When Ingrid Sarver enrolled for her MBA studies at New York University’s Stern School of Business in 2012, she had a semi-epiphany. “I knew I wanted to start my own company, but I did not have the idea yet,” she recalled.
Inspiration for her entrepreneurial pursuit came when and where she least expected. “I was at a bachelorette party in Chicago, and late in the evening everyone took off their heels because we were walking around the city,” she continued, adding her aching feet would have benefited from a spare pair of comfy shoes. “And I thought to myself, there has got to be something that would be easy to put in our purse.”
The solution, Sarver realized, could be ballet flats that would be easily folded up. And that’s where Sarver’s semi-epiphany became a full-fledged inspiration.
“In doing research, I realized that few people make foldable ballet flats,” she explained. “There were very cheap flats that you could buy at Walgreen’s or CVS for $10, and they roll-up more than fold. But they were meant as one-time disposable use. Other side of the market were luxury leather foldable ballet flats that sell at $200 a pair. The middle market was so open and ripe for taking that I said I wanted them for under $40.”
After a year of research and planning, Sarver launched Talaria Flats in 2014, with the company named in honor of the gold-winged sandals favored by the Greek god Hermes. She sought a design that incorporated a thick anti-skid rubber sole and a soft interior, capped with a “shoe clutch” that could enable easy carrying. She engaged 10 different Chinese manufacturers for product sampling before settling on a company that could meet her quality standards.
“I put in $30,000 of my own money on sampling and inventory costs for the first year, as well as hiring my first employee on a part-time basis,” Sarver said.
Talaria Flats had a few growing pains: Sarver’s initial idea to sell her ballet flats in bars proved unworkable, and she had to convert her New York City apartment into a mini-warehouse to accommodate 10,000 pairs of shoes. Also, the Chinese factory that she contracted for the manufacturing initially proved erratic. “They were great for the first two orders,” she said. “But then, the quality was still good but their timing wasn’t. They were late on a few orders.”
Sarver worked with a China-based consultant to straighten out the factory’s lackadaisical approach to scheduling. That input, coupled with a vibrant e-commerce push and a wholesale deal with the Manhattan retailer Kleinfeld Bridal generated $60,000 in sales during Sarver’s first year of business. She has since shifted her company to Stamford, working out of the Serendipity Labs workspace.
In focusing her footwear at the bridal planning industry, Sarver struck digital gold by promoting her products on the Pinterest social media site. “Pinterest is where all of these millennial girls plan their wedding,” she explained. “They have tons of boards of what they want the flowers to look like, the menu, bridesmaid dresses. It’s been great for us.”
The initial product line featured white-, champagne-, silver- and gold-colored ballet flats. Talaria Flats also offered discounting on multiple items and customized bags with the names of bridesmaids in the bridal party. “Millennial brides want custom wedding experiences,” Sarver said. “It’s no longer just about the bride, it’s about the guests having a wonderful time.”
Last month, Sarver expanded her product line with Talaria Littles, for girls ages five through 12. Sarver spent a year testing the designs to ensure the ballet flats would not create problems for young feet.
“The biggest challenge is that you are working with the development of the child, so you never want to do something that would impede a child’s growth of the foot,” she said. “We use a soft-sole technology that molds with the feet as they walk.”
Sarver pledged 10 percent of all Talaria Littles online sales in May to support the programs at The Boys & Girls Club of Stamford. “We’ve been in Fairfield County for over a year and I wanted to give back to the community that was wonderful to me in helping grow the business,” she said.
Talaria Flats is on track to generate $250,000 in sales this year, and Sarver is looking to expand her products’ color selection. But one area for expansion where she is not considering expansion is men’s footwear. “I thought about men’s socks, but men don’t find discomfort with what they’re wearing,” she said.