Singapore footwear brand Sunnystep was founded in 2019 by data scientist turned entrepreneur, Ting Mao, after suffering a spinal injury. Unable to find shoes that could alleviate her pain while walking, and drawing from Ting decided to create her own footwear. Within three years, Sunnystep has grown into a multi-million-dollar business with eight stores in Singapore – and plans to expand across Asia in coming years.
Retail in Asia speaks with Ting Mao on her founder journey and Sunnystep’s omni-channel retail strategy.
RIi: Tell us about how you created Sunnystep.
Ting Mao: Five years ago, I had a traumatic spine injury and my life became paralysed with constant severe back pain. I went through countless pairs of shoes that purported comfort and support. None of them worked. Frustrated and driven by my first-hand experience, I started Sunnystep to create the most comfortable, supportive shoes that not only feel good but also look good.
Both style and function are important and we believe one does not need to compromise the other. That being said, it takes a lot of expertise and technical knowhow to make sure that the shoes are truly comfortable without compromising on style. First and foremost, every pair of Sunnystep shoes comes with our proprietary insole technology that provides long-lasting support. Our commitment to continuously improving our shoes means we will keep investing heavily in our R&D to create styles that are more relevant and can cater to a dynamic lifestyle.
RiA: What is your approach to growing Sunnystep as a brand?
Mao: Nothing is more important than the product itself. To grow our brand, we have to keep investing in our products. Our products are very differentiated and thoughtful because our design philosophy is anatomically centred, based on what the body needs.
Material science is the bread and butter of shoemaking. Hence we source around the globe for high-performance, sustainable materials. We have been working with biophysicists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where I graduated from, to conduct thorough pressure points and joint flexibility experiments. We are also working with the team of podiatrists doctors at Changi General Hospital and they wear our shoes themselves to provide feedback from an expert’s point of view. With a wider range of new product lineup, we are planning to expand both online and offline across Asia.
RiA: How do you engage with customers?
Mao: We take all feedback seriously. When some customers told us that they needed more heel support, we came out with another version of our classic Balance Runner called Balance Space Runner that comes with strengthened heel support.
Every month, our team would lead a few hundred attendees to go on a walk for two hours in one of the national parks in Singapore, all done with the approval of the National Parks Board. Many attendees, customers and non-customers alike, travel across the country to participate in our walkathon. At the same time, we regularly organize online and in-person health and wellness talks, partnering with doctors, physiotherapists, and medical health experts, to educate the public about how to take better care of themselves. No matter how much we grow, at the heart of Sunnystep remains the steadfast desire to give back to our community.
RiA: Sunnystep operates physical stores as well as online. How do you foresee the evolution of your brick and mortar vs. e-commerce strategy in the coming years?
Mao: We see omnichannel as the winning strategy for a footwear brand. The comfort level of Sunnystep shoes is unparalleled and customers go wow after they put their feet inside the shoes. This is a physical experience we cannot offer online. We don’t see physical retail stores going away, but we know the in-store experience will keep evolving and we are doubling down on how we radically improve our in-store experience for our customers with our creative and retail team.
Our online channel is also equally important. Digital media provides new touch points for our brand to interact with customers and is where we get to know our existing and new customers directly. Our online store and social media channels have a much wider reach and hence they drive customer visits and sales in our retail locations.
Both [channels] complement each other in a way that provides more value to our customers.