From Pestalozzi to French Sole…... April 22nd 2014
Charity work has always interested and inspired me, even from a very young age I would happily give away my last penny to the Church collection plate or to any street collector who waved a charity tin in my direction.
During my school years I adored anything and everything at all to do with the Pestalozzi Village and all my spare time was spent raising money to help and support this great post -war cause that saved children from displaced persons camps and the children of German/Jewish refugees. Most of the children had suffered inhumane lives at the hands of the Nazis and most were very damaged and deprived.
I was born after the war had ended - but my father talked endlessly about it as we were growing up and this seemed a wonderful opportunity to help those who were so very much less fortunate than I was. I clearly recall making cakes to sell to all our neighbours and selling the sweetest little ladybird brooches and stick pins for a shilling to anyone who came anywhere near me - I thrived by helping, raising money and feeling that maybe I had helped to change the lives of these tormented children. After that, I was always the first to volunteer to help - my hand shot up for anything to do with helping others or raising money - preferably combining both! I doubt there is a single charity that I have not collected for and I am proud to say that apart from once being asked to help mentor a drug dealer to set up his own business, to which I decided not to get involved with - I have never refused a request to help, donate or organise for whatever causes came my way.
As a young woman, newly married and with small children I joined the WRVS and for many years together with my dearest and greatest friend Beatrice Corry, delivered Meals On Wheels in and around Sunningdale and South Ascot.
This brings me to French Sole which I first started in 1989 to support various charities and in the beginning, all my profits were donated through fairs, tabletop sales and charity auctions. Friends were always giving coffee mornings or lunches in aid of something and you would find me there with my suitcase overflowing with Ballet Flats and my table loaded with shoes. I always took more money than anyone else and gave generously to whichever cause I was supporting that day.
As French Sole grew into the huge commercial concern that it is today, I have never forgotten the reason behind it all and so I am always happy to partner or collaborate with other businesses that also support charities and worthwhile causes.
However, I often wonder and ask myself what drives people to work for and support charitable giving? Is it truly from their hearts? Is it really that desire to “Give Back” as I have so often heard billionaires say, when I know they are longing for a gong for their efforts. Is it for self promotion or self aggrandisement, is it for self-worth, self esteem or is it simply to assuage a guilty conscience?
I have asked myself these questions over and over - why do I always feel a desire to help and to give? I suppose it’s karma - what goes round comes round, if I help and give, so shall I be helped and gifted - or as the bible tells us Luke Chapter 6 verse 38 - “Give and it will be given to you”.
However, nagging away in the back of my mind are phrases such as “There’s n’owt for o’wt” and “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” - so do I expect to gain anything other than pleasure from my charitable endeavours? I really hope not as I have no desire for awards or rewards, no interest in attending charity events, parties or charity meet and greets - I love being behind the scenes, in the background, knowing quietly that I have made a difference.
However, I have for the past three years been selected by the Women of the Year charity as one of this country’s 250 Women of the Year and this is in recognition for my charity involvement as well as having changed the way women regard wearing flat shoes over the past twenty five years and I have to say I was very proud of this recognition.
Currently I am working in collaboration with the English National Ballet, The Los Angeles Ballet, the Starlight Foundation, Beulah and the United Nations and several Breast Cancer charities with profits generated from the sales of these shoes going directly to these charities.
I am hoping to retire from French Sole when the time is right and we can replace me with a designer able to carry the baton and when we find the right successor to my wonderful husband which will be an even harder task and then I hope to spend the last of my working years helping and advising two of my favourite charities to raise money through the business sector with all the amazing connections I have made over the past twenty five years of running French Sole.
The shoes that appear on this page are all from my Charity Collections and can be brought from French Sole stores, On-Line and from London Sole in the USA. The pictures of myself with the children at the English National Ballet’s special performance of the Nutcracker was to help grant wishes for very seriously ill children through the Starlight Foundation.
I am currently collaborating with Rosie Fortescue and Millie Mackintosh from Made in Chelsea on two amazing Charity collaborations which are currently under wraps but will be revealed in my next blog with a give away too, so stay tuned! The input from Natasha Rufus Isaacs in developing the Blue Heart shoe for Beulah was also hugely beneficial in getting this shoe so perfect that our lovely friend Pippa Middleton bought a pair and wears them everywhere, which has boosted the sale of the shoes and so helped support the United Nations in their work to eradicate human trafficking - so thank you girls! Lastly, the amazing Tamara Rojo - the director and principal dancer at the English National Ballet has endorsed our pink quilted shoe which is sold to help the ballet purchase their new, much needed shoes.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, both French Sole and London Sole donate 50% of the profits of every pink shoe sold to various breast cancer charities and as a survivor of this dreadful disease myself and having watched several close friend succumb to this hateful and most spiteful illness - this is money that I am happy and proud to give away to a cause that is very, very close to my heart.