A Smart Idea

Suzanne George, Suzanne George Shoes

"All of my formal educational training had been in communication and psychology, not in art or handicrafts, so the fact that I now earn money making beautiful shoes by hand is a dream come true for me," says Suzanne George, 34, who launched her San Francisco-based shoe-making business in the summer of 1995. All of George's footwear is custom-made to meet the desires and specifications of individual clients.

"The idea for the business grew out of my knack for envisioning creative, new footwear styles," George explains. "I kept having `pictures in my head' of innovative shoe designs. My desire to transform those visions into reality led to my interest in making shoes by hand."

Although George first got the idea to start making and selling custom-designed shoes when she was in her early 20s, she sat on the idea for more than a decade because she feared it wasn't a viable career option. "My impression was that you pretty much had to be born into a family of shoe makers in order to acquire the skill," she explains. "As a result, I shied away from pursuing my dream by working in the nonprofit sector, working in banking, and studying counseling psychology in graduate school, instead."

As George moved from one career situation to the next, she found that she couldn't shake her desire to make made-to-order shoes. "The longer I thought about it, the bigger the idea got in my mind, and the scarier it became to reach out and try to attain it," says George. "It got easier to remain in my little glass house and just imagine how things could be, rather than how things would be. In my late 20s, though, I decided it was time to give my dream a try. My close friends were sick of hearing me simply talk about it, anyway, so I finally went out and did something about it."

George was accepted by a reputable technical college in England that specializes in shoemaking and saddlery; students there can also learn to make handbags and accessories. She learned of the college from a San Francisco design school's librarian who knew of its reputation. Upon the program's completion, she apprenticed with some shoe makers there before returning to the United States. In all, she was abroad for a bit more than a year. Upon her return, she took part in a six-month training course on how to operate a profitable small business at the San Francisco Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, a community economic development program established in 1985--one of the first microenterprise-development programs in the nation. She then obtained her business license and focused her attention on her new sole proprietorship, Suzanne George Shoes.

"My favorite thing about the work I do is that I'm preserving a craft and creating high-quality goods in an old-world manner, which is quite rare in this modern era of mass production," says George, who meets with clients at their homes in order to get a sense of their personalities and to allow them to show her many of the footwear and clothing items they prefer. She then works on the shoes at her homebased location, returning with them upon completion to the clients' premises. "I also like the fact that I get to work with people in their own environments and help them to create custom-made footwear that expresses who they really are."

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This article was originally published in the June 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Smart Idea.

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