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Successful Dragons’ Den Contestant wins European Award in Sustainability

A Greater Manchester based entrepreneur and former successful candidate with Dragons’ Den has been recognised for her trail-blazing approach to sustainability and innovation in the fashion sector thanks to support from the GC Business Growth Hub

The European Awards ceremony was held on 2nd December at the Ritz Hotel, Paris. Gaynor Thomasson was the winner of the award for sustainability due to her work in creating a company, Heelz and Toez, that is manufacturing completely recyclable shoes which are made wholly from recycled products. Gaynor pitched her business for investment on BBC’s Dragons’ Den in 2021 and her idea was backed by a Dragon.

The European Awards are awarded by the Professional and Business Excellence Institute and were established to reward professional excellence and the good work of companies. The winners of the European Awards are always people whose professional career is an example of overcoming challenges and of success, who through their effort, determination and creativity have earned this prestigious recognition.

On her work with GC Business Growth Hub and with Karen Dudley, Innovation Business Advisor, Gaynor says that she is absolutely delighted to be the winner of this high profile award.  “Without the support of the Business Growth Hub and Karen Dudley from the Innovation Service we would not have been in a position to have moved my initial idea through to a stage where we are now attracting global interest in our children’s shoe range

Karen Dudley and Gaynor Thomasson

“Karen has helped me every step of the way, offering support and guidance which has enabled me to focus on my key priorities. As a busy entrepreneur I am often so wrapped up in my product and the day to day operations that I find Karen’s support really helps me to look at the bigger picture, she has tools and techniques that we regularly use to help me focus and has a great network of professional colleagues that she introduces me to when needed. The support from Karen and the Business Growth Hub has been invaluable to me.”

Gaynor Thomasson - Heelz & Toez

Gaynor and Heelz & Toez received support from the Innovation Advisor to identify an academic partner to collaborate with.  Gaynor was introduced to Print City at Manchester Metropolitan University and a project was developed to aid with the design and prototyping of several iterations of her patented, modular shoe. The Innovation Voucher Scheme was accessed and funding secured to help fund this collaboration. Ongoing support has been delivered to help Gaynor through her Innovation journey and this has helped Heelz and Toez to grow through taking on two new members of staff and generating £300k of income to pay towards the costs of her patent. 

Janine Smith, director at GC Business Growth Hub, commented, “it is always wonderful when a client you have worked with extensively is recognised for her work. We have worked with Gaynor for some time and have been part of her journey to this point in establishing a solid business and brand.”

Janine Smith

Support has also been delivered by Geoff Clowes, Access to Finance Advisor of GC Business Growth Hub.  Karen introduced Gaynor to Geoff in early 2022 and Geoff has been offering ongoing support to Gaynor to aid her with getting the business in the right place for investment. Gaynor attended the Pathway to Equity programme as well as receiving one to one support from Geoff.

Heelz and Toez is now at a really exciting stage in its growth. The company now has the right team in place to move the business forward and is looking to launch its range of children’s  sandals ahead of spring 2023.

Gaynor’s sustainable shoe journey started out in 2014. Gaynor was learning how to make shoes by hand in Florence, and it was there that she realised just how destructive the fashion industry can be, and the damage it causes to our planet on a yearly basis.

When trends change, perfectly good shoes are often thrown into landfill, along with brand new shoes that have simply been returned because they don’t quite fit, or shoes with too many materials and parts to make it cost-effective enough to recycle. To make matters worse, most shoes are made for an ‘average’ foot. It was when Gaynor learned this that she decided change needed to happen, which is how Heelz and Toez was born.

The brand works on designs and ways to adapt shoes to become glue-free, its patented mechanism came to life. ‘This patented technology is currently being applied in our kid’s sandals and can also be used in trainers and ladies' footwear’, explains the company.

The gliding mechanism allows the straps to be removed, aiding recycling at the end of the shoe’s life and giving a customised fitting to each and every foot, no matter how slim or wide.

Environmental commitment

Heelz and Toez takes responsibilities to the environment seriously and is committed to recycling any shoes that are returned to the store at the end of their life. They also hope to partner with charities in the future to help improve the environment or protect endangered species. Through the sale of limited-edition straps packaged with educational materials, they can also help educate children on the steps they can take to protect the planet. ‘As our range expands, so does the potential to have a positive impact’, company points out.

Watch the video of Gaynor accepting her award

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