transplants over a shared fashion crisis evolved into the creation of a brand designed to make more versatile, chic, and comfortable shoe options accessible to an often underrepresented market of women with larger shoe sizes.
After meeting through mutual friends, they started venting to each other about their style struggles and even swapped pieces with each other from time to time.
“ We’re both tall; Charlotte’s 6’2” and I’m 6′ 0″… We’re [also] both the same shoe size — a US 13– so we’d trade shoes, we’d talk about clothes, that sort of thing.”– Sherene, Co-Founder of CoIX Shoes
Conversations about their shared fashion frustrations became brainstorm sessions discussing how they could create a solution themselves. The problem was never that they didn’t have options — rather, it was that those options didn’t necessarily match their modern, professional style. They started to take the idea of creating a shoe line of their own seriously in 2013 — and six years later, these conversations have spiraled into a full-fledged business. Their business model is simple; create shoes in exclusively large sizes that are more fashion forward and versatile than the options that were once available to them on the market.
“We both knew that there were a lot of brands out there doing what we’re trying to do, [but] there was always this sense of overdoing it. The stilettos would have a mixture of [too many elements at once, like] both leather and fringe, too much color, or [heels that were] 5 inches. And it’s like okay, but can I wear this to work and after work? [Or can I] wear them [both] on the weekends or [on] a Tuesday night?”– Sherene
“It was when I had time off between jobs when I was like, let’s just do this. Let’s meet every week, let’s really put the frame[work] together, and…that’s sort of how things started to take off. Because we’re starting from scratch, one of us needed to have time off to really get things together.”– Charlotte
Most importantly, they shared a willingness to put in the work to learn as they go. Between their New York City roots and their years spent in London, both ladies inherited a big city style sensibility that is evident in their shoe designs. Matched with their shared admiration for high fashion and a desire to make it more accessible to women who did not fit the limited sizes featured on major runways, they had a solid brand concept to differentiate themselves in the market.
“I feel like fashion isn’t taken into account for shoes in larger sizes. The shoes [are often] too specific, that it doesn’t capture enough.”
But they still faced a major learning curve in figuring out the inner workings of shoe design. Doing the dirty work, Sherene explains, was one of their biggest challenges on the path to bringing their vision to fruition. But it’s also the single most valuable lesson that, in her opinion, all budding business owners should learn;
“I would definitely say [to aspiring entrepreneurs] to try to learn as much as you can about the exact vertical that you’re trying to go into. Charlotte and I have never made a pair of shoes in our lives, we’ve never made a fabric before, you know. We had to start from the very beginning in understanding what were the components that go into shoemaking, what are the challenges that go into making larger size shoes, how we get around that. We really had to become experts in what we’re trying to create and sell to other people.”– Sherene
As black women creating a luxury shoe wear brand in a foreign country, it’s no surprise that there aren’t many people who look like them in the industry. But as it would turn out, their nationality has sometimes proven to be an ever bigger challenge than race.
In addition to being the only black women, we’re also foreign because we’re from a first world country. Then we’re tall on top of that and we both speak in confidence and can steal a room when we’re speaking… The moment I open my mouth, yes I’m black but [often the reaction is] “oh shoot, you’re American” as well.
Beyond that, they are among only a few women penetrating the shoewear industry, which is surprisingly dominated by men. And that fact isn’t limited to shoewear; according to a study conducted by Business of Fashion in 2016, only 40% of fashion designers are females.
“The shoe industry is dominated by men. Hence why you see these shoes that look incredible, but are so painful… It was kind of surprising when we saw it for the first time..It was so interesting peeking behind the curtain.”
Now there’s no more peeking behind the curtain; they’re sitting at the table. Their diverse experiences, both as study abroad undergrads and as female entrepreneurs in a male dominated industry, drive them in their persistence to redefine diversity in fashion — both for designers, and for consumers. While the word “diversity” is often limited to two-dimensional conversations about race, this designing duo perceives it from a much wider lens. From transwomen to drag queens, Charlotte & Sherene understand that their audience extends far beyond tall cisgender women, and they happily embrace it.
“We eventually want to go into wider widths. We also want to cater to more than just the standard tall woman. Real talk, if there’s Drag Queens out there looking for a good shoe with a thick block heel to live their best lives in, our shoes are for them, too.”
CoIX shoes Spring/Summer 2019 collection is available now at coixshoes.com. Follow them on Instagram (@CoIXshoes), support their latest collection, and be sure to tell them that The Strut Mag sent you!