John: I’m here with entrepreneurs Robert Yeganeh and his business partner for Destina Way, Fred Levy. Thank you, guys, for talking with me. You have some amazing things happening that our readers want to know about. But first, can you tell us what brought you guys together?
Robert: I’ve known Fred for a number of years, close to 40 years, and for all those years, he has been one of my closest friends. He was one of the first people I met in the shoe business and I’ve been doing business with him ever since.
Fred comes from a background of great shoemaking with a wealth of retail and wholesale experience. About four or five years ago he took a back-seat position in the shoe business, as I did too. I went into real estate and he went into retirement. Now he is playing golf and having lunch and dinners, dating and all that stuff that he didn’t do because he was working very hard for all those years. When I had this idea for Destina Way, I couldn’t think of anybody better than Fred. At first, he rejected me. I called him four times and he said he didn’t want to have anything to do with the shoe business. He said he had packed it in, all his skeletons were in the closet and the door is locked. I insisted that he hear me out because I knew that Destina Way was a good idea. Even though I was also out of the shoe business, I knew there was great potential. After some effort, he finally let me tell him my vision behind Destina Way. His response was that it gave him purpose and reason to get back into the shoe business because it really, although it’s a small group, it helps this group solve a long-time problem, a dilemma, that nobody had a solution for previously.
John: Tell us what is that problem, what is the group and what is the dilemma?
Fred: What we are talking about, what our mission is, is to provide transgender women with the opportunity to find beautiful women’s shoes in their sizes. The problem is that they cannot now find shows that properly fit their feet. There are not a lot of women’s shoes that are made in large sizes or wide sizes. It so happens that my background, and the background of some of my customers, have been in the large and wide women’s shoe market. I was used to developing and designing products to fit that market, so it wasn’t a big jump to this concept of transgender sizes.
John: It seems like you two are perfect for this.
Fred: Well, one of my issues was when I tried these shoes on in China for a fit test and model them in China to work on them, I found there were no women in China who had sizes similar to women with bigger and wider feet. So, I used to get a guy from my factory who would come in and be my shoe model. This is what put the idea in my head that this could be a solution to a problem in the transwomen world.
It so happens that our original mission and what we are trying to create subsequently turned into solving a problem for all women with big and wide feet. What we want to do is provide these women with beautiful fashionable women’s shoes that are of high-quality. That’s our mission and what the idea has evolved to at this point.
John: So, all the women who have larger and wider feet are having issues finding quality shoes. I’ve heard before that gender fluid women essentially have nowhere to turn to. Now, you are designing products specifically for them.
Fred: Yes, precisely.
John: When are you guys going to officially launch? Because I know this is something you’ve been working on and it’s an exciting prospect to know that two entrepreneurs are going up against these gigantic manufacturers. Are you concerned about the competition? Because I know that you guys have fought against or competed against these companies in the past, but are you concerned at this moment in time?
Robert: You know, there’s always competition. We found the angle to do something that’s never been done, and that angle is to design shoes around the measurements of a man’s foot. We took that concept and came up with something unique for our shoes and the development of this concept did take a long time.
The website looks like it is ready any day. We’ve successfully trademarked with the U.S. government and our brand is registered with Amazon. Walmart has welcomed us with open arms and we are ready to launch with them. It looks like around October 15th we will have all our ducks in a row and be ready to launch it.
John: That’s amazing! I think what you’re doing is tremendous because I know, having worked with some gender-fluid women at the hospitality ball, that they do have issues finding shoes. Many have tried to make them at home by converting men’s shoes to something more feminine them, but it never really works.
Fred: One of the things that Robert keys in on, is that our shoes are manufactured with men’s construction, so they are automatically built for a wider and larger foot. Our competition generally takes a different approach, they will take a woman’s construction, development or design of a woman’s shoe and just make them two sizes larger so that men’s feet can fit into them. The problem with that is that the shoes do not fit comfortably because the design only provides for the girth to allow the man’s foot to fit into it. It’s then too long, the heel slips and it doesn’t hit the ball of the foot correctly, or the arch correctly, so it’s not something you could wear all day. You put it on, but within a half hour to an hour your feet are killing you and you have to take the shoes off. We’re trying to develop shoes that are comfortable all day long, easy to wear and most of all beautiful and fashionable.
John: And where can people find your shoes and order them?
Robert: Right now, they’re on Amazon. I can also provide the link to the Amazon store. We aren’t going to sell to brick and mortar stores, or wholesale. We’re trying to build the brand to become a lifestyle brand for our followers because they also have other needs.
John: Now you both have significant history in the shoe business. For our readers, Robert, why don’t you share a little bit about you and your history?
Robert: Sure. I come from the world of working extremely hard in flea markets. I always had that niche of being that kid that sold leather shoes in the flea market. This is going back like 35 years ago, because everything in the flea market was seen as easy, or it was seen as a bargain hunting place. Then I was there selling leather shoes and it was a big deal. So, I developed that business for about seventeen years and branded it as “Love My Shoes”.
I was one of the very first vendors that actually had a self-service shoe style. I had the sample sizes out and below it I had all the sizes. I had nice wide aisles, the way DSW has it now, but I thought of it in 1996. I built that business to be a very successful brand, with seven stores that did somewhere north of $9 million a year. I was also the fifth shoe website in the world, way before Amazon, before Steve Madden, before Zappos. I launched my website in 1999 and it put me on the map with a brand that was very junior and very easy to shop. I had everything from the brand, at about $100, to the knockoff of the brand which I discounted about 30% to $29.99.
John: How about you Fred? What is your claim to fame?
Fred: My background is different than Roberts. I started my career in finance and banking, eventually ending up in my family business. At the time it was growing rapidly with retail, wholesale and importing. We needed somebody who could take the organization in an appropriate direction of the business. What I found out, after a short time, while doing some long-term planning and thinking about the future of that business, was that I had a knack for shoe design and development. My partner at the time was going to China and that seemed to be the plan for shoes in the future. I was involved in cleaning up and for continuing the development of our product in Europe, namely Italy and Spain. I then got involved with some factories in South America, Chile and Brazil. There was no shoe making 101 that I took in college. It was all learning on the job, in the factory while making the shoes. Again, I found I had a knack for that and the shoes that I developed in these factories were tremendously successful. I don’t think I can guess the number of pairs we may have sold in 40 years of doing business.
What we realized was that the shoes from South America did better than our shoes from China. I was then assigned the task of developing shoes out of China as well, and that was successful. So, my background is different from Robert’s. Our business had retail stores, chains of retail stores, which were big customers of our imported brand, Pazzo. We were successful at selling them all over the country. It’s different from Robert’s background, but it’s the same time it is synergistic. Robert has tremendous marketing and promotion expertise, as well as knowledge and understanding of shoes, he’s got an amazingly great eye for shoes. Whereas my background comes from design and development and knowing how to build shoes for a specific part of the market. Put us together and I think we’re a dynamite duo.
John: I couldn’t agree with you more and I wish you much success. We will definitely follow up with you and I’m sure that all of our readers will want to know where this goes. Good luck with your project and I wish you all of the success with it.
Categories: Destina Way, John Dowling Interviews, LGBT, Transgender Shoes
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