Gender-inclusive shoe line ties up funding
Serial entrepreneur will use racial equity loan to step up her 1-year-old venture.
Care Monique Allen will take a stride forward in the coming days after securing a loan for her gender-inclusive online shoe shop.
Allen launched the Grand Rapids-based startup True 2 Size Shoes in September 2018 after a stressful time in her life had led to weight gain and an increase in foot size and width. She discovered that many stores didn’t carry shoes in her new size, 11.
She set out to start a business that would provide fashionable shoes in hard-to-find sizes for all “womxn,” a term that is inclusive of transgender women and women of color.
“True 2 Size Shoes is meant to be the solution for all womxn looking to find fabulous and stylish shoes in their size,” she said. “My personal struggles with footwear started the idea, and confirmation from countless interactions with womxn wearing nonstandard sizes and widths — 10 and above, narrow and wide widths — got True 2 Size Shoes off the ground.”
True 2 Size Shoes carries a variety of high heels, sandals, sneakers, boots and booties, and shoe-and-purse sets. Prices range from about $58-$160.
Currently, the shop sells sizes 5-13. It will be adding half-sizes and narrow and wider widths soon, Allen said on her website.
Allen also is founder, CEO and owner of two other businesses — The Fab Finder Fashion Blog and Style Consulting Company, and Care Monique LLC, a personal branding and business development consultancy.
Despite her business experience, a traditional lender denied Allen a loan to help her grow True 2 Size Shoes.
“I was not even allowed a meeting,” she said. “The banking institution sent me to the regular teller counter, where I was not even given the loan interest packet.”
Allen is a graduate of the SpringGR training and mentoring program for West Michigan entrepreneurs, and the organization heard of her dilemma and referred her to Grand Rapids-based Rende Progress Capital (RPC).
RPC is in the business of providing loans to diverse entrepreneurs who have been excluded from the traditional lending process “due to bias and other market factors.”
The fund issued a loan to True 2 Size Shoes in August — RPC’s first loan to an emerging, African American woman-owned business since its founding in March 2018 by Eric Foster and Cuong Huynh.
RPC did not disclose the loan amount, but Allen said it will be enough to help her purchase inventory, execute her marketing plan and “adequately compensate” her five contractors.
Foster, co-founder, chair and managing director of RPC, said the funding also will go to another cause.
“It will help address a predatory loan that the owner engaged in because of barriers to a conventional loan,” he said. “This is the first customer in such a situation that mirrors RPC’s research that 12% of excluded entrepreneurs/owners of color are engaging in predatory loans to support some aspects of their business operations.”
Foster said despite her challenges, Allen has been successful in creating a business model that meets the needs of a customer base “that prioritizes footwear as a key part of their wardrobe” and values the convenience of online shopping.
He said True 2 Size meets RPC’s “mission-based criteria” by removing barriers to finding “attractive shoes in higher sizes due to pregnancy, weight and other design restrictions by conventional manufacturers and retailers.”
“RPC also approved this loan based on the True 2 Size Shoes business model, values and marketing to womxn — women of all types, transgendered women and women of color customers. We note such inclusion and womxn affirmation is just as important to us as the business fundamentals,” Foster said.
“We are glad True 2 Size Shoes is committed to gender and racial inclusion.”
Allen said she plans to keep her shop e-commerce only for the foreseeable future, but she hopes to gain a brick-and-mortar presence someday.
“The true dream is to be in large anchor stores and be on HGTV,” she said.
She echoed Foster’s thoughts on her company being mission-based.
“True 2 Size Shoes is working daily to create new products, increase our quality and customer engagement as well as influence woman in a positive way,” she said.