For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we spoke with Antonia Saint Dunbar, creator of Antonia Saint New York, a company that makes beautiful, classic heels and flats that feel like sneakers.  Tune in and hear more about how to launch a fashion company on Kickstarter and raise over 1.8 million dollars!

High-Tech Heels & Flats that Feel Like Sneakers Inside

Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How to build a great team for your crowdfunding project
  • How to provide a highly-customized product on Kickstarter
  • How to make the most out of a Kickstarter Live Stream
  • What to know before you launch a fashion project on Kickstarter
  • How to communicate about your product effectively

Links

Connect with Antonia Saint New York

Transcript

View this episode's transcript

Roy Morejon:

Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, President of Enventys Partners, the top full-service, turnkey product development and crowd funding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over $100 million for our clients since 2010. Each week I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding.

Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit and The Gadget Flow. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data and manage orders for fulfillment by automating your operations and helping you print and ship faster. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyers guide for luxury gadgets and creative gifts.

Now let’s get on with the show.

Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I am joined with Antonia Saint Dunbar, the co-founder and creator of the Antonia Saint NY. Antonia, thank you so much for joining us today.

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

Thank you for having me, I’m excited to be here.

Roy Morejon:

So Antonia, you are the co-founder, creator of multiple companies. What is the backstory here

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

Yeah, so the backstory. I think we would have to start with looking at the world through the eyes of being my father’s daughter, really. He was an industrial designer, worked for GM, a chief of design for 30 years. And he was always pointing out design flaws to me. Like, “This chair doesn’t work so well,” or “Look at how that bottle could have been designed differently.” And even taught in his retirement a industrial design class at Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. So I just had this kind of perspective that was unique.

And so back in 2010 when two co-founders of my company other people might know of, it’s called THINX. We actually make period-proof underwear for women. When we were up late at night talking about how women’s underwear sucks and the problems that we face there, it was my father’s DNA that turned alive inside of me and I was just like, “You’re right, it does suck and how could we make it better.” And somehow I just took the lead on creating that product and the seed of the idea that my co-founders had presented me with. A stain-resistant underwear was the idea. And I just built around that and made a product that was anti-microbial and moisture wicking and leak-proof where we needed it and absorbent where we needed it. And now that product’s selling all around the world.

Well fast forward now to 2014, I was wearing a pair of shoes that were the only pair in my closet cute enough and comfortable enough to get me through day and night. And I had like 60 pairs of shoes that I love, that were beautiful, but made me feel pain. And I again had that spark of DNA come alive inside of me and I was like, “This has to be done differently. There’s gotta be a better way.” And so I remember it was when I was walking to the THINX headquarters, which is all the way on the west side of the city in New York City, wearing this one pair of shoes, and I thought to myself, there’s technology in sneakers that makes them comfortable. Why can’t we put that same kind of technology, or riff on it a little bit and put it into a woman’s classic high heel or a classic flat.

And so that’s when the idea was born for Antonia Saint NY, I named it after actually my grandmother Antonia and my great-grandmother Santa Casessa, both immigrants from Italy. And it is my first and middle name. But I’ve created over the last two years a comfortable and beautiful high heel and flat that has hidden technology on the inside called a SoftSurround system that cushions and supports your foot and it’s now live on Kickstarter. We’re half way through the campaign and it’s doing incredibly well. We just surpassed this weekend a $550,000 goal. And it’s selling, we’re seeing people are backing us from around the world. Places like Singapore and Australia and other places.

So that brings us to today and Kickstarter again. I’ve done Kickstarter now, this is my second time. I did THINX on Kickstarter 2013 and here I am now in 2017 with Antonia Saint NY.

Roy Morejon:

Well the campaign is doing extremely well as you mentioned. Crossed over not only a half a million but trending towards a million. We’ve got thousands of backers for this campaign as you mentioned, from all around the world. What was the process in terms of going about creating these shoes? What was the process from start to finish? Or at least ’til launch day.

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

Yeah. So it was finding the right team in the beginning to help me bring this concept to life. I myself started with sketching out the concept and identifying how I wanted shoes to be different and how I wanted them to feel on my foot in areas that were pressure points for me, building in technology to actually make those points cushioned and supported.

And then I took that idea and found a few shoemakers here in New York actually affiliated with the Brooklyn Shoe Space in Brooklyn, and had them start making our first prototypes. And once I did that I brought the prototypes and our first insert design and upper design for the SoftSurround system to a leading podiatrist here in New York City on the upper east side, Dr. Suzanne Levine at the Institute Beaute. And she further consulted with me to identify most of the other major pain points that people face with their footwear.

And so we finalized the SoftSurround system and I am in the process of patenting it right now, it’s patent pending. And we found a production partner Otabo based in Minnesota that has factory networks throughout the world, and they are bringing our product to life. And we have the final prototypes with them now. And with the support of Kickstarter we are able to meet our minimum order quantities to get the first sets of shoes made.

And so our first style is a pointed toe, which is classically and traditionally a bit of a problem style, but much beloved. And we’ve taken that on and we’re doing a pointed toe flat and a pointed toe heel. The heel stands at about 3.5 inches, but feels much, much shorter because of the insert design and overall technology.

And I have a great team also here in New York. We’re based in Long Island City, the offices are in Long Island City just north of Brooklyn, and it’s eight of us strong. My co-founder is also the, he was the first angel investor in THINX, believed in the dream way before it was anything. And he’s my co-founder in this business, he was also our interim CFO for THINX and now he’s our CFO here. And also operations and does everything necessary. And he’s also my husband. So we have this company together. And it takes a team, it really takes a team to bring this whole dream to life. It’s never just one person.

Roy Morejon:

Certainly. So you had mentioned you’d done another campaign back in 2013. How did preparations for this campaign differ than that one? What were some of the lessons you’ve learned.

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

Right. So it’s an incredibly different experience this time through for the shoe company. With THINX that was my first Kickstarter and my first company. I was so green, I really just had such a steep learning curve. But I was the co-founder that [inaudible 00:08:07] the Kickstarter. I wrote the Kickstarter page, I did all the customer service, I interacted personally with everybody. And managed the full campaign from start to finish, nine months later actually from when the campaign ended to deliver everybody their product. So I really, really was very involved.

And again I’m again very involved. I wrote the Kickstarter page here again for the shoe company and I’m doing all the customer service again because I know the product so well and I know how to answer everyone in the best way. But we are creating a guidebook for customer service that our team can help craft and choose the right answers to get to them with, ’cause it is a full-time job. I mean, back in 2013 and here I’m on the email from early in the morning ’til midnight just writing people back. And that’s what it takes.

Facebook has grown, I’m finding, since 2013. There’s a community that already has popped up there because this time, unlike the first time, I actually have a marketing plan in place. So we have Facebook ads, and we have Instagram presence, and we’re already communicating with people in the global sphere beyond just Kickstarter. And I didn’t do that with THINX.

Another difference is just the management of the campaign in general. It’s great to have marketing support, and so important from the very beginning because for THINX it took us a full 40 days to get to $65,000 that we raised. We raised that amount of money for the shoe company within the first 72 hours. So it’s just been astronomically different. By being able to beat the drum and let people know that you exist, and get the attention to the campaign early on. So it’s been an amazing journey this time around where it hasn’t been like calling friends and family being like, “Please, get some underwear. And tell your friends and family about it.” It’s really been yes doing that, but opening it up to the worldwide stage from the very beginning. And it’s been really incredible to see.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah, I know our team has truly enjoyed working with you guys on this campaign as well. On your side, what’s been the biggest challenge so far that you’ve encountered with this campaign?

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

The biggest challenge so far with this campaign is, okay well, one thing that’s definitely something that we’re solving that other shoe companies are not doing. There’s a lot of things actually our company’s doing that’s different. One of the things we’re doing is that we are enabling people the ability to give us their measurements so that we can choose and also custom make as needed, a pair of shoes that are actually going to fit you.

And we’ve found through our research, and also just studying the marketplace, that people are about, there’s about 60% of us that have two different sized feet. Yet every shoe company makes you order one size for yourself. Or you have to buy two pairs of shoe, two sets of shoes to get the right fit. So for instance for me, I’m a size eight in my left, and a seven and a half in my right. So my right shoe will always be falling off or will be just perfect, and then it’ll be that my left that’ll be too tight, biting into me, giving me blisters and all of that. So that’s 60% of the population that has that issue.

So we actually have an ability to give people the better fit. So we’re also doing this through custom fitting. So to complete that thought, sorry. We are allowing people to order a separate size for each shoe, for each foot. So we have a split shoe box where you can order that seven and a half and that eight as you need and it comes to you as a complete set. But we’re going a step further. We’re offering the ability to do custom fittings. So right now behind the scenes is we have a fit [inaudible 00:12:11] that we’ve been putting together and we’re gonna be sending out to everybody, we’re gonna be taking people’s measurements.

But the biggest challenge we’re seeing is that people’s feet really are so unique. And people have come out of the woodwork and their sharing with us very personal stories about how they have a bunion, which is a bump on their right foot but not on their left and is it possible to really tailor those shoes differently. And they have a high arch in one foot, a collapsed arch in the other. They’ve got an issue where the swelling of the foot happens in just one leg and not in the other. Like it’s really amazing what people are faced with. And people don’t talk about their feet. They don’t really show their feet if they’re embarrassed by their feet. They’ve succumbed to just wearing orthotics or sneakers all day long.

And our shoe differentiate [inaudible 00:13:03] does look classic on the outside but because of our technology it’s not a hard dress shoe on the inside. It actually feels like a sneaker on the inside. When we product tested our shoes, people have actually told, our wearers have said spontaneously, without being prompted at all, “Oh my God, these feel completely unlike any dress shoe, they feel like a sneaker on the inside.

So our challenge is really just behind the scenes what people aren’t seeing is the organization that goes into categorizing people, getting the custom fit process set where we’re gonna be able to tailor on a production standpoint, you know, smaller batches for people, and really get this custom thing down. We did found in 2016 the Brooklyn Shoe Factory, based here in Brooklyn as a partnership with two of those shoe makers I mentioned before over at the Brooklyn Shoe Space. We have a facility now that is doing productions ever since we started for independent labels and bag makers and wallet makers, but primarily shoe makers. And it’s also a space that you can come and make your own products, but we produce for you. But we also set it up to be able to do the custom fit orders for the Antonia Saint New York brand. So we’re basically getting ready and getting those systems in place. So people aren’t seeing what’s going on behind the scenes, but that is a huge piece, and it’s definitely a challenge.

This is why manufacturers haven’t [inaudible 00:14:28] for so long done customization because it requires operational finesse, and production know-how, and we’re grateful that we have an incredible team that does have 30 years of production experience behind them. And we’re tapping into all the expertise to make it a seamless process for our Kickstarter backers.

So really any difficulties we reach on our end were communicating to the backer community that we are growing day by day, and I know that they’re in it to win it with us, and we are providing quite a personalized, customized experience. And we’re breaking the mold of how things have been done in the past. So I’m so grateful to the Kickstarter community for knowing that they’re part of building a company and that we’re breaking new ground together. And it is a process. You know, I [inaudible 00:15:16] not done with a few road bumps along the way, but we’re gonna do it, we’re committed to it. So the challenge is worth it.

Roy Morejon:

It seems it. I mean, obviously the communication that you’re having with your backers and getting all this insight into their pain points or pressure points if you will. I know that you’re communicating with them effectively and getting their feedback. And you did a live stream last week. Talk a little bit about that experience in terms of actually communicating on video with your campaigners and backers.

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

Yeah, that was really great. I loved, that’s another difference between 2013 and now, is you do have that ability to have a live stream presentation with your backers and with people that haven’t joined you. I mean, I even hear that press tunes in just to check you out and see who you are as a company and what you’re doing. So we had a, from what I understand, an incredible turn out. Normally you have like 40 people tune in where we had over 200 and the last I checked this morning, to see how many people had actually viewed it, it was over a thousand people had viewed it.

So the title of the campaign was Product Demo and How the Shoe Industry is a Racket. I titled it that because yes people want to see a demo of the shoe, so we definitely did that, we showed how our shoes are different. But we also showed how the shoe industry and what products they’re making us are really cutting corners and not providing us with the solutions we really need or want. And I demonstrated how you have this multi-billion dollar industry of orthotics and inserts and tapes and cushions and all these things that you can do to make your shoes actually wearable. But yet manufacturers could choose to from the very beginning to make them wearable. But that’s just not the business that they themselves have decided that they’re in.

So I’m educating people on how we need to demand more from our shoes and we shouldn’t accept essentially broken shoes that don’t work, that are not instruments for walking and moving through life. And I demonstrated that on the live stream and so it was a great way to get really deep in detail of how our shoe is different, how our shoe really does support you. But also educate people on how even beyond also the cushion, the lack of cushioning with the shoe, the shoes are also cheaply made. I demonstrated how heel tips pop off and how a woman’s classic heel on the outside will scrape and then you’re left with this beat up looking heel after just two wears. And I showed also how our shoes have been thoughtfully made with durable parts and construction to make it where it’s a durable shoe that will endure over time.

So live stream was a great opportunity to share all that. It was half hour, real quick. I was buzzing afterwards for the rest of the day because it was such a jolt of energy. And because it’s live stream people were able to also ask questions. And so we had a great Q&A at the end. I felt a little bit like I was on QVC. Where I would be like, and Sophia from such and such place, this question. And it was really engaging, it was really great, and I highly recommend it.

We’re gonna actually do another live stream to demo the custom fitting process, so stay tuned for that. And we may do another live stream as well with some other explanation of the shoe. As we go along and we have a more final version to show everybody.

Roy Morejon:

Oh, excited to see that. So in the spirit of education what advice would you give to someone else looking to kickstart their fashion project?

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

Yeah, and actually fashion or any category you choose. We [inaudible 00:19:07] the category of product design because we do feel like it is very much a change on the typical design of shoes. But for anybody [inaudible 00:19:16] definitely get your outreach ready in advance. Whatever list you can tap into, whether it’s people you’ve emailed or interacted with even on LinkedIn, like you want to share with them this new project [inaudible 00:19:29] created. Friends and family, get that all ready because you want to let them know that this project is now live and get ready to, you know, have people get ready to support it.

Have your key backers cued up for right when you go live so you can have a nice hockey stick kind of change in your backers. Because success begets more success. So people see that you’re actually selling your pre-orders of your product, more people will join. Get your press list ready, your blogger list ready, get that all ready.

And I can’t recommend enough a team like Enventys to have ready to help with your marketing and with your social media ads. People that, you know, a team that will help you write the ads, get them out there, identify your key audiences, and get the exposure you need on the worldwide stage. So all those things, definitely recommend.

And creating a product, creating an idea it really requires really strong storytelling. That’s something that we learned with THINX, how to communicate that product successfully. [inaudible 00:20:38] people [inaudible 00:20:39] their eyebrows raised, and they got it and they were able to communicate it clearly to their friends to get them to buy in. So having the right video and writing out a very compelling and concise Kickstarter page is very important. It doesn’t have to be incredibly well-produced, like the video quality should be good but it doesn’t have to be the best thing ever. Really storytelling is so key. Identify the problem and show how what you’ve created is a solution, that’s incredibly important.

Roy Morejon:

Excellent advice, Antonia. This is gonna get us into our launch round, where I’m gonna rapid-fire a handful of questions at you. You good to go?

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

Awesome. Yeah, I’m good to go.

Roy Morejon:

So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

What inspired me to be an entrepreneur is just seeing the world around me with the problems that were not being addressed. And as everything has been created by an individual, I knew that it was possible to be that individual myself. And my father would bring home products he had designed and show me ways in which they were working better. And in my childhood home growing up I had actually, this was back when my father worked for General Motors, back when they owned Frigidaire, and he worked on some of the projects where they did refrigerators and stoves and whole kitchens for Frigidaire. And so in my childhood home I had a stove and a refrigerator that my father had designed and made. And so I always knew that we could create things that this world would use and benefit from. So when it came to women’s underwear, when it came to women’s shoes, I knew that things could be done differently. So that’s definitely part of the inspiration of being an entrepreneur.

Roy Morejon:

If you could have a glass of wine with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

I would love to sit down, probably for me it’d be coffee or tea, but I would do a sit down for sure with Sarah Blakely. She’s been an entrepreneurial hero for me. She’s the founder of SPANX and she inspired me to write the patent for the company and for our first product. And just to lead the creation of the product. She had done it herself, she didn’t have a patent attorney in the beginning, she just sat down at the library with patent books and figured out how to write one. And I was inspired by that and I was like, you know, if she could do it, she was selling copy machines and she was also a comedian, doing stand up comedy in her free time.

And I was like, well I come from the world of public relations and advertising and I’m a classically trained cellist that also had a bit of a pop career, played with Carly Simon and John Forte of the Fugees. And it was like so if she could do it, and I’ve got this background then I can do it too. So I’d definitely love to sit down with her.

Roy Morejon:

What would be your first question for Sarah?

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

My first question for Sarah is, do you want to partner up and do something together? That’d be my first question for her.

Roy Morejon:

That is a good one.

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

It’s actually interesting, I have met her and it was pretty cool where I asked, I talked about my background with THINX and she was like, “Yeah, I totally know THINX.” So that was really great to hear from her, I loved that.

Roy Morejon:

What book would you recommend to our audience?

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

God, what book would I recommend to the audience. There are so many. You know, I would recommend just a genre of books really. I would recommend reading people’s stories of how they built their businesses. I loved learning about the Gilt Groupe, how that got built. I think it was called Invite Only. I also ready the founding of Juicy Couture. The founding, Tony Hsieh’s book [inaudible 00:24:19] Happiness, it’s about how he went about getting Zappos up and running. Like really reading about how businesses are made and how they fail, repeatedly, on the way to success.

I remember there was a time when with THINX we had about $10,000 left in the bank account and we really weren’t sure how we were gonna make payroll. And we were nine months in to landing an investor and if we didn’t land that investor it was gonna be done. So when you read stories like this that have been published about how companies got created and how they survived, you realize that the path to success is really paved with failure. So it’s very inspiring to read books like that of that genre.

Roy Morejon:

Last question in the launch round, what does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

The future of crowdfunding, goodness. I see it continuing. I see Kickstarter and Indiegogo continuing to lead the way and more people joining. I see companies with their whole business model built on crowd funding. I see that every product iteration that they make as a brand, they bring it to the crowdfunding community because it is such a great community to share your idea with and to get early supporters and early advocates. Yeah, I see it continuing.

And I see more people being empowered to bring their next great idea to life. This world needs more solutions. So if I could end with any message for your audience, I would encourage people to really look at the world around them, see their own place in the world and their own skillset and their own ideas, and just see what does the world need as a solution. What could I do to contribute? And see if you could bring an idea to life, ’cause this world really does need it. This world really does need more solutions, not more stuff, just more solutions.

Roy Morejon:

I agree. Antonia, this has been awesome. Please give our audience your pitch, tell them what you’re all about, where people should go, and why they should go get some high tech heels.

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

Awesome, yes. We are at Antonia Saint New York, where you can find a classic looking high heel or flat that looks classic on the outside but it feels like a sneaker on the inside. And you can find us at www.antoniasaintny.com, so it’s A-N-T-O-N-I-A-S as in Sam A-I-N-T New York, so N-Y dot com. And the Kickstarter is going live until September 3rd. There is an incredible discount right now in place, where we’re offering people a subsidized cost to the shoe. Greatly subsidized. And also including a custom fit service that’s a $70 value for free. We’re actually having technicians take a look at your measurements, analyze what the best fit will be for you, and create these shoes for you based on that data. So it’s a great time to join us. And you can also find us on all the socials @antoniasaintny. And reach out, we’d love to hear from everybody and anybody, every story and everybody’s feet are very important to us.

Roy Morejon:

Indeed. We all need somewhere to stand.

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

Yes, we do.

Roy Morejon:

Antonia, thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for all the show notes, the transcript, and links to everything we talked about today. And of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, The Gadget Flow, and BackerKit. Antonia, thank you so much for joining us today.

Antonia Saint Dunbar:

Thank you so much Roy, this has been a pleasure. Take care you guys.

Roy Morejon:

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business, world and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it, and of course if you love this episode a lot, leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/itunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs, and startups find this show, and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business.

If you need more hands on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on enventyspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in, and we’ll see you again next week.