Samantha Dong: Founder of Ally Shoes with the mission to create "power heels minus the pain"

1. What’s your background and what previous experiences prepared you for starting Ally Shoes?

When I first started thinking about launching Ally Shoes, I didn’t have any previous fashion experience. A former management consultant, I always wore heels to work. Then I hurt my feet hiking and couldn’t wear heels without pain. That’s when I realized that heels shouldn’t have to hurt. 

I took shoemaking courses in Brooklyn, NY and made it my mission to surround myself with the best team in the business. ALLY Shoes’ founding leadership team includes Podiatric Surgeon, Dr. Roxann Clarke, and acclaimed shoe designer, Sarah Jaramillo. Our diverse backgrounds and varying professional experiences inspired the overall concept of our unique pain-free heels and shoe design. We each bring our expertise to the brand and fused our ideas together to create a shoe that can be a woman’s ally.

2. How is Ally Shoes changing the way women look at heels?

Ally Shoes is an innovative fashion brand by women for all women. Our online boutique finds your perfect fit - women no longer have to compromise on comfort for style. We solve women’s literal pain point - delivering power heels minus the pain. More than 70% of women suffer from heel pain and 42% of heels are worn one time or less. We’re more than great shoes, we’re mission-driven and committed to empowering women through fashion and innovation. Our vision is rooted in an inclusive approach to sizing and design for women. Our brand celebrates women and all of the major milestones in their lives, from their first day at work to their wedding. 

3. What was the hardest part about designing the perfect shoe?

It’s always challenging to do something that hasn’t been done before. We didn’t have a blueprint but we had each other. Together we scientifically re-engineered the statement heel with a patent-pending design to support women and their stride. ALLY Shoes is the first to construct the entire upper of a pump using stretch leather without losing the structured shape of the shoe. Every pair of heels is handcrafted with premium lambskin leather, and a special stretch lining to maximize flexibility. This material-use minimizes the need to “break-in” new shoes.

The ergonomic insole features a three-point-support insole with a weight-balancing toe grip, elevated arch support, and deep heel cup. This design by a Dr. Clarke re-balances weight distribution without making the shoe bulky. ALLY offers micro-sizing with 18 different sizes and three widths bringing customers as close to custom-fitted as possible while maintaining affordability. 

4. Was there a turning point in your life or career that helped you identify #WhyYouAlter?

Going to Stanford for business school was a pivotal career moment because you step away from your full-time job and really immerse yourself in the work and relationships. I learned so much and my classes were very relevant to everything that I’m building today with Ally Shoes. It also gave me the ability to really incubate my idea to create pain-free heels. I remember taking a brand and business class with Tyra Banks and I couldn’t ask for a better professor given my new entrepreneurial direction. 

5. What is something you wish you had known before starting a company?

I honestly thought I could do everything on my own. With the right mixture of coffee and pure willpower, I always thought that starting a business would be about balancing the pressure of doing it all on your own.  Now, I know better and appreciate the reality that I need a team. Everyone has their special brand of expertise and together we are stronger, our company is stronger.

 6. Best and worst advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I received has to be to listen to your customers and to trust your gut. It’s important for entrepreneurs and creators to listen to those who are actually wearing your product. It’s important to be curious when it comes to your customers and to listen to them and yourself. For example - before my wedding, I couldn’t find a white heel to wear with my dress on my big day. My gut told me that it could be a struggle for other women too and therefore a business opportunity. This experience inspired our new bridal collection. I never would have created it if I didn’t listen to the challenge of my own experience. There’s truly inspiration all around us.

The worst feedback I heard came from naysayers who told me that I needed experience in fashion to create pain-free heels. They warned me that it would be impossible as an industry outsider. While there’s truth in the advice that you need experience in fashion to do this I didn’t let it deter me from my goal. There are many ways to make it work and for me I surrounded myself with fashion experts and a foot and ankle surgeon that are the best at what they do. I am a firm believer that with partnership and true collaboration anything is possible. 

7. Last question to keep things real, what was your very first job and is there anything from that job that still serves you in your role today?

I was a management consultant in my first job and that experience taught me that you can learn everything. Consulting helped me escape that mindset that you have to ‘stay in your own lane’ or ‘stick to your silo of expertise’. It taught me the essence of problem-solving and the grit that comes with figuring things out. It’s that we can learn new things and find a pathway to a solution that I still tap into every single day.