Because of her tiny 5.5 shoe size, she sometimes resorted to buying footwear in the kid’s department. Most stores stock women’s shoes starting at a size 6. When she did find a good pair of shoes, she wore them into the ground.
“I had one pair of shoes that fit perfectly and I wore them with everything…until they started falling apart,” Catlett said.
Catlett didn’t want those shoes to go in the trash, so she took the top off and built a new base for them. With that, the concept for Bella Modi was born two and a half years ago.
“It dawned on me that ‘what if I could reposition the straps on shoes and solve a problem for people with small feet through engineering a system?’” she said.
Catlett created moldings out of clay, paper and plastic to determine what concept might work for creating an interchangeable shoe system. She worked with the TECenter at Boise State for a year and a half to develop a prototype so that different shoe straps would seamlessly clip into the base of different shoe styles like flats, booties or high heels.
She also created a two-year plan to make the transition from her full-time job to focus on building the Bella Modi brand. Catlett’s no stranger to the business world. She spent the last 15 years in business management and marketing as a project manager, most recently at Lionbridge Technologies and prior to that at Wire Stone digital marketing in Boise.
“I started stockpiling all of my savings because I knew I would have to start living off of it when I focused on this full-time,” Catlett said.
Catlett has been working closely with a manufacturer to refine the engineering system and conduct durability testing. All shoe components, the straps and bases, are sold separately. A starter kit starts at $149.99 for one full pair of shoes. The process of “building” the shoe takes three minutes. Catlett said while the cost may seem high, it doubles the options for a single type of footwear.
“It’s an incremental investment because you might invest in a new strap in a different color; you aren’t buying a different base,”she said.
Catlett is a one-woman powerhouse, responsible for all the company’s marketing and social media, and for the launch of the Bella Modi line. While she has created various prototypes on the sewing machine in her home, mass production will take place outside the United States because it’s less expensive.
“You can’t compete with China if you want to be competitive; you really have no choice but to manufacturer overseas,” she said.
A full launch of Bella Modi, which is a tribute to Catlett’s grandmother, is expected later this year. A patent is pending. Catlett is exploring a campaign similar to those on Kickstarter to raise additional capital for the small company. Catlett anticipates that she’ll start to take orders in May or June, with a product launch this fall online, in boutiques and through direct sales.
“For me this is an absolute labor of love because I wanted to fix a problem, and for me it was finding shoes that fit,” she said. “The more I talked to people about it, they encouraged me to take it further.”
Jennifer Gonzalez covers construction and development news at the Idaho Business Review. You can reach her at 208.639.3515 or via email at [email protected].