As we continue in our commitment to elevate diversity, inclusion and equality conversations, FN is shining a light on Black-owned businesses in honor of Black Business Month. For these next few weeks, we encourage you to get to know these incredible Black-owned companies and support them all year round.
Ashlie Hallman isn’t worried about checking off a box.
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In fact, Smash Shoes — a contemporary women’s footwear brand focused on sizes 10 and up — is a powerful testament to Hallman’s entrepreneurial spirit and her ability to ensure unchecked boxes don’t become stubborn hurdles.
“I didn’t know how to sketch very well when I first started. I’m not an artist by trade. I didn’t uproot my life to go to design school in Italy. Yet I’m here,” said Hallman, reflecting on her path to building a business that counts Lizzo and WNBA stars Nneka Ogwumike and Candice Parker as fans. “My passion is solving problems and filling gaps. All the other important skills like designing, marketing, business operations were developed along the way.”
Smash Shoes, which Hallman — who is 6 feet tall, plus sized and wears a size 13 shoe — debuted six years ago, was inspired by her own frustration in attempting to find cute, on-trend footwear in her size.
“When I was in college, I had a friend who worked at a big-box retailer that carried larger shoe sizes. Everything they put on the floor was never in my size,” she explained. “My friend would invite me into their stock room to rummage through everything in my size. While at first glance it felt like shoe heaven to see all of these large sizes in one place, the shoes rarely matched my style. They were often boring and didn’t match my fashion style.”
Hallman used her personal savings to launch Smash Shoes, a direct-to-consumer label that has grown to comprise a team of five people, who all happen to be Black. But, like many small business owners, Hallman still wears multiple hats.
“You name a role and I play it — from marketing, finance, operations, fulfillment to sometimes modeling the shoes on the company Instagram and website,” she said. “I am still intimately involved with every aspect of business.”
And being self-funded also means Hallman’s budget is dwarfed by those of larger brands — something she said she pays for “with longer timelines and a lot of sleepless nights.” Even so, she’s enjoyed marked success.
In addition to celebrity sightings, Smash Shoes made the buzzed-about list of Black-owned brands, Black Parade, curated by Beyoncé’s stylist Zerina Akers in June for Beyonce.com.
“I’m beyond grateful for each of those moments because it allows us to connect with even more women,” said Hallman of the brand’s star appeal. “The truth is, getting tagged on social or receiving reviews from our everyday customers is most gratifying. We sell shoes to women across the globe, literally. So the first time I got a glowing review from a customer who I did not know personally — who purchased our shoes and felt good enough to come back to the site and write a [flattering] review — was when I knew we’d be successful.”
It’s also that same everyday woman that Hallman had in mind when she nailed down the price points for Smash Shoes: $29 to $149.
Those affordable prices are also mindful of the community of minority women who are likely to be the anchor for the brand as both its employees and its main constituents. What’s more, it’s consistent with Hallman’s larger mission to empower women to embrace “who they are and overcome insecurities.” For example, Hallman’s line does not shy away from higher heel heights despite the fact that her customer often stands at least 6 feet tall.
“We don’t shrink ourselves to make others comfortable: Wear your height, your curves, whoever you are, authentically, with pride,” she said.
And, while you’re doing all the above, you can throw support behind a Black business — because, in this moment, it’s never been more critical.
“Supporting Black businesses does so many things,” Hallman said. “It uplifts and encourages a community of people who historically have been minimized and had their businesses destroyed (see Black Wall Street, Tulsa).”
She added, “I love it because I get the opportunity to reinvest in my own community and support the dreams of other entrepreneurs who I identify with. Plus, in fashion, I feel that Black people are the culture and set the tone for what is fashionable. So, why not support our businesses?”