Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Be Nice to Your Feet: An Alumna's Solution to Walking in Heels

**Would you like a free pair of CitySlips? Check out our Facebook page for details by 4/5/13 at noon.**

As a student at NYU, Susie Levitt (CAS '10) was always on her way somewhere--walking to class, to an internship, or a night out on the town--all while wearing a pair of high heels. 

Rather than compromising on fashion, Susie did what any entrepreneur would do: invented a solution. 

NYU Arts & Science Alumni Relations: How did you come up with the idea for CitySlips? 

Susie Levitt: Having lived in New York as an NYU student, I was oh-so-familiar with the pain caused by pointy pumps and strappy stilettos. My love/hate relationship with these fashion icons wasn’t helped by the fact that I stand no taller than 5’2” and despite my suffering, I was simply unwilling to (totally) give up on these beloved wardrobe staples. And yet, corporate internships, subway dashes, NYC social scene… all of the above led to too many moments of hobbling, near tears, back to my dorm on 14th street. The front door never seemed to come soon enough. One too many encounters with shoeless socialites and barefooted babes led to the “AH HA” moment and the idea of CitySlips was born.

CitySlips are based on the notion that high heels look great, but kill your feet. They are foldable ballet flats that come in a convenient travel case, making them perfect for commuting, weddings, nightlife, travel, and more. The best part? After making the decision to switch from skyscraper stilettos to more sensible slippers, the CitySlips carrying case unfurls to a full-size tote bag to store those “killer” high heels. After I had the initial idea, I partnered up with a fellow peer and fashionista, Katie Shea (Stern '09). Katie had experience in manufacturing and was the president of Stern’s Entrepreneurial Exchange Group (EEG). Together during our senior year, we wrote a 30-page business plan, filed for a provisional patent application, and enlisted the help of NYU professors and many NYC professionals/mentors.

On June 1, 2009 we officially launched CitySlips and since have been featured in Forbes, New York Daily News, New York Magazine, The View, The Today Show, CNN, Fox & Friends and more. We have sold over 500,000 CitySlips worldwide combined through national retailers such as: ShopNBC, Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s, Nordstrom, Macy’s, The Shopping Channel and Bed Bath and Beyond, as well as directly on our website.

What was the journey like in gaining exposure and awareness about CitySlips?

I think we got lucky in the sense that we received great press immediately about our founding story: two college students who decided to start their own business versus taking jobs on Wall Street. Our first feature “Businesses get the Old College Try” in the New York Daily News highlighted Katie and me in the centerfold and spoke about how we started the company. Since then, a lot of our press has focused on us as young entrepreneurs and any advice/tips we would give to college students or recent grads on how to start a business. Initially one of the challenges we faced was generating press for the product in front of women’s lifestyle magazines and morning shows. Since we were on a “shoe-string” budget and didn’t have the funds to hire a PR team, Katie and I (along with a team of interns), researched for the contact information of editors on Cision and constantly were pitching journalists on a website platform called Help a Reporter Out. Also, we found that our retail distribution was one of the best forms of marketing. Several editors and journalists would see CitySlips on the shelves at Bliss Spas or in the Neiman Marcus Christmas book and write about the product. Some of our best press has been from editors who have actually bought and used the product on their own, understand the problem and solution, and write an authentic and genuine recommendation. In addition, we were fortunate that Joy Behar, one of the co-hosts of The View, happened to slip on a pair of CitySlips during an event at The White House and spoke about her comfortable experience on the show!

Have you ever considered going on a show like the Shark Tank?

In the past, yes. They reached out to us actually when we first started the business. At the time, we were not looking for capital because we were using a factor. Factoring is a financing method in which a business owner sells their accounts receivables at a discount to a third-party funding source to raise capital. Since majority of the mass retailers work on net 30 to net 60 terms, factoring is very common in manufacturing businesses, where long receivables are part of the business cycle. For us, we were really able to grow more organically by using a factor and not having to get an investor, like Shark Tank, who would want equity in our company in exchange for cash. We did do some licensing deals, but primarily receivables factoring was the method we employed for financing.

Have you ever seen someone wearing CitySlips?

Yep. I actually see random people in Manhattan wearing CitySlips all the time. Since I am in the footwear business, I can’t help but look down at what shoe styles people are wearing when walking on the street or in the subway. I joke and say that morning rush hour is my daily market research!

What has been the most successful networking strategy for you?

Living and working in Manhattan affords many opportunities to network. I would say that the best connections I’ve made have been through a friend of a friend, or someone who I went to college with. In terms of starting the business, the NYU network has been invaluable. One of my friends and former sorority sisters helped us get featured on CNN and some of the major morning shows. Another former peer works at a promotional products company and helped us launch a private label foldable flats program with DSW for Fashion Night Out in New York. I would definitely say that my NYU network has helped in many ways that I never would have even imagined.

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