Dressed for a formal fall wedding in fabulous Louis Vuitton heels a few years ago, designer Holly-Dale Shapiro stepped out of a limousine into an ankle-deep puddle. That cold, wet shock inspired a business idea so instantly that she was able to pitch it to her dining companions at the reception. One of them, who worked in the hardware industry, told her it sounded like a pretty good idea. “That was enough for me,” Shapiro says. She spent the next 7 years developing a plan to bring back the overshoe.
This spring, the sprightly 68-year-old New Yorker, whose design career has included pages for Playboy and Esquire, costume jewelry for Givenchy, baby hats, t-shirts, and office spaces, launched Go Go Golosh, a colorful, contemporary line of galoshes for fashion-conscious women.
Only people of a certain age will even know what galoshes are. A search for the term on Zappos’ website finds more than 500 varieties of rubber rainboots, not an overshoe among them. But Shapiro’s Go Go Goloshes are nothing like your grandfather’s practical black rubbers. And though she considers rocketing sales of Wellies to be a sign that there’s room for her in the foul-weather apparel market, she is not trying compete with the Hunter boots that trendy kids splash around in.
Instead, she says, Go Gos are for the sophisticated urban woman who wants to walk to the office or the theater in her designer shoes, instead of carrying them in a bag while wearing clunky boots. Shapiro was encouraged, during her product development in 2011, by a Wall Street Journal article that sympathized with her point of view. The writer heralded the return of the galosh, citing a 65 percent surge in sales of Tingley’s stretch-rubber overshoes in 2010.
Shapiro’s lightweight zip-up waterproof booties with slip-resistant soles can be worn over stilettos, ballet flats, or other dress shoes, or rolled up and stuffed into their own pouch for storage in a handbag or suitcase. She calls the galoshes, which retail online for $99 a pair, “fashion’s answer to foul weather.”
And she bet her retirement savings to bring them to market. Shapiro jokes that she won’t name the amount she invested in her venture, for fear her husband will find out. But suffice to say, despite being “very bottom line-oriented, very aware of costs, and trying to save on materials,” she put more cash into her bootstrapped operation than she had imagined she would.
“To redesign a product is a much bigger deal than I thought it would be,” she confesses. “I figured I could just find somebody to make it, but it was a far greater challenge.”
She had an early design prototype made on a 3D printer, but says it was hard rubber, like a sneaker. “I wanted it made out of softer, more pliable material, in order to fold it.” So, through online design chatrooms, she contracted a couple of West Coast designers who had worked for Nike and Adidas to make a new model. From there, she says, “we made lasts (mechanical forms), but we redid that a few times.” Finally, a Queens, NY, company specialized in fixing major shoe manufacturers’ mistakes, helped her reduce her design from an eight-piece pattern to three pieces that could be laser cut for assembly to save on labor.
Shapiro’s next major feat was to find a production manufacturer. She says she tried hard for a Made-in-the-U.S.A. label, and identified manufacturers in California, Missouri, and Wisconsin. But, not only were their fees too high to translate to a reasonable retail price, but none could guarantee that the product would be 100 percent waterproof.
“What do you need a galosh for if it’s not waterproof?” Shapiro quips. So, she resorted to a Chinese manufacturer. U.S. duties designed specifically to discourage the import of waterproof items cost Shapiro 37.5 cents on every dollar she spends overseas, but it’s still cheaper than making them at home.
“It was very costly to do the development, but the hardest point is spending that money to get the first batch made. It’s a do-or-die situation,” she says. “You have to be willing to lose as much as you want to gain.”
Her first 5,000-pair order arrived in November 2013, and today, Go Go Goloshes are available in a half dozen specialty stores across the country, including the upscale Upper East Side Manhattan pharmacy Zitomers, and at the Go Go Golosh website.
What’s next for the first-time business owner who calls herself a member of the “new silver tsunami” of entrepreneurs? “There are very few great-looking rain hats out there. There could be some really fabulous ones.”