More than just another footwear brand, Pretty Ballerinas has more than a century’s worth of experience crafting the perfect pair of shoes. Founded in a small village in Menorca, Spain, the company first began handcrafting ballet slippers over 100 years ago. A traditional family-run business owned by Mascaró, Pretty Ballerinas, has grown rapidly since its launch in London back in 2005. Although the brand first carved a name for itself manufacturing the classic ballerina, under the guidance of its creator and commercial director David Bell, Pretty Ballerinas has flourished into one of the industry’s leading flat footwear brands for women. Expanding overseas and gaining a strong international following thanks to its quality, handmade product offering, Pretty Ballerinas now counts stores in more than 35 countries. Favoured by celebrities from Kate Moss to Angelina Jolie and Olivia Palermo, Bell, the original mastermind behind Pretty Ballerinas, discusses the brand’s unique concept. He shares with us more information on its exceptional manufacturing, customers and how the company has revolutionised its wholesale channel to prepare for future expansion.
Q: How did you first become involved in the footwear industry? Where did the idea for Pretty Ballerina come from?
A: I ended up in the footwear industry more than 20 years ago after working as a salesman. I met my now ex-wife at a leather trade fair in Bologna, Italy and worked for her late father as a UK sales agent. I guess you can say that I married the boss’s daughter and joined the family business. I had been working with them for four years when one day, I had the idea of creating a direct-to-consumer footwear brand. The family had been making premium quality shoes for over a hundred years for other brands but didn’t focus much on offering their own branded shoes. But when I saw how popular brands like UGGS, Todds and Wellington had become in the 90s and early 00s, brands that focused on one style of shoe and did it to perfection, I thought it was a great idea to try and do something similar. At the same time, I noticed more women were seeking smart, casual, quality footwear that worked well with their lifestyles. Women who have to dress accordingly for work wanted flat footwear that would help them feel confident, supported and strong in themselves. As the shape and form of ballerina shoes have remained the same over the years, it just felt like the natural fit for the brand. I created the brand and handled all the marketing, helping with product development while overseeing its retail expansion, wholesale expansion and move into franchising.
Q: How has the brand grown over the years?
A: We launched our first collection in February 2005, which was featured in Hello magazine. We sold 75 pairs in one day, which I did not expect! We only had 250 pairs made, so I had to plead with the production team back in Menorca to make more for us on time. Pretty Ballerinas has grown steadily since then, and we’ve developed several fun and classic styles for different occasions. In 2007 we opened our first store – I found it online, this tiny store on Bond Street with two box windows opposite Brown’s. As it had no storage, we had to make a clever store design that included all the stock in the store itself and looked good, and it was an instant hit. It is ideal for the busy woman as she can come in and try on several different pairs in one go without the salesperson running in and out of a storage room. We have several stores worldwide, including locations in China, Japan, Dubai and Albania. We are global and count many famous individuals among our clientele, such as the Duchess of Cornwall and Lily Allen.
Q: Who is your main customer?
A: It varies per market. We are seen as a young brand in China, for example, where the average age of our customers is 24. Our main customers in New York City are even younger – adolescents love our brand there. In Spain, on the other hand, we appeal to the slightly more mature woman, and our average customer age there is 45. Over in Singapore, we are favoured among younger business women, who prefer our patent leather styles with a bit of a heel. Every country is different. Although ballerinas have not been very ‘trendy’ lately, there has been a bit of a comeback, and we have many people between the ages of 25 and 30 buying our shoes from all types of backgrounds.
Q: What makes Pretty Ballerinas unique in the market?
A: We are the world’s longest continuous running ballerina footwear factory. We have been working with the same family for 104 years. The company has worked with four generations of the family. The average worker has been with the company for 27 years, and our most recent retiree left after 49 years – that’s generations of footwear-making expertise passed down through the family. Our attention to detail is comparable to none. We only use the most premium materials for our footwear, purchasing our leathers and fabrics from the same suppliers as designer labels, like Chanel. We are also constantly working on improving our products and making them even better. For example, we added full-width and length memory foam support to the soles of our shoes and heel for double reinforcement. We remain servants to our customers.
Q: How have you adapted your business over the years?
A: As we’ve expanded internationally, both via direct-to-consumer and wholesale, we’ve studied the collection to a T. We made it perfect for retail, streamlining our products where needed. We’ve also reduced the number of materials we use and produced additional details in advance, much like other fast-fashion players, to make it easier to create various styles. At the same time, we’ve also made the collections smaller and more intentional, consolidating the materials we use to make our shoes. We ensure we have a larger back stock of the styles we think will be the best sellers at all times, so interested retailers can make a smaller order, to begin with, and then increase their order.
The collection is offered via our new B2B business portal and grouped in a way that makes it easy for buyers to decide which collections to purchase. The overall merchandising is straightforward and smart while reflecting the brand’s overall branding. We believe in having a solid digital presence that offers the same retail experience as our stores and have invested a lot in our new B2B platform. But we are also still present at all the major fairs and work with physical agents, as we believe using a hybrid of the two is the recipe for success.
Q: Where do you see Pretty Ballerinas in 5 years?
A: I see us continuing to improve our products and develop new styles. I also see us expanding in other markets and growing our brand visibility. We are thrilled with the store we recently opened in Dubai, and we would love to grow more in the Middle East and South America.