A Kid in a Candy Store

Mary Prenon | June 2016

When women have the chance to experience Westchester mom and fashion designer Kara Mac’s new business, they often react like kids in a candy store! It’s not surprising, though, because ShoeCandy by Kara Mac may be just as addicting as those colorful jars of jellybeans, lollipops and gumdrops. ShoeCandy is just what it sounds like—“candy” in the form of interchangeable shoe accessories like heels, toe clips and sandal straps.

The idea for Mac’s business literally originated from her feet. A daily train commuter to Manhattan, Mac needed comfortable shoes to wear for her 20-minute walk from Grand Central Terminal to her office. “I wouldn’t wear sneakers because I always wanted to look fashionable and hip,” she admitted. “You never knew who you were going to run into.”

Given Mac’s impressive resume, one could understand her need to ditch the sneakers. Over the past 30 years she has designed collections for Ralph Lauren, Jansen, Tricots ST. Raphael, Talbots, Bobby Jones and many more.

Once ensconced in her office, she would survey the dozen pairs of shoes neatly hidden under her desk—flats, pumps and dressy heels just in case of an after-work event. Planning a business trip meant stuffing even more shoes into an over-crowded suitcase. “Of course, you need something to go with every outfit,” she added.

After years of sore feet and constant shuffling of shoes, Mac’s ShoeCandy idea was born. “One day I just looked around and asked myself why I had so many shoes,” she said. “That’s when I discovered that there had to be a better way around this.”

Kara MacThe premise was simple—create a core group of quality, comfortable shoes with removable heel covers and toe clips, and let women customize them with interchangeable accessories for several different looks. Transitioning from office to evening wear would be a breeze, not to mention packing for business trips.

Utilizing her own background and experience, Mac set out to learn more about molding, casting and removable shoe parts. “My kitchen counter became my ‘lab,’ and at night and weekends I worked on my ideas,” she said.

However, before jumping headfirst into entrepreneurial waters, Mac took a mini-course for potential business owners with Daymond John of the hit TV show “Shark Tank.”

A few months later, she had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with him. “I was at the Empire State Building in May of 2014, and I was so nervous I was dripping with sweat,” she recalled. An hour-and-a-half later, she heard the words that she never forgot to this day—“This could be huge!” “It was one of the best days of my life,” she recalled.

In fact, Mac was so excited that she had to call someone immediately, but her cell phone was dead. So, on the train ride home, she went from commuter to commuter to borrow a phone charger so she could make her calls. The next day, Mac quit her full time job.

After many more shoe trials, Mac hired an engineer to put her plans to work. When the prototype was perfected on the third try, Mac set out to find a factory to produce the shoes. She searched all over the U.S., Italy and Brazil and eventually found her Brazilian agents through LinkedIn.

“They had been involved in fashion designing in the U.S., and while it may have been a risk, you just have to go with your gut,” she explained. The factory that produces the shoes also churns out high-end designer shoes, belts and handbags for some the world’s top retail stores. “In fact,” she added, “the entire town there is the leather shoemaking capital of South America.”

The first shoes off the production line offered just three styles: the “Smokin’ Hot Slipper,” a flat shoe: the “Patent Party,” a low heel shoe; and “Betty Boot,” a short, low heeled boot. All had interchangeable heel covers and toe clips to create literally hundreds of different styles.

ShoeCandy by Kara Mac officially launched in December of 2014 at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in Boston, where Hillary Clinton was the keynote speaker. On the first day, she sold over $5,000 in shoes!

In January of 2015, she got a call from a long-time friend and the two women spent over four hours on the phone talking business. Later, the pair met for a long weekend in Manhattan after which Ann Merin became her business partner.

Since then, the two have been participating in several women’s conferences and gearing up their production with a lot more “candy” accessories like jewels, pearls and fringe. They also added some new shoe styles like the “Perfect Pump,” “Celebrity Sandal,” and “Snappy Slide.”

They sell direct via their website, and may end up in some retail stores. Their ultimate goal, though, may be turning the company into a direct selling operation. “Part of our mission is to empower women to start their own businesses,” said Mac. “I got to the point where I hated commuting and being just a ‘weekend mom’.”

With encouragement from her husband, Steve, and her two sons Clancy, 16 and Liam, 15, Mac is looking ahead to a bright future for ShoeCandy by Kara Mac.

“I think women love the fact that they can create their own styles and have so many different looks without having to buy so many different shoes,” she said. “Right now, the only difficult part is deciding on the ‘candy’!”

Editor’s Note: HGAR will be hosting a special RPAC event with ShoeCandy by Kara Mac on Thursday, June 9 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Ritz-Carlton, Westchester in Downtown White Plains. The fundraiser, which will benefit the Realtors Political Action Committee, will feature wine, cheese and specially priced footwear. The $25 entry fee goes directly to RPAC and will be added to your 2016 RPAC contributions. For more information, please visit www.HGAR.com.

 

Mary Prenon
HGAR, Director of Communications