Read Anna’s interview with Family Friendly Working.
My name is Anna Elshafei. I am a 54 year old wife, mother and businesswoman.
I am British (English born and bred) but have spent nearly all my adult life overseas. For most of that time I have been in China. Currently, and over the last year or so, Covid rules have kept me out of China so I have been backwards and forwards between the UK and Egypt. As I write this, I am in our house in Egypt, which is in a new town in Greater Cairo but not in the city centre. The windows are wide open and I am looking out on our very green garden. It is very lovely, calm and quiet – probably not at all what you imagine when you think of Cairo, or Egypt generally. (If you have ever been to Cairo, you will know that it is mostly beige, extremely noisy and wonderfully chaotic.) Yesterday, my husband and I sat for a while watching the birds in the garden. We could identify a hoopoe but not others, so ordered a guide to Egyptian birds.
The Egyptian connection is that this is where my husband hails from. We met in China about 100 years ago when we were both studying Chinese – that’s the China connection. When we married, he didn’t want to live in England and I didn’t want to live in Egypt, so we made our life in China, he as a business man, exporting all sorts of things from China to the Middle East and South America, and me as a lawyer. We have one daughter who is all grown up now and working in London. She went to school in Hong Kong, China and the UK and stayed in the UK for university.
I now run Shaffay, a new brand of luxury slippers for women. We launched at the end of last year with our first “Signature” collection of soft, nappa leather slippers in four gorgeous colourways. The soft leather upper is lined with equally soft, furry fabric. A memory foam inner sole provides comfort underfoot and is topped with a layer of nappa leather in a colour that contrasts with, and complements, the colour of the upper – so that they look as good on the floor beside your sofa as they do on your feet. The flexible rubber soles are non-slip and strong enough to survive trips to the garden. Customers tell us that they are pretty waterproof too. They are (if I do say so myself) absolutely lovely!
I started Shaffay after becoming fed up with being a lawyer and deciding that I wanted to be able to spend more time with family in the UK and Egypt and with my husband in China. The inspiration came from personal experience: trying to buy slippers that were a bit elegant and would look good with the clothes I wear at home – slippers that I could wear with a nice outfit when friends come to visit, when working from home and also when simply padding around the house. I tried all my usual haunts and hunted online but could not find such a thing. Everything on the market seemed to me to be too fluffy, too grannyish or too masculine. I wanted something elegant, sleek, soft and good quality. I felt that slippers had not kept up with loungewear. Nearly every clothing brand had a line of loungewear, much of it gorgeous, but the slippers to go with it were nowhere to be seen. Clearly, women like me were not being served in the slipper department. I had to come to their rescue.
As a lawyer, I had ZERO clue how do make slippers. However, having been in China all those years, I knew that the Chinese can make anything and I would definitely be able to find someone there to make the slippers that I was clearly picturing in my head. I also knew that I would be able to tap into my husband’s extensive experience of buying from Chinese suppliers to help me find and work with the right people. In order for someone clever to make the slippers for me, I needed to be able to tell them very precisely what I was after. That meant I needed to find a pukka shoe designer: someone who would listen, add their own creative flair and produce a technical specification. A simple online search led me to Jess Good who did all that and more. Jess pointed me in the direction of Susannah Davda, The Shoe Consultant, who specialises in helping entrepreneurs create footwear brands. Both Jess and Susannah were (are) brilliant.
When the tech spec was ready, my husband and I were separated by Covid rules. He was in China and I in England. The long-suffering man therefore did all the heavy lifting in terms of finding the right materials and visiting the workshop in Guangdong. It led to a few disagreements, of course!
I was just as clueless about marketing, branding, website building and all the other myriad things you need to get on top of in order to run a brand. I am pretty good at finding smart people, though, and have been extremely grateful to all the small businesses who helped, and continue to help, Shaffay develop into a real-life brand.
Even with all that help, it has not been easy. Launching a small business is not straightforward. There are so many things to think about and so much to learn – especially when you have spent your working life in a completely different space. I struggle with many elements of it, most of all with online technology (thank goodness for Pete at Ascendant Content who sorts most of that out for me!).
There are two things I enjoy most about Shaffay. The first is that it allowed me to tap into my creative side – a side I didn’t know I had. I really enjoy the design process, especially choosing imaginative colour combinations. The second thing is people’s reaction when they first pick up a pair of our slippers. I love that their faces light up and, without fail, exclaim “Oh my god! They’re so soft!” That really makes all the effort I have put into the brand worthwhile.