Friday, August 20, 2010

Inventor Showcasing: O'Couture Ballet Flats

I am so proud to have Sebnem Eler Acar, the inventor of the O'Couture Ballet Flats with Interchangeable Ornaments, as part of the Womentorz community!  Sebnem has been involved with Womentorz socially for some time and I had just been waiting until she was ready to launch her storefront.  Her amazing shoes and wonderful personality make a wonderful addition.  Here is my interview with Sebnem: 

Q. What made you decide to design your own line of shoes?

The idea for O’Couture came about from a personal need combined with a passion. As a shoe lover, I have always had a closet packed with pairs and pairs of shoes. Not only was I spending a fortune on shoes, but I was also feeling bad about all the resources that I single handedly seemed to be consuming all in the name of looking good. Basically, all I ever needed was “versatile” stylish shoes. That need and a passion for entrepreneurship fueled the desire to create O’Couture ballet flats with interchangeable ornaments. In the fall of 2009, I combined forces with Zehra Balkan Buyukuncu, my fellow fashionista with an MBA, and we traveled to Europe to handle the production arrangements.

 Q. Besides being an obviously beautiful shoe, what other unique characteristics does your line of shoes possess?


O’Couture’s signature line features fine leather flats with exclusive, limited-production handcrafted ornaments that customers can easily interchange from one occasion to the next. Customers simply select a shoe style and color, and then choose from several different ornament styles that attach easily to the shoes with sturdy magnetic clasps. In fact, our video below tells the story of O’Couture so well:



 Not only are they great for women on a budget, but they’re also easy on the environment, because women can do much more with less — reducing their carbon footprint, as it were (pun intended), without compromising style. With one pair of shoes and a boxful of ornaments, women can express their own unique style every time they step out the door, and that’s just the way we like it. Hence our motto: one pair, endless style.

Also, since we are as a company who takes environmental protection seriously, all the shoes are manufactured in a manufacturing facility that followed Europe’s strict fair employment and environmental protection standards.

We pride ourselves in being a company by women for women.  We take women entrepreneurship so seriously that we provide opportunities for women: Our ornaments are handcrafted by women who work from the comfort of their homes so they can earn an income while still caring for their families.

Q. Can readers primarily find your shoes online?


Currently, the ballet flats and the interchangeable ornaments are available online at www.ocouture.us
We are actively looking for retail partners who are willing to carry our product. At the moment, we are looking into engaging with independent local boutiques and small to medium size fashion retailer chains.

Q. What was your experience like in the actual design and manufacturing of your product?


We are a company founded by two women who did not let the fact that they were industry outsiders and had no prior footwear industry experience to stop them from following their dream. We were passionate and ambitious enough to undertake this enormous entrepreneurial journey.

It was important for us to stick to our company’s core social responsibly values as I mentioned above.  Recently, Turkey has become a major manufacturer of consumer products with its state of the art facilities that comply with European regulations for fair employment and environmental protection. Being from Turkey, Zehra and I leveraged our network back in Turkey.

As soon as we matured the concept and prepared our business plan, we travelled to Turkey in December 2009. We had to spend 4 months in Turkey managing and learning design and shoe manufacturing processes. During that period, speaking the local language was a huge plus. We also found out that we needed to keep a close eye on the manufacturing process since, even if we spoke the language, what you tell the manufacturer is not always what they understand. Also, it is paramount to have an inspection procedure in place at the manufacturing location before the goods are shipped to you. We are lucky to be working with an honest manufacturer who stood by their production guarantee promise. Therefore, our yield was really high.
 
We also spent a huge amount of time understanding US laws and regulations regarding footwear manufacturing and importing procedures. What we found out was that as long as you do your research and learn all the aspects of the business that you are getting into, there hardly are any surprises.

We have successfully imported out first batch of shoes and ornaments in late June 2010 and have launched the line in July 2010.

Q. How do you balance running a business and starting a new family?


Yes, I am expecting my first child with my husband Cenk. Having started my own company and having the opportunity to work from my home office has been a true blessing.  I have been able to define my schedule and working hours around the unpredictable pregnancy symptoms and I have been thankful for that. Sure, there are cons to managing your own business. However, I strongly believe that the benefits outweigh the cons.

On the other hand Zehra also thinks that having a flexible schedule really helps her family life.  She travels to find better quality materials whenever it fits her schedule.  Her home office is great for her since she can work in a quiet environment while she is close to her husband and her dog whom she adores.  Many people may find it hard to work in their homes, it is not the case for Zehra.  She used to be a professional athlete and the advantage of this background is having great discipline and hard working mindset.

Q. What fact would readers find interesting about you?

Zehra and I have no prior footwear industry experience. I am an Electronics Engineer with a Master of Science degree and worked in technology for 10 years until September of 2009, when I decided to start my own company. My business partner Zehra holds an MBA degree and she used to be an Olympic Swimmer for the Turkish National team.

Zehra and I are both avid cyclists. We matured the product concept and the business during our long cycling trips on the Pacific Coast Highway along the beautiful Pacific Coast.

Zehra and I were both born and raised in Turkey. We met here in the US and upon realizing we both share a passion for entrepreneurship and shoes, we decided to start our own company.
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