Career Change Role Model: Catherine Owens


Catherine Owens is a woman of great feats, so to speak. Her successful business, Amber and Jade, designs and sells women’s shoes in larger sizes. A former winner of the Specsavers everywoman in Retail Leader of the Year Award, Catherine is in high demand – so we were lucky enough to find out about how she started her business, the struggles she’s faced, her career highlights to date and how she came to meet Gok Wan and step in front of the cameras!


Tell us a bit about your business?

I have size ten feet and could never find shoes to fit me. The selection of shoes on the high street was poor and due to how they were ‘scaled-up’, the few shoes I could find tended to be out of proportion and didn’t really do the job. Based on this, I started to design my own shoes from scratch, using a block of wood and a file to design the base. I started designing shoes that I always longed to wear. Soon enough, I found there was a need for shoes like the ones I was designing, hence Amber and Jade started trading officially four years ago.


How easy was it to start up your business?

First, I had to think of a unique name for the business. I wanted the name to create a bit of normality so intentionally have not used the words ‘big’ or ‘tall’ in the name. I wanted something more feminine so I wrote a list of random names to my friends, and ‘Amber’ and ‘Jade’ were both very popular which is where the title came from. I had my logo trademarked and set up my company name which was a simple process. The administration side of creating the company was also very straight forward. Creating a supply chain however was the difficult part. As a former professional microbiologist, I knew no one in the shoe industry, so I asked everyone around me if they had any contacts and then had the difficult task of persuading a factory to work with me. I never knew having a business could be so hard and, having launched at the start of the economic downturn, I have never really known what it is like to have a slightly easier ride.


What struggles and highlights have you faced in your business?

I’ve had numerous struggles – sometimes I do feel like I am bashing my head against a wall. Because it is such a niche market people probably think the product is very easy to sell however my product doesn’t always react well to market like other products do. People don’t expect to see what I offer so it often is a struggle.

Obviously on the plus side, winning the Specsavers everywoman in Retail Leader of the Year Award was a huge highlight, I was so shocked. It massively propelled me to reach people I wouldn’t otherwise have had contact with. It’s also an incredible feeling seeing customers happy when they wear my shoes as I’ve worked so hard to get where I am.


What are some of the tools you have used to market your business?

Word of mouth, through printed postcards – this way even if the women I target don’t have larger feet they can pass it on to a friend who does. I also use Google Analytics to help boost SEO. In terms of PR, I often host customer parties and I was delighted when Gok Wan asked me to be on his show ‘How to Look Good Naked’, which enabled me to tell the nation about my shoes. I do think that you have to believe in yourself and try different things to work out what works best for you. It could be having a blog or sending out a press release to a journalist – sometimes testing things to see what will work is the best route to choose.


What’s your advice on leading others and generally developing a business career?

Although I often work as a sole-trader, I believe that if you take the emotion out of leading people and get on with the tasks that need to be done, everything will run more smoothly. I also believe it’s important to reflect on what you do and what you have done – what some of your goals may be, what you intend to do in the future. It keeps everything in perspective. When things get really tricky – I go swimming. I find that really helps me clear the brain and gives me time to find solutions.


Catherine’s top ten business tips:

1. Don’t give up – whatever happens, others fall by the wayside so just keep going.

2. Enjoy your business – life is so short.  Whilst we all have bad days, in general make sure your business makes you smile, laugh and be happy

3. Financials first – always, always make sure the numbers add up or else your business won’t be around for long

4. Ask customers – they all have an opinion (good or bad) and you cannot survive without them, so ask them what they think

5. Try something new – if something isn’t working, be confident about trying something different and see if that works instead.  No one really knows (even if they tell you they do!) until it happens

6. Help others like those who help you – I couldn’t have done this without the kindness of others and so I try and help others in a similar way

7. Take emotion out of business – emotions require time, energy and may interfere with a task at hand.  In your personal life I think they are crucial and wonderful.  Yet in business I find they can often be a hindrance so try and remove them and instead be more factual and subsequently more practical

8. Have a decent hair cut regularly – first impressions count.  Seriously, bad and unkempt hair is a big no for customers and suppliers, I think having a good hair cut is hugely under-rated

9. Swim regularly – not just any sport but there is something about swimming and concentrating on a blue line at the bottom of a pool that clears your mind and solutions suddenly become obvious

10. Have a day off – even occasionally switch off all technology and be free!



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