Trying to Find a “Nude” That Worked Led to Reforming The Shoe Industry, One Hue at a Time

Rebecca Allen discusses her eponymous line and building a footwear brand for all skin tones.

By Anna Jornlid

Rebecca, can you explain your company in one sentence?

The foremost inclusive women’s footwear brand.

What was the vision behind your company? When did you start it, and why?

I started Rebecca Allen about a year and a half ago (we’re still a baby!). I had a corporate job where I wore business formal or business casual attire every day and I needed a nude pump that was my hue to go with all of my outfits. All of the white women in my office wore a nude pump practically every day, but a white person’s nude looked absurd on me.

Originally, I wanted to build a brand that could help women of color feel seen and supported as they move through their day. I launched the company with just one timeless style (the pump) in five nude shades, but now that I’ve been in the market and received so much feedback from customers, I’m gearing up to tell an even bigger story on inclusivity.

Speaking of inclusivity, when I first came across your company, my excitement was instant as you are clearly reforming the market for so many women. My second thought, however, was one of frustration and surprise that this hadn’t been done before, and that such a large customer base has, until now, been practically ignored. I’m sure my reactions haven’t been unique, so I’m curious: What has the response been to Rebecca Allen?

 I’ve found that women, of all backgrounds and shades, have found it refreshing. Since the shoe is such a wardrobe staple, it is somewhat of a commodity so a lot of women just feel like, “finally!” You know you’re doing something right when customers come back to buy the same shoe as a back-up or try other styles or purchase different colors—there’s no wrong way to do it!

All of the white women in my office wore a nude pump practically every day, but a white person’s nude looked absurd on me.

Discuss your decision to name your company after yourself. Is it a competitive advantage?

I looked around the shoe floor of department stores and saw, for the most part, a bunch of white guys’ names. So using my own felt appropriate. I played around with a bunch of other names, but there is a new heritage element to the brand so it felt consistent with building that image. The frustration I felt, my story, is inextricably linked to the brand so it also felt right from that side. My hope is that this brings me closer to my customers, that it doesn’t feel like the brand was conceived by some far removed marketers or VCs.

Beyond having the brand being your namesake, what have you found to be effective marketing strategies?

Without giving away our secrets (ha), I’ve found some of our strategic gifting to be the most helpful for leveraging word of mouth and building our community. I’ve also been fortunate to partner with some great brands offline, including Ministry of Supply and Of Mercer, which have definitely been an asset to our company. I’m still very focused on top of the funnel brand awareness so being in high traffic areas is just a great way to get the word out.

What would you say the biggest misconception is about you or your industry?

This is an interesting question. For the footwear industry, I think people sometimes have a misconception that high-quality shoes only come from Europe. The reality is that great shoes are made all over the world. Even shoes that say they were made somewhere in Europe (i.e. Italy) often come from somewhere else and then get finished in said European country. So, you really can’t judge a shoe by its alleged country of origin.

As a first time founder, how has this experience been different than what you anticipated?

Being a first-time founder has been a roller coaster. It has been all-consuming and things can take longer than you hope, but that is all kind of what I expected!

I looked around the shoe floor of department stores and saw, for the most part, a bunch of white guys' names. So using my own felt appropriate.

If you were starting the business today, what would you do differently?

I’d launch with a co-founder. I’ve had great sounding boards and resources, but I believe there is a lot of power in launching with an internal partner. Finding someone with a complementary skill-set, someone to hold you accountable, and someone to help be decisive, is worth it.

What is a bad habit you’ve had to break on your entrepreneurial journey?

Skipping out on networking events, especially when they can be hit or miss and I’d rather spend time with my 9-month-old daughter. I always talk myself out of going to an evening networking event where I sit and schmooze with people I already know. But you really never know what might happen when you show up and meet new people. I’ve finally learned this lesson enough times that now I always show up when I can, and I’m usually happy I did.

How do you invest in women around you?

Whenever I think about my friends, I try to reach out to them and let them know. Everyone is so busy with careers and kids so we don’t always have time to get that meaningful face-time in, but even just letting someone know they are top of mind is a show of support, and in a way, a significant investment. For women in business, I am mindful of the products and services I buy and by paying full price.

How do you invest in yourself?

By getting enough sleep! I really don’t subscribe to the idea that you need to be working into the wee hours of the morning to be successful. I think this is an unfortunate social construct that makes people sick.

What productivity tool would you be lost without?

Google Suite. I know it’s not obscure, but being able to access things on the go (either in mail, calendar or the Drive app) really helps me get stuff done!

What is your favorite female-founded product, service, or company?

Follain, founded by one of my best gals, Tara Foley, is my favorite company. Tara and her team are so knowledgeable on products and ingredients so you don’t have to do any extra homework when you shop beauty and skincare at Follain.

What’s next for you and the company?

As I alluded to earlier, I’m gearing up to tell a much bigger story on inclusivity. Stay tuned. Oh, and I’m working on bringing on a co-founder.

Invest in a woman. Buy Rebecca Allen here.

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