Shoe fits for local entrepreneur

By Erin Kavanagh-Hall -

In 12 years, Georgie Falloon has gone from struggling to find shoes for her wedding day, to heading a burgeoning women's fashion empire, to landing on the shortlist for one of the country's most prestigious business awards.

Mrs Falloon is the owner and manager of Willow Shoes, a retailer specialising in apparel for women of size - shoe size, that is.

Willow Shoes, which stocks stylish and practical footwear for shoe sizes 10 and above, has earned the Bideford woman a nomination for the 2013 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Mrs Falloon is happy to be a finalist - but confesses she has since been too busy fitting women with their dream shoes to give it much thought.

"I didn't quite realise how high profile it is," said Mrs Falloon, who is this year's only Wairarapa finalist.

"I never enter these kind of things. But someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'hey, you should enter'.

"It's nice to have a little bit of recognition. I feel proud."

Mrs Falloon, who wears size 11 shoes, was spurred to open Willow Shoes after searching high and low for wedding shoes.

In the end, she settled for a pair of plain white court shoes, as she couldn't fit any of the more fashionable bridal shoes she found.

"It got to the point where anything I could get my foot into would be fine," she said.

"I used to hate shoe shopping. I had some terrible moments looking for ball shoes when I was younger."

Mrs Falloon first launched Willow Shoes as a catalogue service in 2001 - and the customers started pouring in.

Since then, she has opened stores in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch, set up a busy online shop, and currently has 15 staff working for her.

In 2013, she has found the demand for elegant, chic and feminine shoes in bigger sizes is increasing.

"Women love shoes. They can either start or finish an outfit," said Mrs Falloon, who sources shoes from a size 10 to "as big as we can get.

"A lot of our clients come to us wearing very sporty, casual shoes. As in, the only shoes they can find are those unisex sneakers.

"But they want pretty shoes, things to wear with dresses. They want something fabulous.

"[In more mainstream stores], they just don't have the choice."

Mrs Falloon orders in shoes from all over the world - from ballet flats, to purple wedge boots, to diamante-covered court shoes, to snakeskin heels.

"You can sell a lot of something plain but, sometimes, you need something that really knocks your socks off."

She gets "the coolest feedback ever" from customers.

"We get thank you letters full of joy and passion," she said.

"We get tears, we get all kinds of emotions. We hear words like 'life-changing', 'it's like being in a lolly shop', 'shoe heaven'. It's amazing."

Mrs Falloon is one of 18 finalists who will appear before a judging panel on August 20.

Five category winners will be announced on August 23, and the overall award will be presented in Auckland in October.

Mrs Falloon is looking forward to meeting the other finalists, who include Steve Gianoutsos of Mojo Coffee and Sean Armstrong of Loaf Handcrafted Breads.

"Look at the group I'm part of - they're a bunch of such talented people, and I'm just one of the wee ones."

She said one of her biggest supporters was husband Jamie, who is president of Federated Farmers Wairarapa.


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