Carol Haffke is someone who sees a problem and, where possible, comes up with a solution.
That’s how she became a successful Brisbane businesswoman as well as a donor to an African charity that helps women in that country start or grow their own businesses.
Carol, who is the proud owner of The Shoe Garden, a shoe shop specialising in longer shoes has, as you would guess, long feet – size 12 to be precise.
Her continual quest to find “gorgeous shoes that fit my slightly longer-than-average feet”, combined with a need to move on from her then career in fundraising, led her to The Shoe Garden.
That was five years ago, and she loves it.
“I knew there was no one in Brisbane offering shoes that went to longer sizes, let alone were fashionable and gorgeous,” she said at her Hawthorne shop as she unpacked a new range.
“If I was desperate to find shoes, I figured there would be many more women and girls in the same boat. To be honest, my research was quite sparse. I just knew as a consumer that there was a niche desperate to be filled so I went ahead and did so.”
Carol said she had two rules at The Shoe Garden.
“All our shoes and boots are available in Size 10, 11 and 12 at least, and longer if available, and they have to be gorgeous,” she said.
“No nanna shoes or comfort-first shoes allowed!”
When she opened her shop in Hawthorne back in April 2012, Carol realised she also wanted to create a business that had “giving back” embedded in its DNA.
It took her three years and in April 2015, after three “wonderful and extremely happy” years in business, she became a not-just-for-profit.
“That term has no legal standing, by the way. It’s my way of describing that while I am a sole trader who is here to make a profit like any successful business, I also believe in giving back, so a portion of every sale will be donated to an amazing charity.” said Carol
“Finding that charity took some time. I had two broad criteria: women and Africa. Women, because if you support women you inevitably support the whole community, and Africa, because I have lived, worked and travelled in this amazing continent and know how much need there is and how a little (by our standards) can go a very, very long way.”
She chose Microloan Foundation Australia whose voluntary board raises funds in Australia that are used to give loans to women in Malawi, to help start a business.
The average loan is about $50 and is repaid with interest in four months. And then it’s loaned again. And again. And again.
To date The Shoe Garden has helped to raise more than $20,000 to support the Malawi business women. (I can’t claim credit for all $20k so that’s why I changed to “helped to” raise. $14k is from me from sales and the balance from my Shop Share Care program where customers, friends, peers and suppliers have donated or held fundraisers)
Not only is Carol a top businesswoman. A year ago she wrote and published a book “In My Shoes” about “creating your own brand in your own way”.
“It is about taking a chance, learning on the job, becoming tough and daring to be different. It’s about making a commitment to create a not-just-for-profit business that cares,” she said.