As many of you know, I have a size 12 foot and have always struggled to find shoes. My mother, God bless her, always reminds me that, at 5′ 10″ tall, I would fall over if I had small, dainty, girly feet! Intellectually, I know she has a point; it’s just so hard when I badly want to wear the cute strappy sandals or elegant heels that I see on shows like Sex and the City and my feet will only let me wear ugly men’s shoes (sorry, guys, but come on).
Thankfully, Bernie Fatla, founder of Le Dame Footwear, heard the prayers of my tootsies and jumped into action, creating a brand of fashionable shoes in larger sizes to fit the needs of the cross-dressing, transgender, drag queen, and female consumers. Read on to learn how he was able to fill this massively huge void in the footwear market.
1. Question: What was your previous experience in fashion and how did it lead you to founding Le Dame Footwear?
Answer: I have over 30 years of experience in the footwear business, both as a buyer and as a Merchandise Manager, with a small retail chain of 15 stores that grew and expanded to over 900 stores in the 26 years that I worked for them. I have traveled to China, India, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, and Indonesia, working with various shoe factories as well as the principle players at many brand name shoe companies such as Skechers, Florsheim, Stacy Adams, Johnston & Murphy, Nettleton, Sole 9, Mojo Moxy, and Kenneth Cole, just to name a few. I also traveled across the US and around the world, shopping high-end stores in Florence, London, Hong Kong, southern California, etc, looking at what is in style; what is happening on the street, if you will.
2. Question: Other than an extended size range, what do you feel is Le Dame Footwear’s biggest point of difference?
Answer: We bring quality as well as fashion to the large size range; we have never tried to save a few cents in making our shoes. We always strive to use American leathers and YKK, the best zippers we can buy. Also, since we’ve started working with a factory here in the US, we are able to offer custom, bespoke, if you will, colors and fabrications. Someone who wears a size 13 men’s or 15 women’s shoe has never had the ability to think about designing, much less actually be able to design their own specific shoes. We try our best to make sure all of our customers find what they need. We pride ourselves on excellent customer service and we want to make sure that they love their Le Dame shoes.
3. Question: What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting Le Dame Footwear and how did you overcome it?
Answer: Finding a factory in China that understood what we were trying to do. I was not looking to just make the shoes bigger; I also wanted them to fit a masculine foot. After 4 tries, we finally found a factory that understood what we wanted to do. Persistence, I guess, was what allowed us to finally get over that hurdle, along with my good friend, Ed Tognoni, who helped me a a great deal.
4. Question: Who was your biggest supporter?
Answer: I would have to say my wife, Sharon, and son, Zach. They encouraged me and have always been there for support. I could not have done it without them.
5. Who was Le Dame Footwear’s biggest competition for the “O” Award for “Best Outstanding Apparel or Accessory Brand” and why do you think you won?
Answer: There were 10 companies nominated and I think the biggest ones were Shirley of Hollywood, which has been around for 40+ years, Pleasure Shoes, and Coquette lingerie company as well. I think we won because we were doing something very different; we were going after a niche market that was not being directly addressed and the voters were looking for something unique. I think that’s also the reason why we are still successful today!
6. Question: What is your favorite piece in the current collection and why?
Answer: My most favorite item is the LILY from our “Made in California” collection, a very sexy strappy sandal with a 4″ heel that is an absolutely beautiful shoe. We have had a number of orders for it in a wide variety of colors and materials. For our customers who love this type of heel, we are hoping to also offer it in a boot very soon.
Answer: That is an interesting question. I think part of it, luckily for me, is that they just do not think there is a market for them. But I think it’s more that retailers do not want to address the issue; as a result, manufacturers don’t want to invest in the development to address the customer who wears a size 12 and is just as fashionable as the one who wears a size 8. Our feeling at Le Dame Footwear is that every foot deserves a beautiful shoe. That is also how I feel in my soul.
8. Question: Do you think Le Dame would be successful on the East coast? Why or why not?
Answer: Yes, I have no reason to think we won’t be, since we ship our shoes world wide. There is no area of this country that does not need the type of footwear that we at Le Dame Footwear provide.
9. Question: What would you say to the critics who claim that encouraging women to accept their bodies will add to the obesity epidemic?
Answer: Although I am not smart enough to know all of the issues related to obesity, I do know that being larger is not necessarily associated with being obese. I have customers who wear a size 14, 15, or 16 and are not obese, but simply larger women that are in very good shape and still want pretty, feminine, sexy, comfortable shoes. This also applies to the cross dressing market; again, at Le Dame Footwear, we believe that every foot deserves a beautiful shoe.
10. What are your hopes for Le Dame and yourself over the next 5 years?