Colin Robertson is the owner of Oddshoefinder.com
, an online marketplace for odd-sized, mismatched and single shoes. We talked to Colin about how his marketplace got started and learned more about the challenges of shoe shopping for individuals with odd feet. Here's what he shared:
Can you share the story behind OddShoeFinder.com. How did you come to start your business?
Odd Shoe Finder was originally established in 2007 by Kent Basson whose sister had odd-sized feet. In searching for a solution for his sister's needs he came up with the idea for oddshoefinder.com
Most people actually have different sized feet, though the differences are usually small enough not to be of bother. Those with a large discrepancy in shoe size typically find they have to purchase two pairs of shoes, just so they can wear one pair. Not only does this cost them more money but it means that there is another perfectly good "pair" gathering dust in the closet, or ending up in landfill.
Oddshoefinder.com allows the odd-shoe community an opportunity to buy or sell a mismatched pair (or single shoe, as we cater for amputees as well) online.
I first came across the site in 2010 while working in a community advocacy role. Through the site I was able to directly help disadvantaged members of the community in obtaining quality affordable footwear.
What struck me most about oddshoefinder.com was the basic simplicity of the premise behind the site. There's not a single person who hears about Odd Shoe Finder who doesn't say "wow, that's a great idea". I was particularly impressed from an environmental standpoint. In a world facing numerous environmental challenges, this site was making its small contribution to using our limited resources more efficiently.
In 2014, when I heard that Kent Basson had decided to hang up his (odd-sized) boots (so to speak), I jumped at the opportunity and bought the site.
What's your definition of an odd shoe? Who generally uses your site?
I understand that the word "odd" can conjure a few different images in people's heads. For a while we used the motto at Odd Shoe Finder "just because your feet are odd, doesn't mean you are". It was supposed to re-inforce the idea that there's nothing wrong with or particularly unusual about odd-sized feet.
Ruth Feldman, who founded the National Odd Shoe exchange, used to say "when odd shoes are left, to trade them is right". I really like that cute play on words because it uses the word "odd," not as "unusual" but as "unmatched." I think it's better to think about odd shoes needing a home, rather than belonging to "odd" people.
Over nearly 10 years, Odd Shoe Finder has helped literally thousands of people find a matching pair, or a single shoe, at an affordable price. These thousands of people have come from all over the world and have included amputees, people with club foot or diabetes as well as people who suffered from polio many years ago. I can't be sure of the exact breakdown because we've never asked our members why they've joined our site. To do so, in my opinion, seems against the ethos of the site.
We do collect some data on our members that I can share. About 70 percent of our members are from the U.S., with the U.K., Canada and Australia representing about 25 percent between them. Sixty percent are women and the median age of membership is around 38 years.
How has your marketplace grown since the site began? How big is the market for odd shoes?
Even with nearly 1,500 members and 5,000 monthly visitors we've barely touched the potential market. Various studies have been done over the years estimating that perhaps 10 percent of the population have sufficiently mismatched feet size as to warrant the need for mismatched shoes.
When you do the math, you can see the extraordinary potential here.
What are the challenges facing individuals with odd feet?
With regards to buying shoes we've talked a little bit about the costs. There's also the difficulty that some have in actually finding any
shoe that fits, or fits comfortably. There are a number of shoes manufactured specifically for, say, those with wide feet but there just aren't the same options of style, brand, color, etc. that most of us take for granted.
There are some manufacturers who will custom make shoes to fit you, though they tend to be expensive. A few companies do also provide a discount
for the second pair, with Nordstrom the only example I know of, that will actually sell you a pair for the same price. But for the most part your options are limited and/or expensive.
However, it wasn't really until I was running this site that I got an inkling that for some, there's just the indignity of the whole shoe buying process. Many people have commented how they hate that they have to explain every time they buy shoes that they have odd feet.
It's one of the best things about our site. Just about everyone you're dealing with has had a similar experience so there's no judging or awkwardness.
If you scroll through the internet you can read stories about how some people have "beaten" the system by scamming shoe shops into selling them a mismatched pair by secretly switching pairs they were trying on in the shop. One woman in the U.K. was actually arrested for this. Having people perform what is essentially a criminal act in order to get what they see as justice is not something that anybody really wants to see happening.
There are, of course, other specific challenges beyond shoe buying for people with say, club foot or for amputees. We don't really spend much time at oddshoefinder.com addressing these as we don't think it's our area of expertise.
What do individuals with odd feet need to know about finding shoes that will suit them?
I'd always advise checking the sizes carefully with the seller because not only are there differences in shoe size regimes between the U.S. and the U.K. for instance, but even different shoe manufacturers have slightly different sizes.
And don't give up if you can't find anything suitable at first. If you register your shoe size on our site then you will be sent an email when someone lists shoes in your size.
If you're lucky, you might even hook up with a "solemate" - someone of the opposite shoe size and with similar tastes. Yes, it does happen.
What can amputees or individuals with odd-sized feet do with the shoes that don't fit their feet? How can they help out others with similar problems?
Although we have lots of shoes listed on our site, many people will still have to buy two pairs, just to use one. If that's you, please don't throw the other pair away! List it on our site. Many people offer their odd shoes for free or for a small cost to cover shipping. This really helps others in need and is, of course, far preferable than disposing of them in the trash. Find the right shoes for your unique feet. Shop our collection of casuals today.