Sante & Wade was launched in 2019 by Shola Asante and Agnès Cushnie, catering to increasingly larger sizes ranging from UK 4.5 to 11.
Asante’s career was in broadcast journalism, but in 2015 she noticed a gap in the footwear market when looking for suitable shoes (she wears a size 9 in the UK). Living in Singapore, she decided to go into shoe design and trained at the TAFTC (Textile and Fashion Industry Training Center), then worked on sketching and pattern making with the consulting firm in Arise-S shoes in Milan, before creating Sante & Wade. with Cushnie. The couple met 25 years ago during a modeling contest.
The company is based in London. Asante leads product design and development, while Cushnie helps with creative direction and oversees marketing strategy. The brand offers shoe styles ranging from high heels to chunky sneakers.
In May she launched her Zero Waste collection, including the Farida coral and snakeskin sandal (priced at £165), which is made from offcuts from previous collections.
The brand sells directly to consumers and through online retailers. Wholesale prices range from £36 for trainers to £53 for boots.
Sante & Wade was a finalist at the Drapers Footwear Awards which took place on June 23 at Grosvenor House in London.
Shola Asante tells Drapers about her life in footwear.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
I have three children [13-year-old twins and an eight year old] so I’m really a creature of routine. I get up at 6am every morning and make sure everyone is up and getting ready. I try to start every morning with a cup of herbal tea. Just stopping for five minutes helps me stay calm, and it’s a great mindset to start the day.
What was your first job?
Now you take me back. Probably working as a telephone searcher. It wasn’t the most glamorous job and I wasn’t very good at it. My second job was as a sales assistant at Warehouse. It seemed like a lot more up my street!
How did you start your fashion career?
I’m a latecomer to fashion as a career, but I’ve always been confident in my fashion choices. I’ve always mixed items, from indie labels to high street and vintage. I decided to go from being a fashionista to a fashion designer a few years ago when I had two weddings to attend but couldn’t find any shoes that worked. That’s when I thought: how hard can it be to make shoes for someone like me?
How would you describe the company in one sentence?
A contemporary, fashionable but never trend driven brand that is truly inclusive, offering shoes for all women, especially those who have not been satisfied by the mainstream retail industry but who also want to have fun with fashion.
What’s your coffee (or tea) order?
I love an oat milk latte, but I’ve recently developed a taste for fennel tea. I can’t get enough either.
What do you think the fashion industry can learn from Covid-19?
It was an unprecedented crisis and not everyone survived. Certainly, I think many in the industry have understood how important it is to stay nimble and pivot quickly when needed. I think it’s increasingly important to keep the conversation going with customers. We can’t take anything for granted, and even when things return to normal, we still need to be prepared for the unexpected.
What are the best and worst moments of your career?
I think, looking back, every bad moment was followed by a high. I remember being laid off a few years ago and feeling very lost, only to get a new and better job offer a few weeks later. I try not to look at it through that lens, but rather to accept that in all things there are ebbs and flows. You just have to ride the wave.
Memorable customer moments?
It’s always wonderful to receive unsolicited feedback from happy customers. Some come from remote corners of the world, from women who have tried their luck with a new brand. It gives motivation when we hear these incredible stories of women telling us how happy they are to be able to order, for the first time, several pairs of shoes knowing that they will fit.
What drives you every morning?
A combination of the immediate – emails to respond to, orders to fill, reports to prepare – and the aspirational – where do I see myself in five years, how do I want to live my life ? You can’t get so caught up in the immediate that you lose sight of long-term vision and aspirations.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing your business?
Visibility. I believe in our product and I believe we truly offer something our customers have never had before. But it’s hard to mute the noise. We just need to stand firm in what we do and find new ways to get customers to know us.
What business factors keep you up at night?
There are so many things you are responsible for as a brand owner. It’s a juggling act, with priorities changing all the time. I wouldn’t say it’s a thing, but I’m still worried that something may have slipped through the cracks.
What are your favorite places to shop?
Online I buy from Yoox and Wolf & Badger because I think you can always find something different there, whether it’s a bargain or a new brand. I also like the vintage stores around Portobello Road [in west London]. I always come away inspired.
Last fashion purchase? Why did it catch your attention?
A pretty fringed shoulder bag. It has a bohemian/retro side. It would work for both day and evening.
Emails or phone calls?
What are your main objectives for 2022?
Sell sell sell. We are working hard to get more wholesale accounts and be visible on more platforms. On a personal level, my goal would be to achieve a better work-life balance. The company can be very consuming and I try to steal time for myself and not feel guilty.
The most important lesson you learned in your career?
You really need to have confidence in yourself. You don’t need to know everything, but you need to know that you are capable of learning what is required. It’s the basis of confidence, and when you have it, you can achieve whatever you want.
What’s the last book you read?
A wonderful piece called Marjorie Prime by Jordan Harrison. Beautifully written and deeply moving.
Who in the fashion/retail industry inspires you?
I like [Haitian-Italian designer] The aesthetics of Stella Jean. Beautiful clothes, inspired by his heritage, always playful.
Any advice you would give to your younger self, and why?
Have faith in yourself and don’t sweat the small stuff. Conserve your emotional bandwidth for the real challenges, which will always come, but which you will always overcome.
Who do you turn to when you need advice and why?
My business partner, my friends, my networking group, my family. I’m very lucky to have a rich group of diverse people I can count on when I need support.