Neely Powell, the founder of Charleston Shoe Company built her business on knowing who her customer was and where she wanted to be. Neely’s serendipitous meeting with her cobbler in Mexico over 20 years has evolved into an empire of shoes that spans 7 retail locations and dozens of wholesale accounts. Once you slip on one of these comfortable shoes you can see why the styles are so popular. The super kushy insoles and elastic straps will make your feet thank you forever. The tirelessly dedicated entrepreneur spends her time traveling to her stores across the country to help with every detail, and is still hands on with her customers. View more to find out more about Neely’s quest for creating a shoe that combines comfort and style, and of course her love for Charleston.
Photography by Ashley Warnock
What inspired you to start a shoe line? Women, and what they need for comfort and want for style.
Did you always know that you wanted to have a shoe line? I’ve been working with my cobbler for almost 20 years. So I guess you can say that I’ve always been evolving in that direction.
How did you find the factory that produces your line? I met my cobbler 20 years ago and started importing his shoe line. I would sell shoes under my mother’s furniture company, World’s Away, at wholesale markets around the country to women who would be walking the aisles wearing uncomfortable shoes. The showrooms would be a buzz with shoes flying and women laughing with excitement and then before the age of 20 I had over 200 wholesale accounts.
What made you settle your headquarters in Charleston? I attended College of Charleston and about 10 years later Savannah College of Art and Design. The intention was to make a shoe line with the knowledge I gained. However what I realized is I already had the jewel in my hand….and it really wasn’t me to be on the cutting edge of fashion. It became a quest to make comfortable, stylish, women’s shoes. Get them out of tennis shoes and painful trendy stilettos and into something timeless, ageless, and graceful. I opened my first store in Savannah soon after. The success was so huge that I was contacted by friends in Charleston to open a store in the ‘soon to be completed’ city market. I jumped on the opportunity and in less than 8 months had opened 2 more stores in Charleston. Now living here, I could not imagine a different home.
How has Charleston inspired you? What do you think of the growth in Charleston? It is truly amazing. I moved here originally in 1996 and to be a student living north of Calhoun….it was a different world. I have 7 stores now around the country and not one of them competes with Charleston. Everywhere I travel, people either say “I love Charleston” or “It is the one place I am dying to visit”. The energy in this city is truly mesmerizing.
How has it affected your business? When I opened my first store in 2010 on lower King, the sidewalk had just been completed. Stores were closing. Saks had left. Vacant storefronts everywhere. Everyone thought I was crazy to choose the location I did. But I knew with its proximity to residential and tourists attractions, the lovely side of lower king would be a magnet. And now 4 years later the traffic has tripled. I use to stand on the street and beg people to come in….now the streets are so full of excitement.
What’s your best seller? Our old staples are always a winner….the original cobblestones to cocktails Monterey with the lug sole….you just can’t beat the comfort. But our 3 1/2 heels, like the Telfair, feel so great. There’s no reason not to wear a heel. Bunions are our friends and our line now consists of 7 bunion friendly designs and they are always a hit!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now? Same place I am now….in one of my stores, selling shoes, meeting customers and hearing their stories. Then playing with Gigi, my 6 year old after school and designing shoes in my sleep.