I met JillanAimable, the founder of Shoeaholics, earlier this year when we were both speakers at a social media conference. After delivering my talk on ‘Self Promotion In A Social Age’ and doing all the presenters’ promotional shots, I got a chance to have a brief, meaningful conversation with Jillan. I knew in that moment I wanted to know more about her journey and also introduce you to the face behind the populare, Trinidad based, Shoeaholics brand.
Jillan is hilarious, matter-of-fact about her success and fierce in her belief that her brand’s growth comes simply from a place of service and the need to bring change to underserved communities (yes, I’ve learned it is possible to do that with shoes).
This conversation is heartfelt and full of deep reflection, did I mention, this mom of two is also very funny? Read on to see why I have so much respect and admiration for Jillan, the CEO of a fast rising retail empire who once could not afford the shoes she saw in the store windows.
Your mom worked in people’s homes as a helper. Was she concerned at all about the risks you took at first, going out on your own as an entrepreneur given that you had what she called a “good” job?
She literally had a heart attack. It was difficult convincing her that I was doing the right thing because in her head she had worked all her life with one objective: to send me to school so I could get my degree. She felt like I was throwing my education away. I know parents just want the best for their children; at times however they don’t always understand that the world they taught us to live in no longer exists.
How did she put aside her fears?
I think she and Jesus trashed that out. There was some kind of conversation. She is pretty ok now.
Did you ever think when you started Shoeaholics you’d eventually grow to 9 stores?
The way I see it, these locations were calling for the service and we simply provided it so I’ve never viewed our growth from a boastful place, rather I come from a place of gratitude. Our branches are really simply nine places that we are privileged to provide a service to, a service that no one else in the country offers – specialized sizes and styles at a great price that are designed and manufactured by me and my team.
Ok, so I must ask with so many shoe stores in the country, why did you think we needed another one?
The country didn’t have a Shoeaholics. We are not just a shoe-store, we do not purchase shoes wholesale and resell locally. We are a design company that manufactures, distributes and retails a product that is not found anywhere else in the world simply because we made it especially for our local and regional customers.
We’re often told we’re not our work, that we are more than our work. What kind of relationship do you have with work?
Work is my baby but of course when I had my own children, I had to redesign my love affair with it. I have found new ways to work, sometimes I do a lot of stuff just from my phone.
I think it’s terrific that we don’t have to be tied to one location to produce results in our business. What may not be so terrific is people’s expectation when they first meet you. Have you encountered ageism, people thinking you’re too young to have built so much?
I actually take it as a compliment. It catches them off guard. I have had people ask for my dad when faced with a meeting with me.
Ahhh yes, that split unexpected moment before they school their faces. I have to ask tenaciousness or passion? Which is more important to you in your business and why?
I have always had an innate passion for what I do, so when I’m consistent, it doesn’t seem like work, its not an effort. If an obstacle comes, I don’t take it personally. I’m always reminded that “no journey or effort is ever too much when one searches for that which makes her soul happy.”
Do you think tenaciousness is built when one grows up with a lot of ambition but not a whole lot of money?
Maybe. I grew up in a working class home. I know what it is like to only be able to window shop, to have a million ideas of what I want to wear and how I want to wear it and have a wallet that tells me it’s best to keep my thoughts to myself. Determination is born in moments like that.
Shoeaholics has over 92,000 followers on Facebook, tell us your strategy for such fast growth on social media?
It’s all about the team. I have been blessed to have people who share my dream and vision walk into my life, stay and add extreme value. We focus on the current styles. We try to post content that we find interesting and would appeal to our demographic. We still have a lot to learn and we take steps to grow every day.
How many people are there on the Shoeaholics social media team?
Well there’s me and my husband, we have a photographer and Kyra, one of our team leaders, has adopted social media as her baby. The rest of the team comprises my admin staff. Everyone plays whatever role is necessary for the company to get great content to our followers on a daily basis.
How do they go about planning and distributing content on your digital platforms?
We create content that is important to us and relevant to our customers. It can be content about our shoes, behind the scenes views of our work, our customers, staff, events. Our rapport is ongoing and we make things fun. We are a fashion based brand so our feeds reflect that.
Let’s switch gears for a moment. Was there ever a pivotal moment in your business when you thought should I quit or keep going?” Obviously, you’re still going, but was there a moment you wanted to quit?
I get these moments every month, every time i see my rent bill!
I think many people are shaking their heads saying yes right this moment. What’s the biggest hurdle you had to cross in your business?
Getting pregnant and learning how to balance a difficult pregnancy was definitely one. Now there’s being a mom of two with a hectic work schedule. However I am not unlike any woman from all walks of life trying to find the fine line to walk and be happy and comfortably successful in all my roles.
Are you thinking about other islands for the Shoeaholics brand?
I think about them every day; the beach is my happy place. But seriously, we are in talks with some players in other islands as well as other parts of the world but we are just talking for now.
What does your mom think of your entrepreneurial spirit now?
She still thinks I’m nuts but she mostly is obsessed with her grandkids at the moment. She doesn’t have much time to bother with me at all.
Do you have a “pinch myself moment” that you care to share?
You know, I never went into this business with any milestone in mind. This was my passion and I took a leap of faith. I’m grateful to God every day for the husband that I chose who fully supports every move I make. My family, my team members, who is actually my extended family, have allowed me to build something bigger than all of us. I feel like we are still building.
I guess I really pinch myself when I recognise each time how people sharing a same vision can shift and create impact in a long established industry.