How a Mother of Two Turned Her Passion for Helping Children Into a Luxury Shoe Brand

For Elona Appleby, inspiration is everywhere.

Among her influences are her Albanian mother, who was the first in her village to own custom-made shoes; a chance viewing of a fight between two women over the last pair of boots in a store; and the arrival of her sons. All had a hand in the birth of her footwear label, James Carletons.

Launched in 2015 and funded solely by
Appleby and her husband, Charles, the made-in-Italy women’s brand is named after their two sons, Charles Carleton, 7, and James Cooper, 3.

“I remember rocking my first son in my arms after he was just born — and I knew I wanted to do something for myself and have a purpose, and that’s when I started looking into [creating footwear],” said Appleby, a former business manager at Estée Lauder. “I didn’t pull the [trigger] right then, but when I was pregnant with my second, I dove in and learned everything about manufacturing and trade.”

elona appleby james carletons
Designer Elona Appleby, founder of James Carletons shoes.
CREDIT: Courtesy

Though she didn’t have formal training and experience, Appleby diligently searched for factories in Italy that could execute her vision of quality-crafted “classic yet sexy” shoes for the 20- to 60-year-old “everyday businesswoman.”

Ultimately, she selected a partner who she said has become like family. “We send each other [casual] emails all the time, and sometimes they’ll [message] me to check in if one of the kids is sick,” Appleby said.

The family theme continues at every turn. Immediately after its soft launch for fall ’15, James Carletons landed in C Dobbs boutique in Corona del Mar, Calif. “[The owner], Carol Dobbs, and I met while I was in New York [showing the line] and fell in love with each other,” Appleby recalled, noting they now have a close bond. “We’ve been in that store since the beginning, and we’ve been selling well, and we’re the only shoe line in there.”

James Carletons shoes
A style by James Carletons.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

James Carletons — which retails from $300 for flats to $1,100 for some bridal styles — launched its e-commerce site in August and has also been picked up by Newport, Calif.-based boutique The Passionate Collector.

And true to its inspirations, the brand also has a charitable hook. “Our mission is to give 10 percent of all proceeds to orphanages around the world,” Appleby said. Last year, it donated about $4,000 to children’s hospitals.

James Carletons shoes
A bridal style by James Carletons.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand
african american hipster girl choosing clothes Sponsored By Accenture

ESG’s Next Big Step

Accenture's Jill Standish shares insights into how ESG requires investments and is simply good for business.
Learn More

Access exclusive content