In a world where vampire facials and sky-high stilettos can still secure buyers, are the concepts of “fashion” and “comfort” mutually exclusive? For FRANKiE4 founder Caroline McCulloch they were: until she created a company that bridged that gap.
“When treating patients, it was difficult to refer them to comfort footwear styles I wouldn’t want to wear myself – it felt hypocritical,” the qualified podiatrist and physiotherapist tells Collective Hub. “[In my profession], footwear could not be separated from my treatment. If I was to provide the best care to my patients, I needed to get their foundation [footwear] right. But the options of comfort shoes were ghastly.”
I do believe fear, if harnessed well, can keep you on your toes, but keep you well and truly grounded at the same time.
In fact, it was this realisation, seen through the eyes of one of her devastated patients, that gave Caroline the final push to start a brand that created supportive, comfortable shoes without the street cred of Crocs.
“It was the day a patient nearly cried when I was showing her some comfort shoes that would be great for her treatment, that I made the decision to look into designing my own styles,” she says.
For the first three years of FRANKiE4, the now-thriving footwear company Caroline subsequently founded in 2010 with her podiatrist husband, Alan, the new company “sucked every cent” of profit from their well-established podiatry business. Although the drawcards of FRANKiE4 shoes are obvious – being both orthopaedically sensitive and fashionable, as well as each pair having a patented custom-fit system that can be adapted according to foot dimensions, swelling and other podiatric conditions – it wasn’t a sure thing from day dot.
“I operated at a huge loss in the beginning,” Caroline confesses. That loss wasn’t half as harrowing as the advice she received from a respected industry stalwart – a former VP of Adidas Australia and Asia who, upon closer look at the couple’s juggling of podiatry clinics and growing footwear business, served up some cold, hard counsel.
“He told me that if I did not give up FRANKiE4, it would send me so broke I would have to sell my son’s high chair,” she says. “The comment felt like it sucked the oxygen out of my lungs, and though I contained myself during the meeting, I had a panic attack shortly after.”
“I remember crying and crying that night, feeling so stupid and embarrassed that I had put my family at such a financial risk. I thought I had quit that night, I went to bed wondering how I was going to tell the handful of stores that stocked FRANKiE4 that we were done, finished, that there would be no next range.”
But a flash of determination woke the founder at 2am, brimming with ideas that she subsequently scribbled on a whiteboard, ready to incorporate into her business the very next day.
“That morning I rolled up my sleeves and kept going. Perhaps from then, I operated with a sense of fear. I do believe fear, if harnessed well, can keep you on your toes, but keep you well and truly grounded at the same time.”
The high chair is well and truly safe, Caroline confirms. Manufacture of FRANKiE4 shoes has jumped from 200 in 2010 to 70,000 this year, and the company turned over just under $5.5 million dollars last financial year. This financial year, FRANKiE4 is on track to exceed a $10 million dollar turnover. They’re also poised to raise an impressive $10,000 for BrainChild Foundation before the end of 2017.
“I’m a different person now to who I was back then in that meeting room,” Caroline says. “Naysayers only feed my determination and motivation now. I didn’t feel confident then, but I’ve learnt to trust my gut.
“Some of the biggest decisions I’ve made based on pure ‘gut feeling’ have ended up being some of the best decisions we have made for the business. 2016 was a year of backing myself and my product and I’ve never been happier. 2017 has been our best year yet. Bring on 2018.”