SSLs meet Antonia Anselmi Clarkin, Owner and Lead Designer of Fabia Designs Ltd. in Te Kuiti, New Zealand. Antonia hails from a footwear family that has always considered #QueenFeet a priority. The brand has recently made their debut in the U.S., so I’m sure you all will love this SSL Approved brand, especially if you like to find new places to shop. I love a good story. So, if you’re like me, you’re in for a SSL treat. Enjoy!
SSL: Tell me a little about your family’s background. How did you all get your start?
In 1966, my father, Tony Anselmi, started a slipper manufacturing plant in Te Kuiti, a small town on the North Island of New Zealand where I grew up. My dad had been in shoes since he left school – he managed, and later purchased, a chain of shoe stores owned by my Italian immigrant grandfather.
The factory, called Fabia, made slippers at first. It then moved into sandals, and on to shoes. It was one of the largest shoe manufacturing plants in New Zealand, and supplied footwear to New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific Islands.
When my youngest son was two, I borrowed some machinery from my dad, and started a small factory making evening handbags to match the “special occasion” shoes made by Fabia. I taught myself how to design and pattern-cut handbags, and employed a small group of women to sew them. This business worked well for 10 years, and only closed when the footwear factory stopped manufacturing in New Zealand in 2003. This was the year I purchased the business from my dad, and I have been designing and importing Fabia shoes ever since.
SSL: What was your personal inspiration for joining the family footwear business?
I’ve always had a passion for footwear. From a young age, I’d spent some of my holidays helping out at the factory, spraying and packing shoes. My formal entry into Fabia came about 15 years ago when the factory was about to close. I believed very strongly that the business was too good to lose. So, I managed Fabia for the last year of manufacturing in New Zealand, and then, successfully transferred our manufacturing offshore while still controlling all aspects of our design and quality process. This has resulted in Fabia being one of a very small number of New Zealand footwear designers still in business after the demise of the local industry.
SSL: Like your customers, do you happen to wear a size US 10+ in footwear?
Yes, I wear a US size 10.5. My experience struggling to find fashionable, well-fitting shoes in my size is a key motivator for me.
SSL: Did your company initially specialize in larger size women’s footwear?
Yes, Fabia has always made large sizes in conjunction with our standard sizes. Everyone in my family is quite tall, so it’s always been a focus of ours to meet the needs of tall women.
SSL: Has it been difficult to produce/source footwear for larger sizes? If so, what was the biggest challenge(s)?
Yes, it has been difficult at times. There are many extra costs associated with making larger sizes. Often the molds required for soles, heels, etc. do not exist beyond a size 8 or 9. And we have to pay a lot of attention to the grading between sizes, to make sure that a size 10 and larger ends up being accurately sized for our market.
And sometimes, the factories that make the lasts (shapes) for us simply don’t have the machinery available to make the length we require in a size 13 boot. Very frustrating!
SSL: Why was it important for your brand to include larger sizes in its collection?
New Zealanders tend to be bigger people. Limiting our collections to the traditional standard sizes (5 to 9) would exclude a large proportion of our population, and potential customer base. From an economic point of view, this isn’t sensible.
And from my personal experience, particularly as a very tall teenager growing up, I know what it feels like to have an extremely limited choice of footwear.
SSL: Why do you believe the traditional footwear industry has been so reluctant to offer more sizes/styles for women with “Queen size” feet?
I believe it’s an economic decision. It’s an expensive exercise to make footwear in larger sizes. There are more materials required, and the machinery used in footwear manufacture doesn’t always accommodate longer lasts, etc.
As with women who have tiny feet, those with “Queen size” feet are a smaller part of the population. In straight economic terms, there is a diminishing return for an investment into larger sizes simply because fewer women fit those sizes.
SSL: Who is your brand’s ideal customer? What does she value?
Our brand’s ideal customer is aged between 30 and 65. She is a smart dresser who appreciates quality items in her wardrobe. She isn’t a slave to fashion, but she knows what makes her look and feel good. Most of all, she’s a woman on the go who values the subtleties of great design and a fabulous fit.
SSL: What’s the most unique aspect/characteristic about your ideal customer?
Apart from the obvious physical characteristic of having longer feet than the average woman (and in most cases, being taller than the average), the most unique aspect about our ideal customer is her attitude.
It’s difficult to blend into the background when you’re tall. And so many of our customers learned early on that they’re going to stand out from the crowd, whether they want to or not!
A commanding physical presence often means a strong approach to life. Our ideal customer is the type of woman who carries herself with confidence, and wakes up ready to take on the world, knowing that she looks good.
SSL: What kind of footwear (or other products) are we to expect from the brand?
Very shortly we’ll be adding a new collection to our website. These are our funky wool slippers, Mulz. Made in Croatia by a factory we have collaborated with for many years, our Mulz (pronounced like “mules”) are fabulous. They’re warm, super comfortable, ideal for indoors or outdoors, and best of all – they make you smile!
We’ll continue adding shoes to our “Addiction by Fabia” collection. As always, these will combine our essential mix of bold, on-trend styling and a great fit. In others words, they’ll tick all the right boxes.
SSL: What’s the future look like for the brand?
Rosy! We’ve just launched our brand in the United States – a long-held dream based on my many years visiting and enjoying your country. We’re very encouraged by all the support and positive feedback we’ve received so far and we look forward to delivering footwear each season that our customers can’t wait to wear.
Be sure to follow Fabia Designs on Instagram @fabiadesigns or check out their website here for a fabulous selection of shoes up to size US 13.