Q&A with Vaila Shoes Founder and CEO Ahriana Edwards

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For more than a decade, Charlotte native Ahriana Edwards has struggled to find dress shoes big enough to fit her 12-foot height.

With encouragement from her significant other, Edwards launched an online shoe store, Vaila Shoes, in 2020, right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, when global chaos was at an “all-time high”.

Vaila’s name comes from the word “available”. He wears shoe sizes from size 9 up to size 14.

QCity Metro spoke with Edwards to learn more about her and her business.

The answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Finding clothes that fit them is an uphill battle for women in general. Why shoes specifically?

I have faced the impossibility of finding shoes for over a decade. There have been advancements in the fashion industry; there are more plus size options. But the shoes are forgotten. It’s always hard to find them, especially dress shoes.

I, along with millions of other women, struggle with this. I thought it was perfect for me to create a shoe brand for us, by us.

What is your business relationship with Charlotte?

I was born and raised in Charlotte and went to school in Fayetteville. My business is registered in Charlotte and my whole family is from there.

Photo courtesy of Ahriana Edwards

What does a race day in Vaila shoes look like to you?

I check emails, verify order management and follow up with customers.

I always monitor social networks. We focus on building a community of women who speak out about the issues we face with not finding our shoe size, and we’re doing that very well.

Then I get in touch with my intern who helps me with the email newsletters I send out to clients.

I spend most of my time communicating with my manufacturer to make our line of fall shoes.

What is your approach to designing and manufacturing your shoes?

We take a sustainable approach in the way we design our shoes.

My manufacturer has a lot of shoes that he doesn’t sell or use, so we recycle a lot of those styles. We change colors, tone down and put something to make it modern.

My shoe designs are modern and professional, like the type of shoes seen in many shows like “Being Mary Jane” Where “sell sunset.”

Photo courtesy of Ahriana Edwards

Ever wanted your business to be sustainable?

Yes. This is how I was able to start the business and make it profitable because you don’t have to pay for extra moldings to build a complete shoe from scratch.

You mentioned that this field is very male dominated. How did you manage to start this business as a black woman?

Most of the obstacles came from pitching. I was a black woman, starting a business for women with larger shoe sizes. Most of the individuals on the panels at these pitch competitions were white men, they couldn’t understand the frustration.

I pivoted and started talking about my business in a way men understood. I asked them to imagine that they had no dress shoes to wear to their most important meeting of the year.

I was also connecting with other black women in the shoe industry. Besides taking classes here and there, that’s how I learned more about the fashion industry.

I had to be in spaces with and learn from black women who understood the vision and why I felt the need to create Vaila shoes.

Photo courtesy of Ahriana Edwards

Have you ever seen yourself growing like beyond shoes?

Shoes are our bread and butter, but ideally I want Vaila to become a brand for professional women. We start with larger sizes, but there is also a lack of smaller sizes.

I always thought about where I could take the business. It will not only be about shoes, but we start with this avenue.

What was the response from your target demographic?

It was amazing. Usually when you have a bigger shoe size, you know someone else who has them too, so the news spread like wildfire.

Some days in entrepreneurship, you’re slow on sales and you’re like, “Should I do this?” Then you see yourself making a woman’s day because she finally feels beautiful and good about herself.

It speaks to my soul.

It was super fulfilling. We did a lot of pop-up shops and also got into the LGBTQ community.

It’s another hole in the market. It’s been very interesting because that’s where we have a lot of support.

You mentioned pop-up stores several times. Do you plan to go brick and mortar at some point?

It has always been a goal. We are looking to sell in stores first and then build a few brick-and-mortar stores in the future – starting with the Southeast as it has a larger population of women with larger shoe sizes.

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