Last week I received an email asking if I would be interested in writing a piece on the company Barefoot Tess, and I was happy to oblige after learning that the store provides large-footed girls and women with stylish footwear options. What’s not to love and appreciate?! Barefoot Tess has found the perfect niche – too long have women with feet larger than a size 10 been forced to wear flip-flops or even men’s shoes.
Barefoot Tess was founded in 2006 by the mother and daughter team of Karen Williamson and Tess Russell. From boots to couture heels to vegan shoes, Barefoot Tess offers women countless styles in sizes 6 to 14. The company contacts high-end designers and convinces them to create their most popular styles in larger styles exclusively for them. (interview below break)
Celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Geena Davis, Uma Thurman, and Celine Dion have found both comfort and style at Barefoot Tess. The brick and mortar Barefoot Tess store is located in Baltimore, Maryland.
I asked Karen, the founder of this fine store, a few questions about the struggles and joys of starting and running the company. Here is what she had to say:
How did you come up with the idea for Barefoot Tess?
Karen: My daughter Tess and I conceived the idea for Barefoot Tess many years ago. She is 6’0” and has always had trouble finding fashionable shoes to fit her big feet. I remember being directed to the men’s department on more than one occasion! She even took to wearing flip-flops in the winter sometimes because the only real shoes in her size were of the “comfort” variety. Since we opened in 2005, our goal has been to provide large-footed girls and women with the SAME options that their “normal” sized peers have, so we steer clear of anything that seems masculine or is not stylish.
What kinds of obstacles did you have to overcome when beginning Barefoot Tess?
Karen: Obviously, we faced a lot of obstacles when we were getting our business off the ground. Very few designers were willing to make us big sizes unless we ordered huge quantities, and since we were a startup, we didn’t have the necessary capital to do that. We got lucky, though, and met up-and-coming designer Matt Bernson at one of the first shows we attended. He has since become incredibly popular, but because he was just starting out at the time, he agreed to make his fantastic sandals for us up to size 14. When that first line of shoes came, they actually broke the shoeboxes! Another issue we had at the beginning was figuring out the retail seasons. When we were first getting started, we placed our orders at the wrong times and ended up receiving sandals in the late fall or winter boots in March, etc. Obviously we have learned a lot since then.
What are the top sellers at Barefoot Tess?
Karen: They are really all over the map. One of the most interesting things about running our business is finding out that each customer has a completely different set of requirements. Some women won’t wear even the smallest heel because they have trouble walking in it, while others actually need some support in the form of a heel or wedge in order to be comfortable. Some believe that a pointy toe balances out their large feet, while others feel it accentuates them. We have put a lot of that feedback into our Barefoot Tess line and tried to design styles/fits that we feel are missing from the current market, but really, we believe that our large-sized customers can wear any popular style out there.
Here are a few of my favorite Barefoot Tess styles:
Betta Carrano ‘Abigail’ Flat
Check out all of the styles at Barefoot Tess’ official site!