Damn Heels

Toronto company makes it easier for women to wear high heels

If there's one thing every girl can relate to it's painful feet at the end of a night out in stilettos. I remember dancing barefoot at weddings and painfully limping home from events because my poor feet were aching and cut up. Like every other girl, I'm willing to go through the pain for a pair of killer heels, but I would invariably rather be in flats. So when I heard the idea behind local startup Damn Heels I instantly identified. In fact it was one of those "why didn't I think of that" moments (kind of like when I heard about the Snuggie).

Damn Heels is a simple concept - a pair of fold-up ballerina flats packaged in a black carrying case that expands into a canvas bag to hold your high heels. Girls can throw them in their purse or keep them at work in case they need relief from their towering pumps, and then have a place to stick their heels when they change into the comfy flats.

Toronto entrepreneur Hailey Coleman got the idea for Damn Heels while walking the streets of London, England barefoot after a night out. She had seen similar products available in the UK market and decided to adapt it for Canadian consumers. She worked on developing the product and launched the company in December 2009 while still a marketing undergraduate student at Ryerson University. She graduated in spring 2010 but not before winning $25,000 in a student-run business plan competition.

The product is available for sale on the Damn Heels website, and doesn't break the bank at $20. She's currently in almost 25 locations, including seven Blo salons around the GTA and boutiques across Canada. Next Coleman is setting her sights on getting in more locations and moving south. "I'm hoping to double this and land some larger accounts as well as expand into the U.S.," she says. She also wants to target the travel and wedding industries, as weary travellers and bridal parties definitely have sore feet.

While Coleman has had a few interns along the way, she's still the only employee. She's relied on word of mouth and media exposure to get the word out thus far. Like other good ideas, this one has spread like wildfire in the media - the company has appeared in women's publications including ELLE Canada, FLARE, and Fashion Magazine, and on talk shows like Breakfast Television. She's also gotten the word out by appearing at events around the city - I first heard about the product when I received a pair at Twestival Toronto in March, and she was recently at the National Women's Show.

Her biggest exposure to date was the September season 5 premiere of Dragons' Den, which saw Hailey impressing all five judges with her product. She ended up walking away with a deal with sole female Dragon Arlene Dickinson, who promised $25,000 for a 33% stake in the company. Coleman says the experience was worth it for the exposure alone (in my opinion the only reason you'd really ever go on the show). "I was asked to go on and thought that it would be a great opportunity. It was a fabulous experience and the exposure it offered was something I couldn't have done on my own." So how are things going with Arlene? Coleman says we'll have to wait to find out. "Arlene and I met for the first time the day after the taping. Our deal is still a work in progress, so you'll have to wait and see."

But despite having a Dragon on her side Damn Heels definitely has some stiff competition. Dr. Scholl's recently launched Fast Flats, foldable flats in a wristlet. They might not have the Damn Heels brand, but they do have distribution. Coleman says her product and brand set her apart. "The expandable bag is definitely what makes Damn Heels stand out," she says. "No other product has a bag like ours. Our product is also much more durable. Additionally, every woman has cursed her 'damn heels.'"

Right now Coleman is focused on getting Damn Heels to the top of Christmas wish lists - she recently launched an XL size for women with larger feet, and is launching gold and silver versions of the product at the end of this month. She's also giving her Damn Heels some air miles - she just returned from China and Jamaica, where she was celebrating her win in the Committed Entrepreneur Awards. Judging from the splash she's already made in the Canadian fashion scene, Coleman will be saving women from their Damn Heels for years to come.

Photo courtesy Jocelyn Reynolds.

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