She Took Her Fitness-Inspired Side Hustle From $2,000 a Month to Nearly $2 Million a Year — After Facing an Entrepreneur's Worst Nightmare Alexa Stimp, owner and founder of The Shoe Fairy, channeled her love of bodybuilding into a lucrative passion project, then full-time business.
- Stimp's determination and hands-on approach in China were pivotal to her success.
- Stimp advocates for starting small and building a solid plan, encouraging aspiring entrepreneurs to begin their journey with the resources available to them.
In 2015, 23-year-old Alexa Stimp, now owner and founder of The Shoe Fairy, was an avid gym-goer with a passion for fitness — and had a burgeoning interest in bodybuilding. She knew a couple of women who competed and saw the sport gaining momentum on Instagram.
"I was like, You know what, I kind of want to do this," Stimp tells Entrepreneur. "I want to see if I can challenge myself and do this."
Bodybuilding changed Stimp's entire life, she says, requiring rigorous preparation and discipline. At times, she found it to be an "isolating and lonely" experience too; eager to transform her mindset, Stimp began listening to motivational speakers — and learned a lot about herself and her goals along the way.
"I became so in love with the sport I realized that I wanted to start a company within it."
"I just realized, what I'm doing right now in my cubicle at my job [isn't what I want to do]," Stimp recalls. "I started to get scared of that being my future. And I became so in love with the sport I realized that I wanted to start a company within it."
Tagged Instagram posts revealed there were already numerous companies specializing in bikinis, jewelry and tanning, Stimp says, and she needed a product that could set her business apart. Before long, she recognized a major gap in the market: No one was focusing on shoes.
Image Credit: Courtesy of The Shoe Fairy. Alexa Stimp.
Although standard heels certainly aren't hard to come by, the type of heels preferred in bodybuilding — acrylic and thus "very easy to show imperfections" — are. Only two brands were well-known in the industry for their shoes back then, Stimp says. And she wanted to make a product that would outperform all of the ones out there.
Stimp continued working her 9-5 job and launched her venture as a side hustle, starting small. She used the resources she had to buy shoes wholesale, serving as a retailer and learning as she went. That first month, Stimp did $2,000 in sales, and the next, she did $4,000. She began to wonder what could be possible if she put all of her time and energy into her vision, taking it from a side hustle to a full-blown business. So, just three months into the new venture, she quit her 9-5 to find out.
"I was like, if I want to be able to take over this entire industry, I need to create something better, and I need to make it make sense," Stimp says. "The shoe needs to make sense for women. And I took that philosophy and extended it to the line of new heels. I want to create shoes for women that are by women, for women. They make sense, they fit well, they feel good, and they'll work. And that's always been my driving mission."
"I was so excited, but I tried one on, and my foot wouldn't even go through."
Then, when Stimp secured a manufacturer to help realize her dream, it seemed like a milestone "a year-and-a-half in the making." She placed an order for her first 1,000 pairs, but upon their arrival, was dismayed to find "they were completely trash."
"I was so excited, but I tried one on, and my foot wouldn't even go through," Stimp says. "My toes got stuck in the plastic, and I'm like, 'Wait what?' [I double-checked that it was a size 8], so I started ripping through tons of size 8s — and I couldn't get my foot in the shoe. It was like Cinderella's ugly stepsister."
Upon closer inspection, Stimp saw that the interior cushion was coming through the seams: "They were a mess." Later, she'd learn that the manufacturer neglected to properly coat the plastic upper, so it shrank. It was back to the drawing board and a two-year setback.
Stimp reached out to another manufacturer from China who happened to be in New York City when she made contact; they met at Stimp's office in New Jersey and were able to go over the project together. Then, Stimp flew to China to work with them to review all of her options and create the mold.
"When you do sampling and you're back here in the U. S., You don't know all the options that are available," Stimp explains. "So I'm talking about all the different levels of plastic. All the different materials for the insoles. The insoles in my shoes are shiny; they're iridescent, they're very pretty. I wouldn't have known that. I picked that out when I was there. All the different levels of cushion, I was able to try everything when I was there."
"You can start where you are now with what you have now."
That would be a critical step in the right direction for the business. Today, nearly eight years later, The Shoe Fairy is beloved by celebrities, influencers, top bodybuilders and more — and is on track to see nearly $2 million in revenue in 2023.
Like most entrepreneurs, Stimp's road to success wasn't linear or without some bumps along the way, but the lessons learned helped her come back stronger with every unexpected turn. And her best advice for any hopeful side hustler who wants to turn their great idea into the next big thing? Just get started — even if you start small.
"People become paralyzed," Stimp says, "because they think of everything they need to do and that they need to know everything and have everything. When really, you can start where you are now with what you have now. So, the best thing to do is to write out a plan. Don't get too ahead of yourself, just where you need to start. So for example, if you're going to be selling a product, identify what the product is, who it's for, and where you're going to get it. Start with small pieces at a time."