How a gap in the market inspired one mum-of-two to start her own business

Main feature image: Alison McGrath of My First Steps

Entrepreneur Alison McGrath of My First Steps talks to MummyPages about the inspiration behind her business and offers tips for parents choosing their child’s first pair of shoes

Alison McGrath is changing the landscape of children's foot health in Ireland through her business, My First Steps, Ireland’s first children’s footwear superstore.

We caught up with Alison to find out what inspired her open her own business and find out why a health-led approach to buying children’s shoes is so important;

What inspired you to start My First Steps and the concept behind it?

My First Steps is a children’s shoe specialist superstore. We are a one stop shop for children’s shoes, whether it’s their first shoe, or their fourteenth. We measure each child’s feet so that we can get the perfect fit. We provide a personal consultation to ensure the shoes are right for each child’s lifestyle, be it wellies, runners, leather-fit shoes and tailor our shoes for every customer.

The reason I founded the business is down to my daughters. I have two small girls, to Emilie and Isabel, and when I was getting my oldest daughter’s first pair of shoes, I felt the experience was a little outdated. It hadn’t changed in all the years since I had gotten my own first pair of shoes and really lacked a modern approach. I always wanted to work for myself, and after having my second daughter I felt there was a huge gap in the market for a health-led approach to choosing children’s shoes. It was during the pandemic that I started to form the idea to open my own business. During that time, I started to learn as much as I could about children’s feet and their development - it really sparked a fire within me. Fast-forward to 2022, when we opened our first store in Ennis, Co. Clare, and then earlier this year in June we opened a second store in Galway.

Why is choosing the right shoe so important for children?

Recent research from the College of Podiatry shows that 69% of children are wearing ill-fitting shoes, mainly due to people buying shoes online or not getting shoes fitted by a professional. Ill-fitting shoes can have huge repercussions, particularly in children’s development. It can stop their feet growing properly and can ultimately affect their posture, knees, hips and joints.

Can you share a word of advice for someone that is looking to start their own business?

Don’t overthink it and have courage to start the process. There’s so much opportunity out there but I think a lot of people suffer from imposter syndrome which can hold them back – I certainly had. But I’m so glad I took a leap of faith; I love working for myself and seeing our business flourish makes all the hard work worthwhile. There is so much support out there for aspiring entrepreneurs, if you’re thinking about starting your business, visit your local enterprise office for advice, apply for grants and don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Alison McGrath of My First Steps and Mandy Lamb of Visa

Can you share some tips for parents buying their child’s first pair of shoes?

Look for paediatric and podiatrist-approved brands: these researched shoe designs will be incredibly considered and ensure an optimal shoe adapted to the true needs of a constantly growing foot.

Top recommendation: Biomecanics and Froddo are excellent first shoe brands.

Get the right fit: Getting shoes professionally fitted is a must as no two children's feet are ever the same. An expert fitter will consider the length, width and depth of each foot, as well as toe spread, ankle width and gait of the child to choose the most ideal fit with a little growing room for your little one.

Choose for lifestyle, not just for style: Think about where your child will wear these new shoes, how active they may be and if it will be their only pair of shoes. Once in a store it can be easy to get distracted by a clean white trainer or a sparkly pink mary jane style shoe but is it really practical?

Top Tip – Toe bumpers are designed to protect not only the toes but the front of the shoes that will certainly prolong that 'just bought’ look.

Do the flex test: Look for soles that are flexible, yet durable and supportive. They can be more rigid around the heel, but should bend at the ball of the foot, allowing for natural movement while providing stability, this will provide optimal foot health for their rapidly growing feet.

Quality and Convenience: Leather shoes are always a top pick for your little one’s all day adventures, they will be easier to clean and more importantly allow the feet to breath while being naturally water resistant, keeping feet dry and comfortable.

Top Tip – Select shoes with velcro fastenings for extra speed when wrangling wriggly toes.

Alison is one of five women entrepreneurs in Ireland recently awarded a €10,000 grant and year of coaching as part of this year’s She’s Next, Empowered by Visa programme, a global campaign created by Visa to help women entrepreneurs take their business to the next level.

Visit My First Steps website here.