As a first-generation college graduate and entrepreneur, 2022 Future Founders Fellow and 2021 Bootcamp alumna Ahriana Edwards is used to blazing her own trail. Now, after only six months of operations, her company Vaila Shoes has demonstrated consistent growth and secured major retail partnerships in its mission to provide elegant dress shoes for women of all shapes and sizes.
By her own admission, Ahriana Edwards has always been inspired by what she didn’t see.
Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, she didn’t see members of her family going to college. She didn’t see people in her community starting their own businesses. Even from a young age, Ahriana remembers being motivated by what could be—even if it wasn’t yet.
“Whenever I wanted something, whenever I was told no, I would always find a way to make it happen,” she reflects. “I was always asking, ‘what would happen if we had more, if we could do or be more?’ I was always thinking ahead to the future.”
And so to Ahriana, it’s really no surprise at all that she became the founder and CEO of Vaila Shoes, a modern dress shoe brand for women who wear extended shoe sizes (9-14).
As such a woman herself, Ahriana recalls feeling frustrated at the lack of options she had when shopping for interview outfits between semesters in college. She didn’t see shoes that felt like ‘her’: confident and professional, yet elegant and feminine. So, as she had always done, she set to work making them herself.
When Ahriana was accepted into the 2021 cohort of Future Founders’ Startup Bootcamp, Vaila Shoes was just an idea. She worked closely with the Future Founders team to hone her entrepreneurial skills and bring that idea to life, such that across both phases of the program—and while taking classes to finish her degree—Ahriana raised more than $70,000 in non-dilutive funding from pitch competitions alone. It was at the urging of the Future Founders team—and her peers—that she officially took the plunge and launched Vaila.
As a member of the 2022 Fellowship, Ahriana built on her success, intentionally seeking out entrepreneurial peers “at a little higher level, a little further along with their companies” than she was, to use as reference points for her own growth. She reflects about the personal and professional value of the community she has built at Future Founders:
“It’s so validating to hear that we all struggle in the same ways. I’ve learned so much from so many, and it’s all been so valuable. It’s not just about the business…it’s about the whole person.”
For Ahriana, the emotional intelligence she has developed throughout her time with Future Founders has been just as formative for Vaila as the business acumen she has honed along the way.
Today, six months after Vaila’s official entrance into the market, Ahriana is busier than ever. She has been featured by media outlets such as Entrepreneur, Medium, Black Enterprise, Nasdaq, and more. She has partnered with Empower Global, the online marketplace founded by Sean “Diddy” Combs to elevate Black-owned brands, and just secured a major collaboration with Macy’s to be launched later next year. And even amidst all this activity, it’s clear that she’s already thinking about what comes next.
“I’m starting with extended shoe sizes to prove a point,” Ahriana says flatly, but she won’t stop there. “My goal is to reimagine what it means to be that go-to stop for women’s businesswear. How can a woman truly show up as her best self to work, to a space that was likely not designed for her, if she can’t find a shoe that fits her foot, or clothing that fits her body?”
This, after all, is the mission at Vaila’s heart—the story that Ahriana didn’t see being told.
“Vaila paints the picture of stepping into underrepresented, undervalued spaces…it paints the picture of what it means to be available, to create a community who sees—and loves—that woman, all women, exactly as she is.”
Click here to learn more about and apply for Future Founders’ Startup Bootcamp.
Click here to learn more about and apply for the Future Founders Fellowship.
Click here to learn more about Vaila Shoes.
Ready to get involved?
Join our newsletter for updates