Neely Powell, CEO and founder of Charleston Shoe Company was born to be a business owner. “An entrepreneurial spirit runs in my family,” Powell tells HER Magazine. “I was fortunate enough to come from very inspiring parents – unknowingly, I grew up in the wings of two very charismatic salespeople and entrepreneurs.”
Powell had a front-row seat as her father built the Little Palm Resort & Spa in the Florida Keys from the ground up. “I lived there year-round – we were the only family to do so as it was strictly a resort.” As a result, she learned the nuts and bolts of the family business, including how to entertain clients and develop her social skills, and also learned how to develop the level of discipline required to be an entrepreneur.
In 1996, Powell and her mother were shopping in Mexico and they each purchased a pair of shoes from a cobbler. Powell was impressed with the comfort and style of the shoes. “Before long, I was bringing home suitcases full of shoes – and then truck loads full of shoes.” Although her mother’s wholesale designer company, Worlds Away, sold furniture and accessories, Powell started adding shoes to the mix, and demand quickly exceeded supply. “Women were swarming for comfortable shoes to put on their tired feet after shopping the market, and the next thing I knew, I had wholesale accounts across the country.”
After graduating from college, Powell decided to also enroll in the Savannah College of Art & Design in Savannah, GA, to learn more about the shoe design process. The next year (2010), she opened her first store in Savannah, aptly named the Savannah Shoe Company. The same year, Powell also opened the Charleston Shoe Company in Charleston, SC.
Fast-forward to 2018, and the Charleston Shoe Company includes 14 retail stores – with plans to open more stores this year. The company also sells shoes on its website, boasts over 300 wholesale accounts, and includes a thriving trunk show/home shoe division.
Powell describes Charleston Shoes as classic and stylish, but yet comfortable, and says they are designed for women of every age and lifestyle. “Our tag line is ‘Cobblestones to Cocktails’ because our shoes provide all-day comfort that will take you from day to night.”
And, since most of the line is designed with rubber soles and elastic uppers, she says they can provide a custom fit. “They are made to support almost any foot width, from ultra-narrow to wide, plus they are bunion-friendly.”
Powell’s brand has evolved over the years, and although the shoes are young and hip, she’s proud that they are still timeless classics. “We haven’t conformed to trends and I think that has helped separate us from other brands,” she explains. “I’ve seen a huge shift in women, of all ages, who desire to wear shoes that are comfortable yet fashionable, and Charleston Shoes meets that need.”
To other women entrepreneurs, Powell offers this advice. “Do not give up,” she says. “Stay very focused on your work ethic in the beginning, because that focus will get you to where you want to be and beyond.”