I was recently sent the most gorgeous pair of slippers to review on my blog. I am fussy about slippers. This probably dates back to me tumbling down the stairs when I was about 14 years of age in some that my brother had got me as a Christmas gift. I broke my nose in that fall and still have a bumpy nose that in some ways seems to define my look. Today I am sharing an interview with Anna Elshafei who is the inspirational business woman behind the luxury slipper brand known as Shaffay.
Tell us a little about your childhood and teenage years
My father was a Methodist minister, which meant that our family moved every few years. My brother and I spent our childhoods in Southampton and Portsmouth and our teenage years in southeast London. He and I are the best of friends now but we fought a lot as kids, which drove our mother nuts. I was a bossy big sister and he was an annoying little brother.
Probably what I enjoyed most about my teenage years was music. I was an indifferent pianist but then took up percussion and was pretty good at that. I played in the youth concert band and orchestra in Bromley and loved it. I made some of my best friends through that. Percussionists were in short supply at that time and there were lots of opportunities to play in shows and concerts put on by various organisations. It’s a bit of a regret that I didn’t keep that going as I got older.
After school I went on to a degree in Chinese at Leeds. That was the late eighties when that was an unusual choice and if I had a pound for every time I was asked, what are you going to do with that, open a Chinese restaurant? … It is definitely one of my better decisions and it set the course of my life eastwards (and no one ever asks me that question these days!). The second year of the degree course was in Beijing. I fell completely in love with the place. That year ended early: it was June 1989 and we students, and other expats, were put on a plane back to London a few days after Tiananmen Square happened. In the days before that, we had been soaking up the amazing atmosphere on the square. I left determined to go back to China as soon as possible.
I did go back – immediately after graduating. I have spent most of my life there ever since. Admittedly, the main reason for staying so long is more about love of a man (and not even a Chinese man!) than love of China but my fascination with the country and its people has never gone away.
What was your first job/career? What did you learn from this?
My very first jobs were playing percussion for events and shows. I learned from that that it is worth learning a skill that is in short supply. That was part of the reason I decided to study Chinese. (I remember telling my uncle that I wanted to learn Chinese because not many people spoke it and his retort of “how about the billion Chinese people?” He knew what I meant..!)
What led you to setting up your business?
I wear slippers all the time and could not find any that really fit the bill. What I really wanted was to feel elegant at home. I did not want a cheap, soon to be scruffy, product that I would have to throw away after a single year’s wear; I did not want anything all big and fluffy, and nor did I want those boiled wool/felt ones (to me, they look as if they should be in a log cabin in the Alps rather than on the carpets and floors of British homes).
What I wanted was high quality, elegant indoor footwear that I would feel good in and that would complement what I wear at home. That meant slippers that would look great not only with loungewear and sleepwear, but also solve that old problem of what to wear on your feet when you have guests over for dinner – or to complete a work-from-home outfit. They needed to be practical too, so I wanted them to slip on and off easily but to stay on when I dash up and down the stairs. And I wanted them to be fabulously comfortable. And to last.
I looked for ages for slippers that did all this and eventually decided I needed to make them myself.
What are your products?
Luxury women’s slippers. I launched Shaffay with a very small collection of soft lamb’s leather slippers that are sleek and elegant and amazingly comfortable. The leather is extremely soft but strong and moulds wonderfully to the foot. The sole is an equally strong and very flexible rubber. Our slippers have a hint of the wonderful Moroccan babouche slipper but have clean, modern lines and are made to last.
What makes your business special?
Shaffay is all about making women feel elegant and special at home.
What tip would you give to someone who wants to set up a business but lacks self-belief?
I would advise her to ask herself how she will feel years from now if she does not start the business. Would it simply be a wistful “what if?” feeling, or real regret at not having gone for it? There is, of course, no guarantee of success so it needs to be something you really feel you have to do. The lack of self-belief might never go away so you just have to keep powering through it. And always remember that, while success may not be guaranteed, it is absolutely, definitely, totally possible.
How do you ensure you look after yourself properly? What do you do for self-care?
I eat healthily and exercise but I am not religious about either. I normally walk for a good two hours a day but if I have a day when I am too busy or tired for that, then I will not beat myself up about it. I try to get outside for a walk first thing in the morning and will then often walk on a treadmill while watching something on TV later in the day. I also try to run but I am not a natural runner: it takes me a couple of weeks to build up to being able to run for a decent amount of time and every time I manage that, something gets in the way for a while and then I have to start again.
Who supported you as you set up your business?
Lots of people, but most of all my long-suffering husband.
What things would you like to see change about the position of women in society?
What I would like to see change is society’s default setting that a woman is somehow less than a man. It is all-pervasive and runs so deep that we are not even aware of it most of the time. In a corporate context, it runs from the expectation that the woman will make the coffee to the tendency to promote a man on expectation of success and a woman only once she has actually achieved it. At home, most men no longer (consciously) believe that domestic tasks are “women’s work”, but there is still the default expectation that the woman will pick up any slack. Still! In 2022! My generation certainly tolerates this less than my mother’s do but I truly thought it would have entirely changed by the time I was in middle age. I am quite optimistic for my daughter’s generation though, I think they will tolerate it even less than ours does.
If you could recommend ONE book to women what would it be and why?
I recently read Chatter, The Voice in Our Head (and How to Harness It) by Ethan Kross. It does what it says on the tin and provides tools to help you step back from the negative self-talk that we all seem to have going around our heads. I know that is not only the case for women – this book is written by a man after all. However, I suspect, purely anecdotally from conversations with friends, that “chatter” it is something that women are especially prone to.
If you could recommend ONE website to women what would it be and why?
I do not spend a lot of time looking at websites so I do not really have a particular one to recommend. I do spend a lot of time walking and listening to podcasts. One that I would highly recommend to women is Women of HERstory, which is run by Heather Ashley Shore and Joe Ortiz. Some episodes are Shore or Ortiz in conversation with a woman who is doing or has done interesting things – from the extremely accomplished to the still-working-on-it (Heather even interviewed me!) – and some are the two of them relating the stories and achievements of women in history (herstory?).
Is there anything else you would like to add?
You can explore our Signature Collection of luxury women’s slippers at https://shaffay.com/ I would love to know what you think, so do get in touch to let me know.
Please follow Shaffay on Instagram too: @shaffay_uk