For more than a decade, Charlotte native Ahriana Edwards has struggled to find dress shoes large enough to fit her size-12 feet.
With encouragement from her significant other, Edwards launched an online shoe store, Vaila Shoes, in 2020, right in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the world’s chaos was at an “all-time high.”
Vaila’s name stems from the word “available.” It carries shoe sizes starting at size 9 and going up to size 14.
QCity Metro spoke with Edwards to learn more about her and her business.
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The answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Finding clothing that fits is an uphill battle for women in general. Why shoes specifically?
I’ve been dealing with not being able to find shoes for over a decade. There have been strides in the fashion industry; there are more plus-size options. But shoes are forgotten. It’s always a hassle going to find them, dress shoes specifically.
I, along with millions of other women, struggle with this. I thought it was perfect for me to create a footwear brand for us, by us.
What is your business connection to Charlotte?
I was born and raised in Charlotte and went to school in Fayetteville. My business is registered in Charlotte, and all of my family is from there.
What does a day running Vaila shoes look like for you?
I check emails, check order management and follow up with customers.
I’m always monitoring social media. We’re focusing on, and have been doing very well at, building a community of women that talk about the problems we face not finding our shoe size.
Then I check in with my intern who helps me with the email newsletters I send to clients.
I spend most of my time communicating with my manufacturer to make our Fall line of shoes.
What’s your approach to designing and manufacturing your shoes?
We take a sustainable approach in the way we design our shoes.
My manufacturer has a lot of shoes sitting around that they don’t sell or don’t use, so we upcycle a lot of those styles. We change colors, moderate it, and put something there to make it modern.
My shoe designs are modern and professional, like the type of shoes seen on many shows like “Being Mary-Jane” or “Selling Sunset.”
Did you always want your business to be sustainable?
Yes. That was how I could start the business and have it cost-efficient because you don’t have to pay for extra moldings to build a complete shoe from scratch.
You mentioned this field is very male-dominated. How did you navigate launching this business as a Black woman?
Most of the obstacles came from pitching. I was a Black woman, pitching a company for women with larger shoe sizes. Most of the individuals on the panels of these pitch competitions were white men, they could not understand the frustration.
I pivoted and started to talk about my company in ways men could understand. I asked them to imagine they didn’t have any dress shoes to wear to their most important meeting of the year.
I was also connecting with other Black women in the footwear industry. In addition to taking classes here and there, that is how I gained more knowledge about the fashion industry.
I had to be in spaces with and learn from Black women who understood the vision and why I felt the need to create Vaila shoes.
Do you ever see yourself expanding like beyond shoes?
Shoes are our bread and butter, but ideally, I want Vaila to become a brand for professional women. We’re starting with bigger shoe sizes, but there’s also a lack of petite shoe sizes.
I’ve always thought about like where I could take the business. It won’t only be shoes, but we’re starting at that avenue.
What has been the response from your target demographic?
It’s been amazing. Usually, when you have a larger shoe size, you know someone else who does too, so word has spread like wildfire.
Some days in entrepreneurship, you’re slow on sales and thinking, “Should I be doing this?” Then you see yourself making a woman’s day because she finally feels beautiful and comfortable in her skin.
That speaks to my soul.
It’s been super fulfilling. We’ve done a lot of pop-up shops and gotten into the LGBTQ community as well.
That’s another hole within the market. That has been very interesting because that’s where we have a lot of support.
You’ve mentioned pop-up shops a few times. Do you plan to go brick-and-mortar at some point?
That has always been a goal. We’re looking to sell in stores first and then make a couple of brick-and-mortar stores in the future – starting in the Southeast since it has a larger population of women with bigger shoe sizes.