At 23, Paula Macaulay is the youngest business owner I’ve interviewed.
Standing at 5ft 10 with size UK 9 feet, she also happens to be the tallest with the largest feet.
Now if you’re new to reading these interviews or haven’t checked in for a while, I can assure you I don’t make a habit of making such depthless observations but it’s that unique fact that inspired Paula to set up her business…
It’s Saturday December 2nd 2017 and after a mini road trip up t’north (well, Peterborough), we find ourselves tucked away at the back of a local Starbucks. Surrounded by hoards of Christmas shoppers taking refuge from the pre-Christmas crowds, I’m keen to find out more about the woman who this time last year, had nothing but ideas to her name.
After “let’s start from the very beginning” escapes from my mouth, we digress in an instant about the classic that is The Sound of Music – every time I say it visions of choir in primary school come flooding back – but we’re soon (much to your relief, I’m sure) back on track.
Citing shoe mogul Sophia Webster as her source of inspiration, this is one young business owner who isn’t afraid to aim high; proving just how much can be achieved in a year if you stick to your resolution’s and find pockets of time to work on your ideas…
SC.SD. Oh my gosh, I used to love that film! Right, I’ll rephrase (!), shall we start with what Rayo is all about?
PM. Yes! So Rayo is a luxury footwear company for ladies that have larger feet. I came up with the idea when I was nineteen in my second year at uni because I wear a size nine… I got into fashion quite a lot and it was so hard to find nice shoes in my size! I don’t even know what happened but I just thought to myself, ‘I want to start a footwear company’ so I just started researching into it! I wasn’t putting my all into it though because I had other commitments as well…
SC.SD. I was going to say, in second year the work kicks up a notch doesn’t it?!
PM. Exactly, first year doesn’t count!
Given Paula’s decision to pursue a career in the fashion industry, it would be easy to assume that she studied a design related degree but in fact she graduated from Nottingham Trent in 2015, with a 2.1 in Law.
PM. I had no fashion background at all! I’ve never even worked in fashion except as a Christmas temp at Schuh in first year…! As far as I can remember, they stop at a UK size 8 for women which proved my point even more!
SC.SD. So where do you buy your shoes from?!
PM. At uni, New Look went up to a size 9 so I got most of my shoes there and occasionally I could squeeze into an 8 at Primark! If I can squeeze into an 8 it’s a good day but most of the time it’s New Look!
SC.SD. So you’re basically restricted to one shop on the high street?!
PM. Pretty much! Shoes from New Look were the most stylish shoes I could find in uni that would actually fit. And even New Look were so on and off at times… I remember there was a ball in first year and all I wanted was some red shoes. That doesn’t sound like a hard ask but when the only option is New Look, they don’t have any red shoes stocked in a 9 and you’re on a time constraint, it’s virtually impossible. It was the most frustrating experience ever! That was another wake up call for me…
SC.SD. I’m not surprised!
PM. Since I started researching at uni, a few new companies have started to catch on and stock a few extra sizes which at first worried me but actually there’s so much room for it! If you think about the options if you have smaller feet, let’s say you wear a size five for example, you can go to so many different shops…
SC.SD. Guilty! I’m a 5F…
(My weekend job on the Children’s Shoes department at John Lewis aged 17 had it’s perks…!)
SC.SD. If the bigger stores have started stocking larger sizes though, I suppose it only validates the necessity for it; you’re not just catering for yourself…
PM. Exactly, there’s a need for it.
SC.SD. When you were researching, were there any statistics for how many women actually have size 8+ feet?
PM. In general, people are getting bigger. There’s a statistic from the College of Podiatry that says the average shoe size has gone up two sizes since the fifties but yet the range is still the same. If the average shoe size for women is now a UK 6, it means there are now more women that wear size 7 plus but shops still stop at a UK 8. Even New Look’s size 9 has got smaller. Initially it was an EU 43 but it’s now a 42 which is a size 8 so I just have to rely on a wide fit size 8!
SC.SD. So you’re basically walking around in uncomfortable shoes 24/7?
PM. Pretty much and for someone that really loves shoes, it’s so hard! I think I make up for it by buying loads of clothes instead…!
SC.SD. Something’s got to give! Let’s go back to your research… What kind of questions were you looking into at uni?
PM. In third year I was researching things like where to find a manufacturer? I found it really hard to find a manufacturer in the UK but that’s what I wanted because of the convenience and high quality which would help the luxury side of things.
There’s so much out there for British companies that manufacture in the UK though! For instance, there’s a company called British Made that have a collection of all the companies (fashion, shoes etc…) that are made in the UK which gives them an extra platform so that’s another reason why I wanted a UK manufacturer!
At uni, it was more a case that I had the idea, I was doing the research but I didn’t know where to go with it…In my final year I decided I wasn’t going to practice law. My overall goal is to work on Rayo full time so until then I decided to get into an industry that will help me develop skills that I can apply to my business in the long term. Hence why I now work in marketing…
SC.SD. What was it about law that made you not want to go into it full time?
PM. Before I ever went to uni, I randomly got cold feet at one point about studying law but I did it anyway and I really enjoyed it! I’d never regret studying it, it was so interesting and if I had to start all over again I would still study Law but I think in my second and third year, it became so clear that I just don’t have the passion for it to put in those ridiculous hours. I’m young and I don’t just want to live my life, I want to enjoy it and only do the things I love as well!
SC.SD. 100% If your heart’s not in it, that would be a huge sacrifice! I suppose it’s given you such a good grounding for business though? A lot of companies have to outsource legal help.
PM. Exactly, it’s so transferable!
SC.SD. Given that your long term goal is to go full-time with Rayo, how do you find juggling a start-up with a full-time job?
PM. I’d say I’m really committed at work because I want to do my best in anything I do. You never know when you’ll meet people again or need a reference (!) but sometimes, of course everyone gets demotivated and I sit there thinking I just want to work on my business! At the same time though, I understand that at this point of time, I’m not in a position to go full-time with it. I’d rather have a steady job than to struggle unnecessarily!
SC.SD. That’s very wise! It’s obviously picked up a lot in 2017…
Having spent 2016 working in both France and America – first as an English language assistant and in the US, as a camp councillor – a period she admits to being “massively out of her comfort zone”, on her return to the UK Paula made it her mission to launch Rayo…
PM. I obviously had the idea for Rayo but hadn’t acted on it so at the start of the year I set a few goals- one of which was to start my business this year!
SC.SD. Was this a case of writing goals down on 31st December 2016?!
PM. Yes! I always come up with my list of New Year’s Resolutions! This year I refined them a little bit because it’s usually a massive list..! The main one was to start the business as this is the first year since graduating that I’ve been back in England properly, I had a full-time job, I had no reason not to do it! So I decided in September I was going to launch…
September is one of the two fashion months and I knew at the start of the year that I wouldn’t be ready for February (Fashion Week A/W 17)… There wouldn’t have been enough time to meet manufacturers and get the name out there…
SC.SD. For anyone that wants to follow in your footsteps, how did you know who to meet, where did you end up finding your manufacturer etc..?
PM. Google was my best friend! You have to Google so many terms and email so many people! For example the British Footwear Association helped! I also followed up on some of the old research which I’d left from uni! I can’t remember who I emailed asking if they manufactured shoes for ladies with larger feet but they came back and said: “we don’t but contact these people!” That’s how I was able to find a manufacturer and then I Googled “what are you supposed to actually ask manufacturers?!”
When I went to meet with the manufacturers, he came back and he was like “would you like a cup of tea?” I don’t even like hot drinks but he was so friendly so that’s what did it for me! I was like “you’re my manufacturer!”
SC.SD. Time out for a second… You don’t like hot drinks?! Not even coffee?!
PM. Not at all! Sometimes I have a hot chocolate but I just went along with it and asked for a tea with 2 sugars and milk!
SC.SD. Oh my gosh! I don’t know what I’d do without caffeine! Were you nervous going to meet him?
PM. I never really get nervous about things… unless it’s public speaking! I just get on with it and push the emotions away but I always prepare going into those kinds of things. When I know I’ve prepared, I definitely feel less nervous. I think if you’re someone that does get nervous though, you really do just have to go for it. I know that’s not helpful but…!
SC.SD. You just need to ‘man up’… shit, I always say that and I shouldn’t should I!?
PM. Girl power!
SC.SD. ‘Girl up’ girls!
PM. It’s so true though! I think because I don’t have that fashion experience behind me, I just knew I had to throw myself in and go for it!
SC.SD. That’s what a lot of this journey is all about though isn’t it? You could have spent another year just thinking about it or you could actually open up Google, type in “What exactly do I say to a manufacturer?” and get going!
PM. Exactly! When you eventually start, you see things happening and that motivates you more so you just keep going! For me, when I first got the prototypes through, I just thought ‘oh my gosh! Three years of ideas and here it is!’ It’s crazy!
SC.SD. I bet! What inspired your first design?
PM. To be honest I design shoes that I want! I trust my fashion sense and the world is such a big place so someone out there will like them and if they don’t then they might know someone that does! I feel like everyone I’ve spoken to about my business knows someone that has big feet, even if they don’t themselves!
SC.SD. My Mum wears a size 8 and when I told her I was interviewing you she just went “hallelujah!”
PM. Haha exactly! I’ve had the Rayo Instagram account for a while and at the start of last year I actively started posting on it. I just had ‘large shoes coming soon’ in the bio and just pictures of shoes that I liked and mixed that with quotes which helped to build the following so when it came to launching, I already had a bit of a following there. Instagram is such a visual place so hopefully I can continue to build on that following!
I’m not super creative! Actually, I’m trying not to say that as much now…
SC.SD. You’ve got to be! You’re designing shoes!
PM. That’s true! Ok, I’m trying to not say that as much anymore but when it came to designing the original website, I really felt like I couldn’t do it! A friend ended up referring me to a friend who helped to make the landing page and logo- I think that cost about £150. I definitely think it’s worth asking around before paying for a professional because there’s always someone out there and it’ll be a lot cheaper than the big companies.
I have a mentor and I was talking to her about the website and she just said “do you know what? It doesn’t have to be fancy. As long as people can buy the shoes, that’s the main thing!” Later on, as the brand grows, I can always change it. It does the job for now! I ended up designing the current website on Shopify. For someone that’s not graphic designer-y, it’s not bad!
And then when it came to building the mailing lists, I went to friends and family who sent out WhatsApp broadcasts…
SC.SD. What’s a WhatsApp broadcast?!
PM. You basically select loads of people in your contacts and then send out a big message!
SC.SD. Oh I see! I thought you meant you could do a national message to everyone! I was sat here thinking ‘oh my gosh! I need that!’
PM. That would be amazing! But no, it has to be your own contacts! I was the first person to sign up to my own mailing list…!
SC.SD. It’s got to be done!
PM. Exactly! For a while it was just people I knew but then I started looking for niche groups that targeted tall girls as they tend to have larger feet and I found two with quite big followings. I went along to their events, put little bits in the event goodie bags and then people I didn’t know started to join my mailing list! It was so cool!
SC.SD. That’s amazing! And it’s so organic!
PM. It really is! Once the business launched, I did a few sponsored Instagram posts but to be honest with you, I haven’t seen many results from them. I only ever spend about £15 on them though so I might get better results if I put more money behind it..
SC.SD. See I’ve heard mixed reviews about sponsored Instagram posts –mostly unfavourable – and I guess you can’t exactly hone in on your target audience. It’s not like when people sign up for Instagram it asks how big their feet are…!
PM. Exactly! Although saying that, my target audience is in their mid-twenties/thirties, they’re a young professional, they have a bit more disposable income and they’re willing to invest in fashion. Obviously they need to wear a size 7 plus but even if they’re in that audience with small feet, they can still buy the shoes for people they know so I’ve tried to brand it that way.
A lot of the brands that target women with big feet make it so obvious and that’s not a bad thing but Kurt Geiger for instance don’t scream about how they cater for ‘AVERAGE SIZED FEET!’ I decided to call my company Rayo because our vision is to inspire women to embrace their differences and be truly and unashamedly themselves and we want to achieve this in so many different ways. So yes we are a footwear company but our long term plans include a lot more than just that.
SC.SD. I love that! Let’s talk about the name… I’m intrigued to know where it came from?!
PM. My family is Nigerian and Nigerians tend to have lots of names so it’s literally just the last four letters of one of my middle names, Motunrayo! I want Rayo to be a company that lasts for generations so I want it to have my name on it! Plus Rayo looks good with the logo…
SC.SD. It does indeed! What’s your whole name?
PM. It’s Paula Oyinkansola Motunrayo Macaulay!
SC.SD. Oh my gosh! You’re going to have to spell that for me!
Thankfully she went on to…!
SC.SD. Let’s talk about how the business is doing…
PM. I remember when I got my first order… I just screamed “I’ve got my first order!” I was so happy! I told everyone!
SC.SD. I bet! How long did it take to come through after the launch?
PM. I can’t actually remember! I launched pre-orders on 26th August and I think the first order came through mid-September so it wasn’t straight away…
SC.SD. How did it feel during the fortnight in between?!
PM. I just kept pushing it! Even now, I always have a call to action in my posts like ‘click the link in the bio to order!’ The anticipation was there, I really wanted someone to order but it didn’t get me down so much that there hadn’t been one yet!
When you launch your business you always think the floodgates are going to open and loads of people will order but my mentor said it takes time and deep down I knew that it would take a while before the orders start coming in. I just tried to be patient…
Since then I’ve just been trying to build brand awareness and just hope to get more orders!
SC.SD. And since September, what’s it been like?
PM. Every so often I get a few orders- I’m just trying to be patient with it. My mentor just keeps saying that it takes time, you have to work hard and all of a sudden it just happens!
SC.SD. You just need to put that groundwork in don’t you?
PM. Yes! It’s building something and trusting the process…
Given that statistics show one of the main reasons holding young women back from launching their own business is a lack of role models to look up to and mentors to help en route, I’m intrigued to find out how Paula came across hers…
PM. It’s a lady called Alison Lewy. I’m always looking for business events and because I’m always back and forth from London to see friends, I found her through one of her London events. She has a company called Fashion Angel– we were able to connect and go from there really.
I think it helps that she’s in the fashion industry. She helps a lot of companies so she knows what she’s doing and has so many contacts. I think one of my concerns was that I didn’t have that fashion background so I knew I needed to find someone who did. I don’t want someone to sugar coat things with me; I need them to be realistic and she is.
SC.SD. That’s perfect! Let’s talk about the un-sugar coated reality…
PM. The behind the scenes?
SC.SD. The behind the scenes!
PM. The behind the scenes reality is that Instagram can look glamorous but you really don’t know what’s going on behind those squares! They might not even be getting sales and it’s often one person doing everything which is me. I do the social media, I design the shoes, I pack the shoes, I do all the admin, literally everything…
SC.SD. Alongside a full time job…
PM. Exactly! It can be so hard. You have to motivate yourself and if you’re not feeling motivated or you’re having a down day, nothing happens. If the emails aren’t going out, there not going out! No one else will do it for you.
SC.SD. Absolutely! If I’m being honest I woke up this morning and it’s a Saturday, I was so tired, the drive up here wasn’t at all appealing but you have to weigh it up don’t you? You can’t not turn up and it’s always worth it! It’s on you.
PM. Exactly, it’s not like you can send someone else. It’s hard but the benefits outweigh how hard it is in my opinion. One of the things I’ve tried to adopt this year is the mentality that I have to keep going until it works!
SC.SD. You and me both girl! If you’ve come this far, it would be such a waste to quit now and there’s clearly a need for what you’re doing…
PM. I think it helps to look back at how far you’ve come as well. Sometimes, I just think ‘oh great, how long is it going to take before I’m selling 100 pairs of shoes a week?’ but then I think this time last year, I didn’t even have a sample, I didn’t have a website, I didn’t have a mailing list, I didn’t have anything! At the same time though, remembering how far I’ve come, I’m not going to think ‘ok I can relax now!’
SC.SD. Definitely not! You mentioned before that one of the reasons you didn’t pursue law was because you wanted a work/life balance… Running your own business can make that a tricky goal to achieve… How do you think you’ll deal with the reality when you work on Rayo full-time?
PM. I really don’t know! I think I’m so excited to do it full-time but I don’t know what it’ll be like in reality! With my full time job, once it hits 5 o’clock I’m going home and I don’t think about it! But with my business – because it’s something I enjoy doing – it doesn’t feel like work. It’s more like a hobby! I guess that’s dangerous though because you could enjoy it so much that you don’t stop so it’s learning when to walk away!
I’m so blessed to have the family I have though. I genuinely love spending time with them and all I need to do at home is come downstairs – my laptop is upstairs – and I’m distracted by them.
SC.SD. How did they react when you explained that you were going to launch your own company?
PM. I think it’s a family thing to have our own businesses! My Mum has her own nurseries and my big sister has her own physio clinic so my family are so supportive! My closest friends have been so supportive too so I haven’t seen any relationships change but to be honest, I haven’t told many people that I’ve got my own business! Only two of my colleagues know! It’s not that I’m trying to keep it a secret, it’s more that I’d rather let the business speak for itself when it’s ready. I do feel lucky with the people around me though…
SC.SD. You’ve got a good safety blanket?
PM. Yes and I think it’s so important to have those people around you because there’s people out there that can really drag you down. Sometimes people can be so negative and that’s why I don’t tell everyone. If you` lay everything out on the table and someone comes along and crushes everything you’ve said, it’s so demotivating.
SC.SD. I think a lot of people will relate to that! It’s just a case of learning who to share your ideas with…
PM. Most definitely! Even when I used to say I want to study law, so many people would say “but that’s so hard, only X % of people make it” and I’d be thinking firstly, ‘how do you know the percentage?!’ and secondly, ‘why can’t I be the percentage?!’ From then on, I learnt you don’t need to tell everyone your plans. The main people know and that’s all that matters.
Being nosey, I’m also intrigued to find out how owning a business at 23 goes down in the dating scene..!
PM. It’s difficult! I’d feel more inclined to tell guys early on in the dating process to test their reaction and find out if they were intimidated. The way he reacted to it would say a lot! I just want someone that would be supportive of my dreams because I’d be supportive of his and I want someone that has ambition too. Then we can be each other’s cheerleaders!
SC.SD. I love that! Moving on then, you’ve mentioned that you’ve attended a few networking events? Is their support to be found from other young women in business?
PM. I’ve met a few women that are doing their own thing- that’s why going to these networking events is so good. You’re surrounded by like-minded people that don’t think starting a business is the most impossible, craziest idea so you get a boost! It makes you feel that actually yes, this is a good idea! You know deep down your idea is good but when people knock it down, it makes you question yourself and that’s the last thing you need.
At networking events, you find the right people to support you from a business perspective. You might not collaborate straight away…
SC.SD. But you’ve made the connection?
PM. Exactly! That’s the key thing and you can always reconnect later down the line when you need help. It would be so good to go to more events although people have said I’m a bit of an introvert because I don’t like socialising..!
SC.SD. Don’t worry! I’m so looking forward to going home tonight, putting my PJs on and watching I’m a Celebrity. I think the common perception of business owners is that they feel comfortable in the spotlight, they’re constantly socialising and go go go! But that’s not always the case nor does it have to be…
PM. Not at all! I’m definitely a movie night in over wild night out kind of girl!
SC.SD. Hear, hear! What’s your favourite motivational quote?
PM. Oh that’s so hard! I have one on my phone that says “be a pineapple, stand tall, wear a crown and be sweet on the inside!”
SC.SD. I love that one! That’s so you too! In terms of 2018 plans, what are the next steps for Rayo?
PM. I want to be spending an hour a day working on my business in 2018. Because it’s just me, it’s so easy to neglect certain areas so I’m hoping if I do a little bit each day I can cover all bases. I’m also really hoping to release a full collection in 2018 as I only have one style at the moment and ideally I’d like four different styles.
My Mum also suggested stocking in different department stores and I’d love to do seasonal pop-up shops but I need to look into that… I just need to keep researching into the best way to put myself out there and focus on getting the sales in so I can reinvest in the business…I’m really excited about it!
SC.SD. You have every reason to be! Final question then, what does success look like to you?
PM. That’s so hard because I feel like there’s always room to improve! I feel like you can have success in little things though. For example, building the mailing list – even if you get one person you don’t know on there – that’s a success in itself. There’s not one point where you’re successful. I think I’m determined and persistent and you can be the best out there but if you’re not persistent it doesn’t matter. You just have to build up lots of little successes!
My long term goal is to become a leader in the footwear industry though – not just for large feet- but the industry as a whole! I just want to inspire women to be comfortable in who they are- who cares if you wear a size nine, it’s not the end of the world! And I want to inspire people in general! I’m just a normal girl… if I can do it anyone can!
There’s a reason why I chose to make this interview my first of 2018.
At the start of 2017, Rayo was nothing but an idea with not one prototype, manufacturer or customer to its name and yet today it is a fully fledged business that has already received orders, stocked with the shoes, vision and potential to become a household brand.
…And a well-timed New Year’s Resolution and sheer commitment from its Founder has a great deal to do with that fact.
At just nineteen, Paula came up with an idea that resonates with many but rather than sit on it pondering like so many of us do, she waited for the right moment to commit, researching along the way, and has celebrated every mounting success since its very first day.
Though the orders haven’t flooded in overnight – which let’s face it, is every start-up’s secret hope – it’s a reflection of the reality of how so many big brands begin. Her patience in the process and her faith in her idea is a tell-tale sign of great things to come and by refusing to let any negative influences hinder her progress- an unfortunate trap which can crop up in the early days- she has proved how mature she is for her age.
(She has also proved that pockets of time can be found by working on her business around a nine to five!)
As the first week of January draws to a close, this is a story I will take inspiration from as the year unfolds.