It is a common story for many entrepreneurs featured in SWAAY: she has a full-time job (often in finance), she has an idea, she pulls double duty working her day job and her evening side hustle, until one day something pushes her out of the nest to turn that once-sidelined passion into a full-fledged business. Such is the background of Sarah Caplan. After launching her shoe brand Footzyfolds, Caplan became the captain of the e-commerce division of the parent company of KidsShoes.com, which specializes in manufacturing high-end kids’ shoes for retail stores, and has pivoted to expand into the online shopping market.
E-commerce is the new norm, and it has been a rough year for retail. 2017 will likely see an unprecedented amount of store closings, including Macy’s, JCPenney, and Bebe, which expects to close all stores by the end of May this year. Retail has the stubborn problem of high start up and fixed costs. Rent and inventory make it nearly impossible to compete with the convenience of online shopping. Amazon is a testament to the now-ubiquitous process of exclusively shopping online. With over 100,000 unique visitors per month and plans to scale up internationally, KidsShoes.com is riding the rising tide of the online retail monolith.
Sarah Caplan Courtesy of Sarah Caplan
Although Caplan’s background in entrepreneurship is impressive, her ingenuity is best illustrated by the development of her app KidsSizing, which she created for KidsShoes. Seeking a strategy to differentiate KidsShoes.com from the competition (think Zappos) proved to be a challenge.
Without the possibility to undercut the sales prices of similar e-commerce shoe companies, KidsShoes.com had to create a market opportunity from elsewhere. Like many light-bulb ideas, Sarah’s inspiration came from a personal frustration: kids shoe sizes were different for every brand. She saw an opportunity in this common predicament and capitalized on it.
“In order to be able to be different from the retails that we were selling our brands to, I had to come up with a concept of what is going to separate us and how can we be different if we are selling the same shoes to Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s and all the places that get the brands that we have on our website.”
Her experience with her then one-year-old was exhausting: trying on countless pairs of shoes, buying several, then returning most of them, coupled with the ever-changing size of her child’s shoes. And proper-fitting shoes for children is an important and finer detail that is often overlooked. Short and long term damage to the feet can result from ill-fitting shoes, and children usually can’t tell if their shoes bother them.
“I came home and ordered him three more pairs of shoes because I got his size, and they came in the mail but none of them fit.”
After they went back to return the shoes, the store said that the sizes change and vary between brands. It’s a common problem for clothing in general; at one store you are a medium, while at another you’re a small. It exemplifies a challenge for online shopping: you never know precisely what you are going to get. In the world of kid’s shoes, Caplan says that “getting your kid’s foot measured means absolutely nothing. It’s all about how the shoe is made.”
“How are parents ever shopping online for their kids if all the shoes are made differently?” poses Caplan.
This problem needed to be mitigated, and a solution for KidsShoes would put them ahead of their competitors in terms of customer convenience. With her background in project management and ability to communicate in the tech world, Caplan collaborated with developers to develop the app KidSizing. Simply place your child’s foot on your iPad or iPhone, and it’ll generate a correct size for every brand that KidsShoes.com carries, ensuring you get the correct fit each time. The project proved to be the right move, and Sarah is adamant that her skills in project management and implementation are integral for the success of the app, and recommends it as a skill for every other facet of people’s lives.
Picture Courtesy of KidsShoes
Though there already were similar sizing apps, what separates KidSizing from those apps is that the app is linked directly to the manufacturer – KidsShoes.com itself.
“Everybody can have an idea,” Caplan explains. “It’s how you get it off the ground, and it’s how you implement it and bring it to market.”
In addition to KidSizing, Sarah also identified another market gap in children’s shoes – fast fashion. KidsShoes launched their own kids’ shoes brand, Sydney Jordyn, in order to keep up with the latest fashions in kids wear and “come up with the latest items in fashion for kids, very quickly.” Sydney Jordyn is well on its way to becoming the first stop on the web for the freshest styles for children’s footwear.
The combination of being the manufacturer of an exclusive app and of a kids’ shoe brand has been fruitful for the nine-month-old company. In an age of rapidly changing markets and evolving customer taste, companies have to adapt quickly, and with purpose. KidsShoes.com wedged themselves in a crowded e-commerce market, but carved a niche within it by rolling out a smart marketing campaign and solid implementation.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.