Linda, who goes by “Lindy Lou,” was a welder in San Francisco before a vacation in Austin convinced her to migrate to a more economical place to live. But she couldn’t stand welding in the paralyzing Texas heat and was soon looking for a new line of work.
Then, one night in 2003, she stepped out in a pair of Souvenir shoes which got her a lot of attention – and got her to thinking about parlaying the shoes into a new career. The Souvenir is a wooden wedge peep-toe shoe with a carved heel often with brightly painted designs. It was wildly popular during World War II when U.S. soldiers gifted them to their wives or girlfriends back home; hence, the name.
Linda thought of getting them reproduced, found descendants of the family who originally hand-carved them in the Philippines, and convinced them to carve for her. She soon hit stores and trade shows worldwide with her new business, Lucky Lou, selling an average of 300 pairs per show.
Linda’s “overnight” entrepreneurial success story came to a sudden halt in 2009 when she says her manufacturer began cutting corners and producing bad quality shoes, which resulted in a large number of returns and refunds. After deciding to end her business relationship with the manufacturer, Linda was shocked to find him taking everything she had, including copyrighted designs and pictures from advertising photo shoots, and selling her designs for a lot less. He effectively put her out of business.
“I begged and pleaded for everyone to help me,” she recalls. Linda went to multiple organizations for a loan and was turned down each time until she found ACCION Texas Inc. – thanks to a referral from BIG Austin. “They were very supportive. That launch from ACCION enabled me to purchase 600 shoes, then those sales helped me to purchase 1,000,” she says.
Linda found a new manufacturer in September and is now contracting with other designers such as Betty Page Clothing. Linda has also been in contact with tattoo artist Kat Von D and pop singer Katy Perry’s managers to design something Linda will manufacture. She says, since she can place any design on the shoe, “There’s no reason I can’t appeal to the entire market of women.” She says, without the loan, “I wouldn’t be in business; there’s no way.” Because of ACCION, “I just sold the first batch and made $22,000 in two days. I’m doing another show this week. It was really good timing for once in my life.”
Stores in Italy, Spain and other European countries now sell her product. And, with the initial funds from ACCION, she was able to hire a graphic designer and a photographer. Though they aren’t full-time employees, she plans to put them and her assistant on her payroll soon and hire someone to take over her social media pages. When she gets an office, she plans to hire someone to work there full-time.
LiftFund. (www.liftfund.com) is an award-winning nonprofit organization (previously known as Accion Texas) with a mission to provide credit and loans to small and start-up businesses that have limited or no access to credit from commercial sources. Established in 1994 in San Antonio, LiftFund has helped Texas and Louisiana entrepreneurs strengthen their businesses, stabilize and increase their incomes, create employment, and contribute to the economic revitalization of their communities. Learn more at www.liftfund.com.