Talented ladies club feature

Interview with the Talented Ladies Club

Find out her own hunt for a pair of beautiful, high quality slippers inspired lawyer Interview with Anna Elshafei to launch luxury slipper brand Shaffay.

What’s your career background?

There is nothing in my professional background that has anything at all to do with slippers. I’m a lawyer but my first, and main, interest was always China and Chinese.

I went into law to use my Chinese language skills in a profession. I fell in love with China when I went there as a student and have spent most of my adult life there – most of it practising in large law firms in Hong Kong and Shanghai. I have advised clients in a wide range of industries but never any in the fashion or footwear spaces. 

When did you get the idea for Shaffay?

I had the idea when I was back home in the UK and looking for slippers for myself. I wanted some that were sleek and elegant but not fussy; that were soft and luxurious but practical; and that would last.

I tried all my usual haunts – the stores and websites I go for good quality and stylish clothes and footwear – and was surprised that I could only find slippers that I thought were either ugly or poor quality (or both). 

How did you move from idea to actual business?

It took me a couple of years for me to move from talking about it to actually get started. My husband exports from China and goes to a lot of trade fairs. The sort of trade fairs that exhibit everything you can think of and a few you had not imagined.

When I started thinking about slippers as a business my first thought was simply to source some. We trawled the fairs but fairly quickly realised that no one was making what I was looking for. The only thing for it was to make them. 

The Chinese can make pretty much anything, so I knew I would be able to find a great workshop there. I wanted the design to be British though, so I started out by Googling “shoe designer UK”.

That’s how I found Jess Good, an extremely good and experienced designer, who helped me translate the picture in my head into a proper technical spec that a maker could work with. Once we had that, I found a workshop in Southern China to make the slippers a reality.

By this time, we were into the pandemic and I had got ‘stuck’ in the UK (that’s another story). My husband was equally stuck in China so he was able to visit the workshop while I could only talk to them over WeChat (China’s version of Whatsapp). We went through several prototype models before I was happy with the shape and softness of the product, but ended up with slippers that I think are really lovely.

What’s your USP?

Elegance. Shaffay slippers are soft and comfortable but their key difference is that they are sleek and elegant. These are slippers that you are happy to answer the door in; slippers that look good with your clothes. There is absolutely no felt or boiled wool in the picture!

Who’s your target audience?

Women who like to look good and enjoy a little bit of everyday luxury.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

My own psychology. I know that I am supposed to have absolute and unshakeable belief in myself and what I am doing – or is it just that it is the done thing to claim that? Either way, I don’t. I struggle with constant doubt and overwhelm.

There is a lot of “why on earth do you think you can do this?” Sometimes to the point that I freeze like a rabbit in headlights. I’m not sure that I have overcome this (or ever will). The solution is to reach out and talk to someone who can help with the obstacle or whatever is causing it, but quite often my reaction is to do the opposite and retreat into my own head.

And your proudest moment so far?

My proudest moment so far was the arrival of my first shipment. We had designed the slippers, the silky purple dust bags and the shoe boxes but it was not until the shipment arrived that I saw them together and how lovely the whole package is. I wanted the experience of opening a box of Shaffays to feel like a luxurious treat and it was at that point that I could see that we had achieved that. 

Why is work so important to you?

These days, work is all about having a sense of individual purpose and achievement that is separate from my role as mother, wife, daughter and friend. That part is all about me, to be honest. While my daughter was a child, working was as much about showing her that there are no limits on what a woman can do. (She got the message, I am very proud to say.)

Who inspires you?

Other women who have gone out and started a business and are making it work. The people who inspire me to believe I can succeed are a few stages ahead of me. I

know some people think “if Richard Branson can do it then so can I”, but I don’t yet take inspiration from those who have already achieved stratospheric success because they seem to me to inhabit a different planet. (Note the “yet” in that sentence though…)

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. If it’s a matter of if I don’t, I will spend the rest of my life wondering ‘what if…?  then do it. If not, stick with the day job. 

If you do go for it, then: 

  1. Stick firmly to your own vision but get plenty of advice and help to effect it; and
  2. There will be tasks that make you weep with frustration. Pay someone else to do them.

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