Hailey Coleman is a rising star in Toronto’s galaxy of young entrepreneurs. Her company Damn Heels is “dedicated to saving women from their (beloved) damn heels.” The idea is simple; she sells bagged fold-up ballet slippers that women can slip on when their stilettos become too painful to wear, thus saving them from limping home from the club or party barefoot. The killer shoes are carried home in another bag that is included in the Damn Heels package, which retails for $20 CDN.
The idea so impressed the judges of the Slaight Communications Business Plan Competition (BPC) that on 31st March they awarded Coleman the top prize in its eighth annual competition, a $25,000 grant for her company that launched in December 2009. The BPC is put together jointly by the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) and Start Me Up Ryerson. Students from any Ryerson University faculty can enter.
Coleman says she got the idea after one painful, hour-long post-party walk home in London, England (this point is important). Dr. Dave Valliere, chair of Ryerson’s entrepreneurship and strategy department, said her plan was “exceptional, the amount of thinking she put into it. Making a sustainable business takes more than just a clever idea.”
The BPC biz whiz judges obviously don’t do background checks on their competitors’ submissions. The Damn Heels idea and business plan are clever; they’re just not original.
Matt Horan is a 29-year-old entrepreneur from Oldland Common in Bristol, UK. In 2007 he was an event coordinator on a cruise ship but was declared redundant at the beginning of 2008. He came up with the idea of providing women with emergency flat shoes after listening to his stiletto-loving girlfriend complain about her crippled feet every time they went out. “After getting tired of giving my girlfriend a piggyback home every Saturday night, I had a ‘eureka’ moment,” he said.
He returned to Bristol and developed a business plan for Rollasole, investing his redundancy money in designing and manufacturing his first pair of foldable flats. He sold his shoes from vending machines located in nightclubs and, “within six months we were selling thousands of them.”
As of June 2009 Rollasoles were being sold in more than 25 nightclub vending machines across the UK, and yes, they come with a drawstring bag to carry the stilettos home.
Rollasoles have been launched in clubs in Los Angeles and New York and attracted a celebrity following after being touted by gossip blogger Perez Hilton. They’ve also been introduced into the wedding/special occasion market. “It’s not just in nightclubs where women’s feet suffer.”
When someone gets a good idea in the UK it quickly gets knocked off in the colonies. By the summer of 2009 there were at least two companies in the US, Aftersoles and Footzyrolls, flogging their own virtually identical versions of Matt Horan’s emergency ballet flats to American women suffering in their stilettos. In typical American fashion by February of this year the companies were embroiled in a lawsuit, with the Footzyrolls peeps charging Aftersoles with trademark infringement, trade dress infringement and unfair competition. I wonder whether a corporate lawyer has her sites locked onto Hailey Coleman.
Toronto’s media ties its knickers in a knot every time somebody gets busted for selling knocked off purses that look like overstuffed sausages out the back of a van, all the while extolling the virtues of buying name brand goods. Coco Chanel would rather be imitated than copied but she did say, “I would shed tears the day no one copied me. For me being copied means success. Success without copies or imitations just doesn’t exist.” I don’t have a problem with knock offs (not to be confused with counterfeit goods) and as long as lux designers charge ridiculous prices for basic clothing and accessories my opinion won’t change anytime soon. As such I don’t have a problem with Hailey Coleman knocking off Matt Horan but I do have a problem with her receiving an award for innovation in business when all she did was copy Horan’s ideas.
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Research: Angelina Pieros