Fashion AND function. Shoe designer Caroline McCulloch shares her why
Watching women’s disappointment when she prescribed therapeutic shoes for their problematic ankles and feet inspired Brisbane podiatrist Caroline McCulloch to create a range of footwear that’s as stylish as it is comfortable.
Can shoes feature in fashion spreads as well as therapeutic footwear’ catalogues? Yes, if they’re FRANKiE4s by Queensland physiotherapist and podiatrist-turned-shoe-designer Caroline McCulloch.
Launched in 2010, the FRANKiE4 range includes stylish lace-ups, boots, sandals and casual slip-ons, manufactured to McCulloch’s own designs.
Being able to offer clients suffering from feet and ankle issues with footwear that looked as good as it felt was the reason for McCulloch’s shift into shoes – and women around the country have voted with their feet.
Named in honour of a much-loved family dog, the FRANKiE4 range is available online and in more than 90 stores and podiatry practices around Australia.
Stepping outside the comfort zone
Podiatrists by profession, McCulloch and her husband Alan own two clinics in Brisbane. They stocked a range of functional footwear from the get-go but getting female patients to enthuse about the options on offer used to be a tough ask, according to McCulloch.
“I always viewed footwear as part of my trade and had a good handle on what was available,” she says.
“Time after time, I would hear women complaining about the look of what was on the market, in the comfort shoe range. I would prescribe footwear and know my patients didn’t love what they bought.
“They couldn’t deny they felt better, that the shoes took away their pain and helped them, but they had a real problem with how they looked in them.
“That was the whole reason I started FRANKiE4 – so patients could feel confident in the shoes they were wearing.”
Fashion and function
Rather than employing a professional designer, McCulloch opted to back her own ability to create shoes that would have women walking out the door with smiles on their dials – despite having no background in the fashion or footwear trades.
“It wasn’t a snap decision,” she says. “I thought about it and thought about it, the feedback I was getting from patients, and eventually I said to my husband, ‘we should try making our own’.”
After her initial designs received a positive response from patients and other podiatrists, McCulloch took a financial leap of faith and placed her first large order with a Chinese manufacturer in 2011, for a production run of 4,800 pairs.
Fast forward seven years and the business is producing two ranges a year, with more than 30 lines in each.
Finding the funds to expand
Trade finance from NAB has provided FRANKiE4 with the means to expand rapidly and keep up with the orders.
“We weren’t with NAB initially but it got to the point where each season we’d show the range to our stockists and the orders would come back bigger each time,” McCulloch says.
“We had huge growth but rather than me being excited, I was actually terrified. I would crunch the numbers and be like, ‘how am I going to afford all these shoes?’
“That’s when we started talking to NAB. Our local business banker came down to our store and had a look around and we’ve been working together ever since! Each season as the orders increase we catch up and, if we need to, increase the trade finance to match.
“Having NAB on board has meant I can focus on the footwear and the marketing and getting the orders in, without having to stress about that aspect of operations. They are financially backing us, it’s a partnership and they are helping us grow this business.”
Getting it right
FRANKiE4’s rapid expansion has validated McCulloch’s belief that there was a gap in the market for women’s footwear that marries fashion and function – but that’s not what drives her to keep building her one-time shoestring venture.
“There’s something pretty satisfying about looking at all the amazing feedback we get about our shoes – on social media and via email, and from stockists and our own patients,” she says.
“I feel like I’ve been able to use my professional skills to help many more people than I could if I were just treating people in my clinic from day to day.
“Having women put on the shoes and go, ‘Oh my gosh! I love these shoes! I love how they look and I love how they feel!’ that’s the whole goal of FRANKiE4 and that’s what’s kept us doing what we do.”