Busy entrepreneur, mum, teacher and events organiser Joanna Branson has plenty to keep her on her toes.
Her small business, Shoenique – Life is Too Short for Boring Shoes, won the Grafton Centre’s Mumpreneur Award in Cambridge last year. Her EastEnders themed stilettos swept soap star Luisa Bradshaw-White off her feet at the London Gay Pride Awards. The West End was head over heels in love with the Wicked themed heels Jo designed for stage star Savannah Stevenson.
In between teaching at an Ely primary school, running Shoenique and looking after three-year-old daughter Millie, Jo’s created her own events company, Elysium Events. Her first event is Indulgence Boutique Evening at Ta Bouche on Ely’s Riverside on November 19, featuring the creme of local talent, with a stunning selection to boot. Shoe fanatic Tali Iserles chats to sole mate Jo about Indulgence Boutique, Shoenique and all things unique.
Jo first got her foot firmly wedged in the door three years ago, while on early maternity leave.
“I was stuck on the sofa and unable to move so made the most of the opportunity and threw myself into my sketching and painting. While I was painting a Les Miserables inspired piece, I caught sight of a dull pair of black shoes that I never wore due to them being so plain. I wondered if I could transfer my painting onto the shoes so started playing around with different techniques and mediums.
“My first pair of ‘Shoeniques’ were born and it has snowballed ever since from there.
“I now create not only painted designs but fabric and sculpted shoes as well.”
Jo’s background in the arts and degrees in business management and teaching come in useful when it comes to running Shoenique. Her initial designs were based around her passion of music and theatre, a theme that regularly appears throughout her work, including a pair of specially commissioned heels featuring musical notes, designed for soprano Laura Wright, the England Rugby team’s first official anthem singer.
She’s not limited to any particular theme – animal designs, city skylines and fairytales are just a few of the themes featured on Shoenique shoes and handbags.
Jo says: “Most of my designs are now bespoke commissions but I do take every opportunity to create standalone pieces for my own collections. I have an extremely full notepad and sketch books of designs that come to me randomly during the day and night!”
Selling shoes to the stars
In just three years, Shoenique has been taking the world by storm – one pair of heels (or flats) at a time.
Luisa Bradshaw-White, who plays Tina Carter in Eastenders, wore her soap styled stilettos at London Gay Pride, causing a massive stir.
Meanwhile West End star Savannah Stevenson, who played Glinda in Wicked, was delighted with her Wizard of Oz style Shoeniques. She and co-star Kerry Ellis autographed the heels, which were auctioned off, together with scripts and props for the show at a charity event, raising £350.
Winning the Grafton Centre’s Mumpreneur Award gave Shoenique a massive leg up, propelling the Stretham small business into a much larger arena. Members of the public proved to be head over heels in love with Shoenique, voting for it as their favourite Mumpreneur business.
The Mumpreneurs event was a special art and craft fair hosted by the Grafton Centre to showcase the work of talented, business minded mums across the region.
Jo says: “The Grafton Centre’s Mumpreneur Award was such an honour. I competed against so many other talented crafty mums who all had such inspirational stories and products! We all had market stalls in the centre at this special event and the winner was chosen based on sales gained during the event and the most interaction with customers via social media.
“The prize was a retail space in the main shopping centre which did wonders for my business, getting my shoes off of the internet and onto the high street.”
Her most unusual design requests include sculpted animal and periodic table shoes.
“I relish the challenge of coming up with a design that suits their specification but also that I feel stays true to my style.”
If you thought Imelda Marcos had a shoe fetish going on, it’s nothing compared to Jo’s.
“Oh my shoe fetish is ridiculous! Although, I don’t own as many pairs as you would probably imagine. Although I’m sure that my husband would disagree!
“I definitely wear my own custom shoes. Since having my daughter, I haven’t been able to wear the skyscraper heels that I used to so I design flats and wedges that I can wear comfortably but also with style.
“My current favourite pair that I wear at the moment are a 3d sculpted mermaid pair of ankle boots complete with sculpted octopus, mermaid tails and coral reef! My musical theatre pairs of flats that I wear, however, will always hold a special place in my heart!”
Her daughter, Millie, described as “three going on 13”, regularly helps out in the “shudio”, entertaining her mum with her singing and dancing.
Jo says: “As a working mum of a very busy three year old and as a primary school teacher at a school in Ely, I have to be extremely organised with dividing my time between the different roles.
“I thoroughly enjoy teaching and being a mummy but it is lovely to have a bit of light relief in the evenings to work in my ‘shudio’ and to get cracking on my designs. It is extremely therapeutic to pop on an audio book and paint my way through the evening!”
Her advice to other mumpreneurs hoping to get a foot in the door?
“Go for it! Yes it’s hard work, yes it is long hours, yes it can make you question your talent and worth but it gives you so much more than it takes. The opportunity to selfishly indulge yourself in something that you are truly passionate about is one worth grabbing with both hands!”
Indulgence Boutique Evening
Jo’s event management company, Elysium Events, will be hosting Indulgence Boutique Evening next month.
Jo says: “The idea behind this event is to showcase some of the amazing talent in the area, giving people the opportunity to see and purchase high end, up market services and products at a rather indulgent venue.
“There is already an abundance of art and craft fairs in the area which is fabulous, however often they don’t cater for the bespoke clothing, high end jewellery, and unique services market.
“We have some extremely talented jewellers, bag designers, chocolatiers, candle makers and beauty technicians (among others) attending the event.”
If “sumptuous stands, respondent with handmade goodies galore” are not enough to get you hot footing your way through the door, everyone attending will receive free mulled wine and mince pies.
Indulgence Boutique Evening will be taking place at Ta Bouche from 7pm on November 19.
For more information on Indulgence Boutique Evening click here.