Let’s kick off with a question that’s been on my mind – why shoes? What sparked that initial inspiration to start your own business?
I’d always been frustrated generally by how gendered the kidswear market was… I often shopped in the boy’s section for my two daughters to avoid all the pink unicorns, but when my son arrived, I realised there was a real lack of unisex products. Even as a child myself, I remember feeling how unfair it was that I was expected to dress or behave in a certain way, just because of my gender. In particular, the shoe market remained very old-school in its approach to product development, design + gender. I had worked in fashion for over 20 years but my first (and favourite) category to develop was footwear. So this, combined with being a frustrated parent, who couldn’t find cool shoes for my own kids started me on the journey of developing Zig+Star. After talking about it for a long time, I eventually left my job as Head of Buying at Topshop just over 2 years ago to start working on the brand properly.
Zig + Star are not like any other children’s shoes – they’re so cool. Do they come in adults sizing?! Tell us your story, Ali.
Ah, thank you so much!
We’ve had such a great reaction to the brand since launch, I think people appreciate what we’re trying to do, the whole reason for starting the brand was to challenge old gender stereotypes that really do limit our children’s aspirations. Our mission statement is “Let’s give little feet the freedom to take big steps” and that truly represents what we’re about.
Our product is genderless, we love seeing #moreboysinleopard, but the point is, there are no rules – feel free to express yourself and be whoever you want to be. Another key part of the brand is that we wanted them to be good for kid’s feet. The first thing we did was develop a bespoke children’s shoe last (this determines the shape and fit of the shoe) + then worked with a fantastic Paediatric Podiatrist called Tracy Byrne to ensure the product was perfect for kids developing feet. The final part of the Zig+Star puzzle is that we wanted shoes that lasted longer. All our designs are fully adjustable so they can grow + adjust with each child. Adult sizes are definitely on the to-do list, I’ve had lots of requests since launch!
Where can we purchase your collections?
For our first season, we are selling through our own website www.zigandstar.com plus four brilliant London stockists. As a small brand, we only want to work with people that mirror our values and all our stockists have been great, supportive partners (@wordstoreldn, @lunaandcurious, @whatmothermade, @windmill_kids).
Your IG showcases your rule-breaking designs and the importance of being podiatrist-approved. How has Social Media helped to build your brand?
Well especially as we launched in Lockdown, it has been an absolute lifeline. I’ve never been a particularly avid Social Media user, but I have to say I love it now. As we have been developing the brand and people have joined the journey, it now feels like I’m building a community of like-minded people + like-minded brands too. I’m still at a stage where every like, comment, share means so much… we’ve had some lovely cheerleaders supporting us which is great!
I think people appreciate seeing the work that goes on behind the scenes too. As a small business owner, you are the creative, the Admin Assistant, the Order Processor, even the Delivery Driver. One of the things I have really loved is doing London deliveries and chatting to customers. Social Media is amazing but it can be very consuming, and you can’t beat a good old chinwag on someone’s doorstep.
How do you evolve a business to become sustainable, as well as safe for children’s feet?
The adjustability is key – not only does it mean you can adjust it to any shaped foot securely, but it will grow as they grow. Extending the life of your shoes (either through longer wear or handing them down) is a very simple way to reduce your carbon footprint. Also, all the materials we use have been chosen for their longevity and comfort – breathable leathers – recyclable rubber outsoles that are durable and flexible – even all of our packaging is recycled/recyclable or compostable. Another nifty design element is our shoeboxes. We wanted to remove the need for a secondary bag when you left a shop, so we added a handle. Then we thought, how can it have a life beyond its original purpose.. so we made it into a suitcase design that you could take on your next adventure + added a handy foot measuring chart inside.
The children’s fashion and accessories market is growing year on year, how do you stay unique + stand out from the other retailers?
As a parent, I was aware of what was out there in the market. I would go to one shop for their sandals, one for their boots, one for their trainers. But there wasn’t a brand that covered all my needs, or that resonated with me on a personal level. Zig+Star has a clear mission, so every product will be unisex and will have the flexibility of fit and longevity in mind. We use a combination of vintage or sustainable brands in all our shoots and every decision we make has sustainability in mind. Plus we work with like-minded, talented people to help bring our vision to life. I think if we continue to focus on our own mission, we will always stand out.
What’s next for Zig + Star? Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?
We have a range of boots and shoes coming in for Autumn, also with some very clever design details to add flexible fit. The plan is to introduce other footwear categories, such as podiatrist-approved trainers, jellies + more. Then the sky’s the limit… I have other areas I’d like to branch out to within unisex accessories and clothing… the issue isn’t how far we can take it, it’s the time and money!
Do you have any other brands that you simply love? Or small businesses bosses out there you support?
They all brought something new and different to their categories and have become THE must-have brands. Looking at them provides real motivation to where I can take Zig+Star in the future.
As an entrepreneur with a parent demographic in mind, how do you find the best work/life balance?
I don’t think any parent ever feels they are getting the balance right, whether you are working or not. I think the answer is to trust your instincts and not be too hard on yourself. We’ve come through a tough couple of years and we all deserve a lot of credit for that. What I have learned with starting my own brand (and which applies to parenting too) is to roll with the punches – appreciate the highs + know that the lows aren’t there forever.
Follow Ali’s journey online now.