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Shoes of Prey Turns Traditional Shoe-Making Into an Outlet for Self Expression

At first impression, Shoes of Prey is a Millennial’s dream come true. The custom shoe company, co-founded by a female entrepreneur, allows women to personalize each inch of their shoes—from upper to sole—through a user-friendly website that guarantees they’ll be on their feet within two weeks of the order.

However, a closer look at the 8-year-old company reveals its traditional roots. “We’re taking an old fashion process and pushing it forward,” said Shoes of Prey Co-founder Jodie Fox.

In fact, Fox herself is an old soul, a trait that became apparent when she told her Italian grandmother about her plan to build a custom shoe business. “She said, ‘Oh I get it’ and started to laugh at me when I showed her leathers because that was how shoes were traditionally made in Italy,” Fox said. “This is not a new idea, but it has changed.”

With zero footwear experience, Fox and co-founders Michael Fox and Mike Knapp launched Shoes of Prey in 2009 in Sydney, Australia as a direct-to-consumer platform with an abbreviated selection of customizable footwear and a 10-week lead time.

Today—backed by $26 million in venture funding, including a $15.5 million cash injection from U.S.-based retailer Nordstrom—if you can dream it, Shoes of Prey can build it in two weeks out of a company-owned factory in China.

It’s a huge feat that most footwear companies can’t imagine. Even footwear giants Nike and Adidas have lead times that span 3 to 6 weeks for custom footwear with fewer customizable components. However, by choosing to invest in innovation over retail space and by tailoring their customizable options to reflect the current trends, Shoes of Prey has become a go-to brand for all types of consumers, from bridal parties seeking custom shoes that can be worn post-wedding, to creative types that wish to put their own stamp on their footwear, to ladies who simply cannot find the right heel height or width on the traditional sales floor.

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Depending on what you qualify as “fast” these days, Shoes of Prey’s business model could be described the new sustainable approach to fast fashion.

While Zara, H&M and Topshop duke it out for consumers’ disposable income, Fox pointed out that Shoes of Prey offers consumers fashion footwear worthy of the investment—not wear and toss—because it is exactly what they want. “How do you compete with Zara? You can’t. But we’re taking it further than Zara and we do everything on demand,” Fox said. “It’s a sustainable financial model, especially for fashion, because we manufacturer exactly what consumers want.”

The Shoes of Prey website is a digital emporium of more than 170 types of leather, suede, velvet, satin, vegan leather and more. The process begins simple enough with selecting a size (narrow, wide and extra-wide fits are available, too) and a style. Then the fun begins with a catalog of toe shapes, straps and heel types and heights to handpick, followed by material and color selection for the upper and heel, down to the sole, lining and insole trim. Retail prices start from $129. The brand recently introduced sneakers to the mix.

Designing shoes on Shoes of Prey can be an eye-opening experiment for users, reveling style preferences and eliciting strong and surprising opinions about unassuming elements like trims and ornamentation on footwear. The website learns as much about their customer’s style as the customer learns about their own preferences. Fox said one of the most important lessons learned since launching Shoes of Prey was how important it is to inform consumers about fashion and trends.

“I guess the biggest surprise to anyone running a fashion company is people truly need to know what is on trend now and how to make it work for them,” she said. “We’re very excited to offer people the opportunity to design anything, but people really need a bit of inspiration. It’s important to not give people a blank space and help narrow down that broad opportunity,” she added.

The opportunities for Shoes of Prey, and for customization in general, are wide open. Fox’s vision for the future relies heavily on 3-D printing, design hubs and capabilities that allow designs to be more improvised. “Honestly, it’s been a long journey and it will never be a finished project,” Fox said, adding “There are lot of new and exciting technologies to speed things up further.”