Welcome to Sunday Tall Sisters,
I am delighted to share the launch of a new Tall Retailer with you! Join me in welcoming Beryl Frances Footwear!
Sonja Runck its founder and I first connected in person early last year at our Chicago Meet Your Tall Sisters brunch. At that time she shared her brainchild with me and I was excited! A little later on in the year, our Washington DC brunch attendees were the first to learn about this new upcoming brand. Now fast forward a few months and Beryl Frances Footwear is here!
Lets Meet our Tall Sisters shall we?
What is your full name?
How tall are you?
5’ 10” (178cm)
Where are you from and where do you currently live?
I grew up on a farm in rural Minnesota and currently live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
What was your career before you decided to start Beryl Frances Footwear?
My career was (and still is!) working in strategic communications at a large research university. Most of what I do involves working closely with faculty and researchers to disseminate their years-long research findings. It’s a process that I find to be really rewarding!
What was the inspiration for the name of the brand?
The names Beryl and Frances are definitely a nod to the past. A reference to a time when our grandmothers were young women and fast fashion wasn’t an option. You owned fewer things but they were of better quality. Every time I see photos of women from around the WWII time period, I’m just blown away at how put together they looked, even though they probably had limited options. That sensibility has been a key influence when developing the Beryl Frances brand.
Tell us the story of how you decided to start your own shoe company.
I have a generous US size 12 foot and like many women in the same situation, have spent my entire life settling for what I could find in my size. In addition, my style has definitely evolved to a quality over quantity approach and this feels like one area consistently missing with the larger sizes. Quality construction, leather upper, leather lining, and leather outsoles with properly proportioned heels feel impossible to find. I also realized that I owned most of the footwear I did because it was available in my size and not because I truly loved the style of shoe. I started researching custom shoe options for myself and ended up spending hours reading old textbooks on shoemaking and footwear manufacturing. A few months later I was on a hiking trip around the Scottish Hebrides (a beautiful but sparse landscape that allows for A LOT of time to think) and a vision for the business just started pouring into my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about it the whole time I was away and ended up writing the first draft of the business plan on the long plane ride home. It took another three years of development to get the product to where I wanted it and to build the necessary manufacturing relationships. It’s been challenging at times but also very rewarding to see my vision come to life.
What inspires you in creating the design you launched with?
I’ve always been very observant of which design elements on an individual garment or shoe enhance my individual sense of style and make me feel good about what I’m wearing. I think it’s so important to feel good in everything you wear, head to toe! Because of that, I wanted to create a collection of shoes that made the wearer feel confident and supported, no matter her height or shoe size. So I focused on making sure the heel was proportioned in a way that created a pleasing side profile and supported the height of the person wearing it. I also worked to make sure the shoe elongated the leg and not the foot, designed a broader toe box, etc. To me, no detail is too small to consider!
I also felt it was important to not begin the Beryl Frances collection using a preexisting factory style or collection. I didn’t want to put the brand’s name on a product where I didn’t have 100% control over the design direction and most importantly the quality level of components used. The opportunity to use a custom heel was of particular importance to me since it seems like many are never scaled correctly for the larger sizes. And because of our commitment to quality, I made the decision early on to invest in our own lasts (the mold the shoe is built around) so that our sizing will remain consistent even as we release new styles and colorways.
Who is the woman that needs a pair of Beryl Frances shoes?
First and foremost, a Beryl Frances customer’s shoe size is most likely the least interesting thing about her. She leads a full and fun life, has a rewarding career, and doesn’t have time to be worrying about whether or not she’ll have the right shoes while going about her daily life and everything that entails. She depends on a wardrobe full of classic pieces that she interprets to reflect her unique sense of style. She’s also likely to hoard her favorite shoes, buy her favorite styles in multiples, and maybe even has a favorite shoe repair guy who can re-sole and re-heel her favorites.
What is your favorite shoe in the line?
Well, of the first style I’m launching with, I really love the python leather. Of all the embossed snakeskin options I found nothing has compared. It’s the most beautiful neutral and comes from a small tannery in Portugal. I’m forever devoted to it and hope I can use it for years to come! I’m also developing flats and am currently wearing an almond toe ballet flat with a small wedge hidden on the inside so your foot isn’t completely flat. I’m testing it out in a wonderfully rich goat suede in black and they’re turning out to be a great basic. I hope to start making them soon!
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m a total early bird so a typical day for me usually starts while it’s still dark outside. I like to work out in the morning so I’m usually at a spin class by 6 am or out for a jog around one of the Minneapolis lakes. Most mornings I try to squeeze in some shoe work before my workout so I may be up even earlier. The timing works well since I can catch my factory contacts in Hong Kong before they leave for the day or I can connect with my suppliers in Portugal since they’ve already been in the office for a while.
I have a short commute to my day job and am usually at my desk a bit before 8 am. I leave work around 5 pm and often head to a library on campus to work on the business for a few hours before heading home. I’m never not thinking about the business so it’s very common for me to send myself notes throughout the day that I can come back to later that day.
Of course, there are also days where nothing goes as planned and instead I’m unexpectedly dealing with something that needs immediate attention. At this stage, you are responsible for every facet of your business and that can feel overwhelming at times!
What do you like to do for yourself?
My friends and family are definitely a priority so nights and weekends aren’t always about working. We regularly cook together, meet for brunches, or do drinks after work. I think the ultimate indulgence is puttering around the house on the weekends, listening to podcasts, and reading the weekend newspapers. I’m a total introvert so I like lots of quiet downtime.
Tell us about your journey to self-acceptance and embracing your height.
Journey is definitely the key word here! Like many women, accepting and embracing who I am has developed over time. Growing up, I definitely hated being taller than most of my peers and always feeling so much bigger than the other girls. Fortunately, the years of thigh-related angst and concerns about my thick ankles have slowly been replaced by years of becoming the best version of myself and the slow realization that no one cares about the things I used to spend so much time worrying about. Besides, life keeps happening whether you like your thighs or not. It would be a shame to miss out!
Do you have any parting words of advice for your Tall Sisters who might be struggling with their confidence?
I would say don’t feel pressure to adhere to the unofficial rules tall women are often expected to follow. If you don’t want to play sports, don’t play sports! Find and embrace the things that excite you, even if your height plays no role. More than anything, be kind to yourself and realize that how you feel now may not always be the case.
Thank you Sonja for being so open and honest with our readers. We at The Tall Society can’t wait to see where you take Beryl Frances. It takes tremendous courage to start your own company and we salute you!
Tall Sisters, comment with any questions and / or thoughts for Sonja, as she will be reading along.
Thank you for stopping by!