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Zvelle: One of Toronto's most interesting startups

Zvelle: One of Toronto's most interesting startups

Posted by PanamericanWorld on April 19, 2016

A shoe for all day, all places, all occasions. Nine-to-nine shoes, she calls them. That’s what Elle AyoubZadeh wanted to accomplish.

With her higher-end Zvelle flats, boots and pumps, AyoubZadeh imagined a shoe that would be timeless – she avoids trends – and “placeless” – as well suited on Bay Street as Dubai’s financial centre, as suited to the office as it is to the bar.

There is something also clearly feminist about her approach. AyoubZadeh’s models are not glossy 20-something beauties but rather, professional women of all ages who are making strides in their careers. In a unique marketing angle, AyoubZadeh interviews these women, highlighting their accomplishments, symbolically showing where their feet have taken them. Shoes for women on the move.

 “I want to inspire real women because I’m inspired by them,” she says. “Women’s stories deserve to be shared.”

Even AyoubZadeh’s style icons go beyond the surface. “They’re not necessarily actresses or models or things like that. It’s more about what they did.” She cites Coco Chanel for breaking out of the corset into the little black dress; Donna Karen for her Seven Easy Pieces.

In a way, AyoubZadeh is designing for herself. Born in Iran, AyoubZadeh lived in Dubai, New Zealand and Australia before coming to Canada in 2007. She worked in finance before experimenting with her own initiatives, including a high-end luxury concept store that showcased emerging designers.

She says as an entrepreneur, she couldn’t wear the same five-inch heels she was donning in finance, but being very particular about her footwear – she’s always bought luxury shoes – she was dissatisfied with the more comfortable options available.

With her lifelong love of shoes, her studies into luxury retail, and her entrepreneurial drive, starting her own label just “made sense” – this, despite the fact AyoubZadeh admits she’s not a great artist and lacks a background in fashion or design.

How does she get past that? “I know what I want and I know what I like,” she explains. She starts with a studied sketch and an idea of who she’s designing for and what that woman is going to need to do in her shoes. A technical designer then refines the sketch. From there, she visits with a carefully selected manufacturer in southern Brazil who shares her ethics: fair wages, high quality, locally sourced and family-owned. She goes through as many prototypes with them as it takes to get just the right look.

Her latest design is a collection of pumps and boots inspired by Amelia Earhart, a woman AyoubZadeh admires for being a trailblazer.

Now AyoubZadeh, who is a client of the Futurpreneur program, is establishing her own trail and doing things her own way. One of those ways is to sell directly to customer, which means she gets feedback immediately and has total control of the customer experience, a very important aspect to her. It also means she can sell her shoes for less than the $600-$700 price tag she says they would retail for.

She says she was inspired by Warby Parker, of online eyewear fame, but doesn’t want to emulate anyone.

“I want to run our own race…. I want the company to grow at its own pace and I want it to be around in 100 years.”

She says she is grateful to be an entrepreneur in Toronto, where diversity is the rule rather than the exception. It’s a far cry from growing up in Nelson, New Zealand where she says her family members were the only Persians and everyone assumed she was Indian.

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