The first thing Sandra Gault says that really blows my mind is when she tells me that for the purposes of her app, a woman’s traditional shoe size doesn’t matter.
Permit me an overshare: as a woman with a left foot that’s nearly a half size bigger than her right one, I’m beyond intrigued. When I admit this to Gault, another woman who is sitting nearby in True Gault’s New York City office chimes in solidarity.
Gault, who has spent the past six years talking to women about their feet, nods sagely. Nobody is perfectly symmetrical, she says. That’s just one of many reasons why women have so many problems with their shoes — which, because high heels throw the entire skeleton off-balance, tend to be much harder on the body than men’s.
Sandra Gault wants to fix that. True Gault is a web-based, direct-to-consumer custom-fit high heel company that allows women to create 3D scans of their feet from their iPhones. By downloading the app and taking a series of pictures, users can choose from a selection of 20 styles, pick a color, a heel height (currently 2” or 4”), pay $250 and then wait three to four weeks for their biometrically unique shoes to arrive from the factory in Spain.
The True Gault app launched in the Apple store on December 22, 2016, soon after the company was accepted into Google’s Accelerated Growth Program. With six employees, seven investors and an initial seed of $1.3 million, True Gault is the rare women’s dress shoe company that makes comfort its biggest priority. Women will suffer for fashion but are loyal to footwear brands that don’t make them have to. For this reason, True Gault is well positioned to become a beloved alternative to traditional shoe retailers.
The idea first came to Gault at a party in Miami, when she offered to let her friend try on her pair of eye-catching pair of Jimmy Choos. The friend demurred, complaining about her troublesome feet that made finding shoes that fit her nearly impossible.
Just that morning Gault, a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” had watched with a mix of curiosity and amusement as two men sold pair after pair of $120 “custom” clogs from a folding table on Lincoln Road. In reality, the shoes were premade and buyers could pick from a variety of colored leather bands to personalize them. At the party, Gault asked her friend if she would be interested in buying attractive shoes that were designed to accommodate her specific foot issues. The friend got so excited that she spent the rest of the night talking to people about Gault’s idea. By the end, Gault says, she had a fistful of business cards and leads on everything from a web designer to a factory.
Gault, who had been looking for her next big idea, wrote the hypothetical company’s value proposition on the plane ride back to New York, but then put it away for six months. She wanted to build her next $50 million-$100 million business and wasn’t convinced this was it. It was 2010, and she had taken time off since growing her previous startup, a Rochester-based telecommunications business called Allworx, which sold to PAETEC for $25 million in cash just before the 2008 financial crisis. During her time off, she had learned to play the piano, alphabetized her spice rack, and drove across the country in a Corvette with her husband. She wasn’t quite ready to go back to work.
But the idea lingered in her mind, and as Gault started researching the existing market for shoes she became more and more convinced that the industry was ripe for disruption. Unfortunately, the only existing scanner was proprietary to healthcare and it would have cost Gault $25,000 to buy one. So Gault continued researching and found a company that created prosthetic lower limbs for wounded soldiers. She made a deal with them: she would borrow a scanner in exchange for data. “I started doing pop-ups where I asked women to donate their feet to science. They loved it.” It was at one of these events that Gault met the head of Google’s accelerator program.
It took nine months and a team of five developers to build the scanning technology behind the app. Meanwhile Gault, who calls herself “a geek in high heels,” kept chipping away at the business plan. She went into partnership with a Spanish factory on a handshake, with an industry veteran who agrees that the future of the shoe business lies in tech. True Gault makes shoes to order and doesn’t carry inventory, which keeps their costs down. “In traditional retail, it might take nine months to get a boot into Saks,” Gault explains. “We are seasonless. We don’t care about seasons. We can bring a new shoe to market in four to eight weeks.”
Right now, True Gault is only available in the US and Canada, but Gault intends to take the business worldwide. She is also open to selling her technology to other shoe manufacturers, at least eventually. “We built the backend tech so that it’s scalable in both directions,” Gault says. “As both a product that you can resell and a direct-to-consumer product.”
She offers to let me try on her shoes – after all, that’s how this all got started in the first place. I do and have to admit that even though her bright pink four-inch heels aren’t designed for my feet, they feel more comfortable than the average pump. Gault tells me that 35% of her current customers buy more than two pairs per year and that she’s her own best customer – she only wears her “Gaults” now.
In part, that’s because she’s a smart businessperson, but Gault insists it’s more than that. “I still have my Jimmy Choos and my Louboutins,” she says. “Because every once in a while, I want to remember what it feels like to walk around in a bad pair of shoes.”