Backstory: Love of heels and Heels leads couple to shoe company

jmgiglio@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2013 

  • Advice from Demian Dellinger and Rebecca Lakey

    • Don’t give up. That’s the hardest.

    • Have a plan, but don’t expect

    things to go according to that plan.

    • Don’t expect things to come easy.

    • Don’t expect overnight success.

    • Don’t compromise your product.

Rebecca Lakey loves her heels.

High heels. Kitten heels. Tar Heels.

Her love for those things runs so deep that Lakey and her boyfriend and business partner Demian Dellinger started Fan Feet, a Garner-based, online shoe company that designs and sells licensed collegiate pumps, booties and peep-toe shoes for women.

The idea for the company came about six years ago when Dellinger was kidding Lakey about her shoes and asked why she didn’t have a pair of heels to represent her alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“‘Why don’t you have any Carolina high heels?’ Literally, that was the question,” Dellinger said. “And that changed everything. ... So I just put it on a list of ideas and didn’t do anything with it for a while.”

In 2010, Dellinger, a Davidson College graduate with a background in database administration and fundraising, was looking for a project.

He pulled out that list and started to research shoes. He couldn’t find another company that was producing what he wanted to create.

So Dellinger, 37, and Lakey, 35, spent the next year lining up a manufacturer and getting licensing from schools. And in the fall of 2011, they started taking orders.

The first shoe, the Hokie Heel – a burnt orange, patent-leather pump with a four-and-a-half inch maroon heel and a silver Virginia Tech logo – shipped in March 2012.

A friend of the couple, a Virginia Tech grad, persuaded them to launch their line with the Hokies. To gauge interest, Dellinger and Lakey took a sample shoe to the school’s 2011 homecoming tailgate in Blacksburg, Va. With the help of their friend, word of the Hokie Heel spread.

That pump, which is Fan Feet’s biggest seller at about 400 pairs, led to commitments from other schools. The company now produces shoes that represent about 15 universities, including N.C. State, North Carolina A&T, East Carolina, Appalachian State, Alabama, Purdue, Davidson and, of course, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Adding new schools isn’t easy. Dellinger and Lakey have to go through a sometimes pricey, sometimes lengthy application and licensing process. Prepaid royalties can cost anywhere from about $100 for small schools to about $2,500 to $5,000 for larger ones, Dellinger said. The couple also pays royalties to the schools on each pair they sell, and schools get to approve the shoe designs.

With input from Lakey, Dellinger designs each patent-leather shoe, taking into account details such as glittery bottoms, the shape of the universities’ logos and school colors.

“The most important part of the shoe is the right color. That school color,” Lakey said.

Since the launch of the Hokie Heel, Dellinger and Lakey have added booties, which are ankle boots with school logos incorporated into the body of the shoe, four-inch peep-toe heels and two-inch kitten heels that are similar in design to their original shoe.

“He told me he was going to put Yosef on that (Appalachian State) booty and I was like, ‘Really? Yosef? Are you sure?’ But it is so beautiful,” Lakey said of the shoe with the App State mascot.

Local celebrities, including former N.C. State women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper, Hall of Fame UNC basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell and Arlie Honeycutt, the Garner resident and 2012 Ms. North Carolina, have been spotted wearing their school’s heels, Dellinger and Lakey said.

The couple hopes to build on that exposure. They plan to eventually add a flat and possibly a store front.

But their biggest decision might involve making nice with a Heel lover’s greatest rival – Duke.

“There’s no Duke,” Lakey said. “Well, it’s a long story. It started off as a joke because I am a Carolina grad. We might have to bite it and do them eventually. But it would actually be a pretty shoe regardless.”

Giglio: 919-829-4649

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