Forget granny-style boats. Pat Lewis ensures The Glass Slipper offers something charming in all sizes, finds Hester Lacey
Prejudice is a vile and wicked thing but, sadly, a deep-rooted one. The Glass Slipper in Tunbridge Wells is a shop that specialises in shoe sizes that most high-street stores do not stock, so you might assume that Pat Lewis, the owner and founder, spends her days flogging granny- styled boats to an army of Disgusteds.

In fact, Tunbridge Wells is a charming little town, with not a single genteelly sniffing Disgusted to be seen. And Pat Lewis's collection, which ranges from the impossible daintiness of size one right through the average sizes up to a rather more substantial size 12, includes butter-soft suede sandals in sky blue and sorbet shades of raspberry and pistachio, burnished mock-croc courts, bright stripy summer-holiday moccasins, trendy mules, chunky ankle boots, strappy little numbers, and so on.

Pat has been running The Glass Slipper for 17 years. "The name seemed obvious at the time, but now I'm worried that people will think it's too corny for words," she says. It was the recession that started off her highly successful niche marketing strategy. "Like many people I suddenly had to put my thinking cap on," she says. Her inspiration was a nearby branch of Long Tall Sally, the ladies' clothes shop that specialises in larger sizes; she decided to follow its lead. The bigger sizes were a great success so she followed up with small ones, then with a comprehensive mail-order service. The response, she says, has been "enormous" - she now has over 8,500 people on her mailing list.

"In a nutshell, my philosophy is that it is very important that there should be no difference in the demands of someone who takes a 33 shoe to those of someone who takes a 37 or 38 right up to 44," she says. "Non- standard-sized feet should look as good as average sizes."

She can provide a range that the average high-street store would find impossible to keep in stock. "Although I've had a very good reaction from customers, over all it is a small market - none of the big multiples can keep on doing either end because they are not flexible enough."

She is kept busy sourcing her collection - most of which now bears her own brand name and is exclusive to The Glass Slipper.

"I spend a lot of time searching out factories that have what I need. The factories that have lasts (shoemakers' models) in the right sizes are few and far between, and even if I can guarantee a certain order, many are adamant that they won't make up the lasts." Some of her shoes are from Italy, but she is increasingly looking to Spanish suppliers. "Spain is becoming very competitive and they are very easy to deal with. They are wonderful, right down to the very last detail - even down to the tissue paper the shoes come wrapped in."

As well as the shoes, she also sells belts, handbags and jewellery in her new, larger premises that she moved in to a year ago - all pale green, with painted wooden panelling high ceilings and airy voile curtains. The average price of a pair of all-leather Glass Slipper shoes is around pounds 62; a small handbag such as a jewel-coloured suede clutch is around pounds 70, with larger tote bags in soft Spanish leather upwards of pounds 120.

"In terms of quality, there is a huge difference between a pounds 29.99 shoe and even a pounds 49.99 shoe and a pounds 69.99 shoe," she explains. "All of our shoes are all leather, upper and lower, unless they are something like deck shoes where you need rubber soles."

It's difficult, she says, to describe her typical customer - especially as her mail-order service, which accounts for 15 per cent of her sales and is growing steadily, now means she sends shoes as far as Hong Kong, Turkey, Australia and France.

"It used to be very easy: you'd think `Mrs Bloggs would love that'. But now I have to cover right across the board, from college-style loafers to courts, to more fun styles."

At the moment, she is finding that the tanneries are coming up with "very innovative and wonderful effects"; for the new season there will be lots of suede, lots of skin effects and some highly decorated styles. "I try to steer a middle course," she says. "There are some very extreme shoes coming up and in all honesty they aren't for wearing, they're for dangling elegantly off your feet." But the middle course does not mean boring and she avoids picking "safe" styles because of the extremes of sizing involved.

"I used to feel the demand for shoes for small feet was very different to the demand for larger feet," she says. "But in fact, as my customer base has become broader, it's opened up the scope to do everything right across the board. Taller people have bigger feet but they're in proportion."

There is, she says, a surprising amount of job satisfaction to be gained from the service she offers. "It's very rewarding because people are so incredibly pleased. Some people have awful stories of the difficulties they've had: they can't go into shops and say, `Oh, I'd love a pair of those' because their size simply isn't available; and the assistants treat them as some kind of oddity." Perish the thought. Pat's own feet, incidentally, are a boringly average size five.

The Glass Slipper: enquiries 01892 511464

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