Jessica Haley’s homegrown business has hit the big time.
Seeking a creative outlet, the Houston mom created Joyfolie, a small line of handmade girls’ shoes that launched in 2008 and sold through Etsy and Haley’s own website. Word spread quickly, though, and the line eventually caught the eye of major retailers including Anthropologie and Piperlime.com, both of which added the brand this fall. “We’re a young company, so we were amazed they found us among all the other brands out there,” Haley said. Joyfolie also is sold in select boutiques, and the company continues to operate a bustling e-commerce business.
To keep up with growing demand, Haley found an overseas factory that began mass-producing her line this past summer. Retailing from $52 to $86, Joyfolie shoes and boots come in sophisticated silhouettes and are detailed with feminine, vintage-inspired fabrics and embellishments. The shoes, available in sizes 4 to 13, are sold in cloth bags with a matching hair clip.
Hoping to reach a wider audience, Haley plans to add larger sizes and take the Joyfolie brand into other categories beyond shoes. She also is targeting international distribution in key markets including the U.K., Australia and Asia. “We want to build Joyfolie into a global brand,” she said.
Here, Haley talks about getting those big breaks and staying true to her vision.
It can be difficult for new brands to break in, but you landed some big accounts rather quickly. What has contributed to Joyfolie’s success?
JH: A lot of it has to do with the uniqueness of our shoes. Some of the looks we offer you really can’t find anywhere else. A lot of brands look to see what’s trendy and follow that, but we don’t want to make another “me too” product. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but we follow a different philosophy and seek to create something that’s different and unique. When I design, I actually try not to look at other shoes for inspiration. Instead, I look at things in life, whether it’s a beautiful room or a wedding bouquet, and I try to capture elements of those and incorporate them into a shoe.
How important has social media been for building buzz?
JH: It’s really been a driving force for our business. [Online pinboard] Pinterest has done amazing things for our exposure. Piperlime actually found us there, which surprised me. And our shoes get picked up and talked about on the blogs quite regularly. We also have our own [lifestyle-driven] blog, which attracts 100,000 unique visitors each month. The blog has been a way to not only keep connected with our customers and hear feedback from them but to tell the stories behind our shoes. It helps people see that we’re doing something thoughtful, that we’re not this big, faceless company.
Joyfolie shoes have a lot of special details. Since transitioning to mass production, have you had to compromise on your designs?
JH: At first, I didn’t think we could find a factory that could make our shoes and achieve the level of detail we wanted. I was told no a lot. I kept hearing things like, “Nobody puts shoes in bags,” and “Nobody lines their shoes in the organic cotton you want to use.” But I had a strong vision and I held to it. It was very important that the textures and details of the shoes did not become watered down and look mass-produced. We finally found a factory that really got our look and what Joyfolie is all about.
There is a lot of consumer interest right now for artisan, vintage-inspired brands such as Joyfolie. Why is that?
JH: People love products with an interesting story behind them. It makes them more special and it gives them meaning. For example, last holiday we used these amazing vintage buttons that were made in Austria when the country was under occupation during World War II. We actually stitch a card onto the front of all our shoe bags that has a little story about what inspired [the shoes] and how they were made.
What’s next for Joyfolie?
JH: We’re planning to introduce a women’s line. We had hoped to launch it this fall, but certain opportunities opened up with our children’s line that have taken most of our focus, and we want to make sure we’re in a position to do it well. The shoes will come in these vintage-inspired hat boxes I am designing right now. We’re also exploring [other] categories. It’s a natural extension to offer some other items to complement our footwear. When I design the shoes, I picture them within a head-to-toe look. So we’d like to build in some great accessories and apparel pieces, such as jackets and dresses.