By Kathryn Skelton Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine.
Auburn native Amanda Chasse Flower was pulled aside on the first day of her first professional job after graduating from the University of Maine.
Sorry, she was told, Abercrombie & Fitch dress casual wasn't going to cut it.
After that she spent years and thousands of dollars building up a professional wardrobe, only to have her husband complain about the number of shoes stored in his man cave, all of them looking the same to his untrained, man eye.
Flower, 29, thinks she's hit on the solution to both: Two years and $30,000 worth of startup later, she's awaiting patent approval and hoping to build a shoe empire off dress-it-up, dress-it-down customizable 3.9-inch black leather pumps.
She's targeting 20- and 30-somethings with professional wardrobe growing pains.
"I wanted to find a way to help young women transition and feel confident without having to spend a ton of money," Flower said.
Flower, a 2003 Edward Little graduate, named her company ChasseChic in a nod to her late father, Lewiston native Richard Chasse.
A sports broadcasting major in college, she moved to Atlanta a week after graduation and found work as a corporate receptionist.
She's now a membership director at a private dining club in Atlanta, like a country club without the golf, she said.
"I'm surrounded by entrepreneurs every single day," Flower said. "That kind of inspired me to see if I can do it."
She filed a provisional patent in 2012 on the shoe design and the clip-on across-the-toe bows and belts she's called ChicCessories.
"My first initial lead was a manufacturer in Turkey," she said. "I followed that lead, they made my shoe -- it looked terrible. So that was six months of my life."
She had better luck with the next manufacturer in Brazil, relying on a liaison and Google translator to bridge the Portuguese language divide. It took two years to perfect the design. The first 200 pairs and 1,200 ChicCessories arrived last month. She's selling from her website and connecting with local boutiques, networking and using social media to spread word of her company.
The heels retail for $89.99. Extra padding on the foot-bed makes the 3.9 inches feel a little less daunting, Flower said.
"I just sold a pair of shoes to a 65-year-old woman and she was like, 'Oh my god; I can't believe I'm wearing pumps, it feels so comfy,'" she said. "No exaggeration, I got these shoes in mid-June and I have worn them every single day Monday through Friday. The heel tip is still intact, the leather isn't damaged at all."
A black leather flat is planned for April. She hopes a kitten heel and a wedge will follow.
"My husband didn't want all my shoes in his man cave," Flower said. "Now he has 200 pairs of shoes in his man cave because that's where we have all the inventory. It's pretty funny. Every time he comes in there, he shakes his head."