Neely Powell, CEO and Founder of Charleston Shoe Company (charlestonshoeco.com) was born to be an entrepreneur. The picturesque Little Palm Island on the south end of Florida, near the Keys, is where the entrepreneur’s destiny was shaped. Growing up with her father, who developed Little Palm Island into the 5-star resort it is today, and her mother, the founder of Worlds Away interior furnishings, made it easy to predict the journey Neely would take.
Once Charleston Shoe Company was launched in 2010 she knew offering her designs, that merged fashion and comfort, to the people of the Sunshine State was a must. Today, testimonials continue to pour in from women of all ages around the globe who are raving about the comfort of Charleston Shoe Company shoes, the fashionable variety and in-store shopping experience.
The brand now has over 16 stores nationwide, six located Florida including Palm Beach, and products in over 350 boutiques and new stores expected to open throughout Europe and the US. Neely and her daughter, Gigi, travel from Boca Grande to Spain, and everywhere in between, interacting and learning more about the Charleston woman.
Charleston’s sassy, sexy, colorful and comfortable shoes and sandals are for any occasion. A shoe company that’s created by women, for women, consisting of styles geared toward the modern fashionista who needs to be on her feet and stay stylish from “Cobblestones to Cocktails or from the Boardroom to the Beach.”
Neely took time away from launching her new fall collection and kids line to speak with Madison Freeman, Editor-In-Chief of Luxury Life Media Group.
Have you always been interested in the footwear industry?
Neely Powell: It happened organically. Like most women, I always had an affinity for shoes. Every summer, as a child, I would travel with my mother to San Miguel De Allende, a small city in Mexico. We met a local cobbler who made shoes that were available in a variety of colorways and styles that were just so incredibly comfortable. First, we bought a pair for ourselves then all our friends and family wanted some. We were all struck by how beautiful and functional they were. My mother had a furniture business, Worlds Away, and I would attend furniture markets with her and every woman there had on very impractical shoes or tennis shoes. I knew we had to bring a style that merged fashion and comfort to these women. These shoes did exactly that. These shoes could take women from day to night or as I like to say, from cobblestones to cocktails.
Did growing up on Little Palm Island inspire your designs at all?
Neely Powell: Growing up on Little Palm Island gave me a sense for casual beach style, but also a sophisticated style at the same time. It was the juxtaposition of the influential people that I’d see on the Island who always looked stylish, yet remained comfortable.
Living on Little Palm Island also inspired me to become an entrepreneur myself. My father, Ben Woodson, purchased the Island in 1984 and moved our family there. I was eight and my sister was 6 months old. I watched my father build the Little Palm from ground up! I lived there year-round – we would go to school on the mainland and eat five-star meals at night under the porches where guests were dining. Children under 18 weren’t allowed on island. It was the perfect combination of Swiss Family Robinson and Eloise at the Plaza. I watched how the business was run for years, how my parents entertained and learned the necessary discipline that goes into running your own establishment. With hard work, dedication and their heart and soul.
What is a typical day in Neely Powell’s life? Work/life balance…
Neely Powell: Every day is completely different. Even if I plan for my day to be routine, something always changes. I like that—it always brings something new and exciting to my day. From production meetings to meeting new people who want to buy and sell Charleston’s. Add in spending time with Gigi and my three dogs – it’s guaranteed things on my schedule will change and my days are rarely the same.
What do you have in store for Fall and Holiday?
Neely Powell: One thing we are excited about and planning for are our new suede loafers and booties with artistic backing. We are also experimenting with leather this season. We’re eager to bring new offerings to our customers who’ve been so loyal to us!
What’s coming up that is new and different this year for Charleston Shoe Company?
Neely Powell: In addition to leather and suede shoes for fall, we’re launching our kid’s line which we know is going to be the must-have holiday present of the year. We’ve noticed that women won’t buy shoes for themselves during the season, but they will buy shoes for their kids and grandchildren as gifts.
What is your favorite shoe style and why?
Neely Powell: My signature shoe would have to be the Cannon in red multi. I can dress it up or down and I find the red stripes go with anything even though they’re not a neutral color. I’ve also been wearing the Linen Seabrook because it’s so comfortable and easy to slip on for those on-the-go moments – which I have many of.
How would you describe your personal style?
Neely Powell: My personal style depends on the day and my mood. Typically, it’s a mix between conservative yet whimsical, and bohemian. It’s very similar to my versatile personality.
Where do you see Charleston Shoe Company in the next five years?
Neely Powell: I hope to see a Charleston shoe on every woman’s foot in America! I want everyone to be smiling in their Charleston’s with the comfort of knowing they no longer need to worry about their feet hurting after a long day.
What would your advice be to young women who are just starting out in the entrepreneurial world?
Neely Powell: Do not give up and always keep trying. Hard work! I think the notion of overnight success needs to be thrown out of the window! If that happens to you wonderful, but working very hard for your dreams is more satisfying in the long run! Roll up your sleeves, work hard and love what you do. It’s all about the journey.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Neely Powell: Even though you need to be extremely focused on your goals, you must remain well-rounded. Never lose sight of your family and friends while you’re trying to build your business.
Who is the Charleston woman?
Neely Powell: The Charleston woman is every woman. She is timeless. She is ageless. She wants to look great and feel great under every circumstance, from work to play or “from cobblestones to cocktails “as we like to say at Charleston Shoe Company.
How has your brand evolved since 2010?
Neely Powell: My brand has evolved a great deal over the past seven years. Our styles have become younger and more hip, but remain classic and timeless. We haven’t conformed to trends and I think that has helped separate us from other brands. I’ve seen a huge shift in women, of all ages, who desire to wear shoes that are comfortable yet fashionable and Charleston caters to that desire.
What do you think of Florida Street style?
Neely Powell: Florida Street style varies from region to region, through all walks of life and culture. There are so many different styles but most are timeless, refined and casual.
What’s something you are most proud of?
Neely Powell: The one thing I am most proud of is my daughter, Gigi, and the person she is becoming. I know that’s not a business-related answer, but she is my greatest accomplishment in life.
Are you partial to or involved with a specific charitable organization? If so, why?
Neely Powell: Any animal shelter or humane society. I have three rescue dogs: Chewie, Tuffy and Roux. They bring such joy to our lives. Chewie spends much of his time in our stores… Customers have been heard to say, “Where is Chewie and his mom the little blonde lady?” I am also very proud to share that our animal society here in Charleston is officially no kill. That makes my heart sing. We have started a program in our stores called Chewie’s Shoes. A lot of our customers want to look like our sales associates that wear two different shoes, and without buying two pairs customers get the option to choose from an individual shoe in the basket for a donation of their choosing. I match all donations made and all proceeds go to Charleston Animal Society (charlestonanimalsociety.org).