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BBT Bead Society: Sit Down with Pashion Footwear CEO, Haley Pavone

BBT Bead Society: Sit Down with Pashion Footwear CEO, Haley Pavone

Next up in our BBT spotlight, we have Forbes 30 Under 30, Shark Tank Contestant, Business Founder Haley Pavone! Haley founded her business, Pashion Footwear as a junior in college at the age of 20 after being impaled by a stiletto heel at an event. Pashion Footwear creates convertible heels and shoes that let women go confidently and comfortably in any situation life may throw at them.

1. For members of our audience that don’t know you, tell us a little about yourself!

Hi everybody! Tara already did such a fabulous job giving my life-highlights in the intro :) But a little about me from behind the scenes - I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but then moved down to San Luis Obispo (which I am lucky enough to still call home) to get my Business Entrepreneurship Degree at Cal Poly. I always knew I was going to start a business - I was a natural born leader, and had a flair for creatively solving problems...which led to constantly having little side businesses throughout my childhood. When I set out to get my entrepreneurship degree, starting a business while still in school was not at all on my radar - I figured I’d graduate and either do business development internally at a larger company or possibly join a venture capital firm. However, you can’t help when inspiration strikes - and for me, that just happened to be at 20 years old. It’s wild to say this, but I really have “grown up” while building this business simultaneously over the last 7 years. It’s the only “real” job I’ve ever known (aside from waitressing, Starbucks-baristaing, and one summer internship throughout high school and college). Going straight from student to CEO has been a crazy ride to say the least, filled with lots of ups and downs (waaaay more downs than you’d ever see on social media), anxiety, and learnings...but most importantly, growth. I owe the woman I am to this company.

Bonus fun facts:
1. I have a 1-year old cat named Leo who is the love of my life.
2. I’m a Capricorn Sun, Pisces Moon & Sagittarius Rising...which is apparently the same big 3 as Elvis (lol).
3. I went to a performing arts high school & majored in vocal music/music production. For the longest time I thought the music industry would be my future...I definitely did not see a career in footwear coming down the pipeline!

2. Explain to us the Phashion Footwear concept. If you had 30 seconds to explain the concept, how would you describe it?

Pashion has created a solution for the biggest love/hate relationship in a woman’s closet - her high heels. Heels are a classic staple look, but it’s no secret that they are painful and inconvenient - forcing women to end up barefoot, lug around backup shoes, or just suffer through for hours on end. Pashion’s convertible heels solve every. Single. High-heel related problem...because they are also a flat.

Pashion’s exist at the intersection of style x comfort x customization in a way that is unmatched by any other player in the footwear space. Our new category of convertibles lets you turn a stylish heel into a comfortable flat with the removal of the heel itself, and also swap out heels to create custom looks on the go. We are the most versatile shoe on the market on a mission to empower women in their daily lives. After all, women do it’s about time their shoes do, too.

3. Tell us about your Shark Tank experience. What valuable lessons did the show, and other mentors you met with stick with you long-term?

Shark Tank was such a crazy experience! I had grown up watching the show since I was a pre- walking onto the set was surreal to say the least. The most valuable lesson I learned on the show was to know your worth and know what you want. For those who haven’t seen my episode, I was offered a deal from Kevin O’Leary that included a royalty...which was the one boundary I had drawn with myself going in. I knew in my gut a royalty was not right for Pashion in the long term. We had several rounds of negotiation, but he wouldn’t budge. I felt so much pressure in the moment to accept a deal...I couldn’t even imagine walking out on a Shark, like who does that?!?! I honestly hardly remember turning him down because a pretty major part of me felt crazy for doing it - I kind of blocked it out in the moment. But, I found the strength to stick to my guns and walked away even though doing so was scary as hell...and I have absolutely 0 regrets.

4. What were the challenges you faced as a young, female business founder? How did you balance pursuing your passion of fixing a challenge you’d personally encountered while finishing college and enjoying life as a young adult?

I was very lucky to be raised by a father who is the true definition of a feminist - I never had any notion that I’d be treated differently as a woman in business. There was definitely a bit of a rude awakening in that regard when I founded the company at 20 years old. There was, more often than not, a palpable confusion when I would walk into a (typically male-dominated) investor meeting - usually followed by a disrespectful or tasteless remark (for example, “are you single?”, “I don’t invest in pretty women - they don’t work as hard as ugly women”, “This is a lot of money for someone your age to handle”, etc). I felt like every room I walked into, I had to give 150% to prove that I deserved to be taken seriously and given baseline respect - and that’s a lot of legwork to make up for in a 10 minute presentation. However, I very quickly learned how to better weed out the right investors and partners for me vs the ones that were just going to waste my time.

Now, I won’t sugar coat it - learning how to balance being a full-time CEO, full-time student, AND trying to enjoy being in my early 20s was NOT easy. But the truth is, there is never a “good time” to start a business. You will always have dozens of reasons not to - a cushy full-time job, a mortgage, kids, a busy schedule...these things never go away. If you are going to be an entrepreneur, you simply have to decide that your idea is too good to wait...that you are willing to make this time, right now, the right time. So, I dove in head first - will a major unwillingness to compromise on any aspect of my life. I felt strongly that I should have it all, and looking back - I’m really proud of how pretty darn close I got. Of course, there were times my life wasn’t in perfect balance - but I got really, really good at time management, delegating, and prioritizing and figured out as many little hacks as I could to maximize my time in the day. I was able to graduate on-time with my degree, and by graduation day I’d raised my first $450K, had provisional utility patents, and received the first working samples of shoes (which I got to wear at graduation). I did all of this while still being an active member of my sorority, enjoying vacations, and rarely missing a night out with my friends. If I gave up anything, it was the appropriate amount of sleep. But looking back, I have no regrets.

5. I’m sure we can agree that the fashion industry is constantly changing and evolving, and fast fashion is a common solution to many womens’ needs. How did you make sure people understood the investment they’re making when they purchase a pair of Pashion Heels?

The rise of fast fashion has definitely become a go-to solution for many to save money - however, in the long run, consumers often end up spending more on fast fashion alternatives due to poor product quality, leading to more and more need for turnover.

At Pashion, we are built on the principle of “sustainable consumption” - which means maximizing the value of our products with each incremental product we put out. Our heel kit model & accessory model allows you to get the value of a whole new shoe, in a product that is only 25% of the size and 15%-30% of the cost. This has two major advantages: (1) more environmentally friendly, as you are getting a “whole new shoe” while still utilizing the same 75% of the original product - leading to less waste re: materials, shipping, packaging, etc (2) more cost effective, as you are getting the value of a new footwear look for $30-$50 instead of $150. These advantages continue to grow with each new accessory we put out - as all accessories can be used on all shoes, bringing incrementally more value to a consumer’s Pashion collection as it grows (IE lets say you have 5 of our black shoes, and we release a new Black Flare Block Heel. You can now buy that heel for $50 and swap it onto all 5 of your shoes...5 “new shoes” for $50, and waaaaay less material waste vs buying 5 completely new shoes? Heck yea. As a bonus, also way easier to store a heel kit in your closet then 5 entirely new pairs of shoes.)

Of course, the initial build out of your shoe collection does have a price tag. But, at the very least, every pair of Pashions is 2 shoes in 1 - and our unique midsole material has a lifetime that dramatically exceeds that of traditional heels. Our shoes wear more like a sneaker than any other heel on the market, so you will get years of wear out of your Pashions.

Repeatable customization is an entirely new way to think about fashion consumption - one that is vastly kinder to the environment & the wallet (and, IMO, more fun!). We are excited to be pioneering this movement in the footwear industry.

6. How do you avoid burnout while running a successful company?

Let me start off by saying - I 1000% learned this lesson the hard way. I burnt out extremely badly in 2022. I was in the middle of fundraising, overworking, putting my self-care on the back burner, and never made the time to do the parts of my job I actually enjoy. I was so singularly focused on fundraising that it became my entire life (a sadly common reality for venture-backed founders) - and it almost destroyed not only me, but Pashion entirely. It got to a point where I was having physical symptoms on a daily basis (claustrophobia, shakes, panic attacks, depression/lethargy, etc) - and I ended up having to take a month off of work to try to even get a semblance of my normal self back (and if I’m being honest, I was “present” but useless for quite some time before that).

That month off was a huge wake up call. I’d spent all this time pushing myself to the limit because I was so scared that if I took my foot of the gas for even one second, it would have a horrible impact. In retrospect, if I ’d taken the time to pursue more balance in my life in a small but meaningful way daily - I could have avoided getting to the place where I was effectively useless for months on end, which was vastly more disruptive to the business than if I’d just... clocked out a little early every once in a while.

Coming in to 2023, finding balance again and protecting my mental health was my ultimate personal goal. To me - that has meant prioritizing my personal, self-care and social goals the same way I do my work goals...because they are equally important! When most people write up their to-do list in their planner, it is all work goals - that was me for years. Now in my planner, I have sections for work, personal matters, self-care, social life, and non-negotiable habits... everything I truly need “to do” to be my best self.

As an example, some items on my to-do list currently:

Work - Write up my board meeting prep memo
Personal - Set up my guest room for friends in town this weekend Self-Care - Book a massage for later this month
Social - Go see the Barbie movie with my girlfriends
Habit - Hit the gym 3x this week

It was a huge mindset shift for me to realize that all of the above are equally important to me as a full human being. “Haley the CEO” is just one part of who I am. I’m also Haley the friend, the girlfriend, the cat mom, the daughter, the human being with a body to care for...all those Haley’s matter, too. And this year I’ve gotten a LOT more protective of my time and energy in order to prioritize all facets of myself - which, yes, means learning how to quiet my people pleaser/ perfectionist side and say “no”, get really radical with myself about who/what deserves my time, and even *gasp* walk away from a partially finished project every once in a while.

In the grand scheme, if leaving the last 20% of a project to tomorrow means I get to see my friends, snuggle my cat, go on a beach walk with my boyfriend, or have dinner with my dad and go to bed a happier and more balanced person...then that’s worth it. That let’s me bring 100% of myself into the hours that I am working. And that is SO much more impactful than showing up for 12+ hours a day...but only bringing fumes of myself.

And yes - for those wondering, the results speak for themselves. We no longer even need to fundraise because we’ve gotten profitable in 2023. I got my creativity back after healing myself, which allowed me to dream up 4 different new ways to market our product for free....and they’re all performing. 2022 Haley could barely process a spreadsheet let alone think up a new marketing funnel. It’s shaking out to be our best year yet, and I’m having a damn good time while doing it. Founders out there, please remember that YOU are your company’s biggest asset. Take care of it as fiercely as you would any other asset on the balance sheet.

7. Forbes 30 Under 30 and Shark Tank are both huge accomplishments. What is your next goal in life, whether it be in business or in your personal life?

My big goal for 2023 is to get the business fully profitable on the year. To me, running profitably means we can really take this journey into our own hands and build the exact brand I’ve always dreamed of. I think most entrepreneurs are control-freaks to some full control sounds pretty darn good to me! I’m happy to report we’ve already posted profit 5/6 months so far this year...I’m feeling pretty good about hitting this goal :)

8. What advice do you have for young women who are scared to go for ‘it’, whether it be starting a business, pushing for a career change, or starting something new altogether?

As I mentioned earlier - there is never going to be a “right time” to start a business and chase your dreams. The only time we really have is right here, right now. So, if you are finding yourself spending hours daydreaming about your idea and you don’t even notice how much time has that. At the very least, it’s going to be the adventure of your lifetime.

Beads by Tara and Pashion Footwear are both similar in that both were founded by young women who saw a gap in their respective industries and wanted to pursue their passions. We have so much respect for small businesses and those who take risks to do what they love. You can find Haley here:

Shop Pashion Footwear here:


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