Friday, December 2, 2022

Cinderella story: Business owner’s life changed by shoes

Brittany Rolston, 32, owns The Shoe Attic in Merchants Square. She handpicks the merchandise for The Shoe Attic and works to provide a family-oriented shopping environment.
Brittany Rolston, 32, owns The Shoe Attic in Merchants Square. She handpicks the merchandise for The Shoe Attic and works to provide a family-oriented shopping environment. (Iris Hyon/WYDaily)

What do a Disney princess and a local business owner have in common? In their own ways, both Cinderella and The Shoe Attic owner Brittany Rolston prove that “one shoe can change your life.”

It may seem silly to some, but Rolston believes there is truth to the saying.

For Rolston, two pairs of Jeffrey Campbell heels – a leopard wedge and a platform boot, gifted to Rolston by her mother – shifted the course of her career and “literally changed [her] life.”

Rolston intended to pursue dance and theater after graduating from George Mason University. When her health became an obstacle to that pursuit, Campbell’s shoes inspired her to enter the world of business.

Rolston says she has met some of her best friends through The Shoe Attic. She views herself as part of the larger community and loves building relationships with local shoe-lovers.
Rolston says she has met some of her best friends through The Shoe Attic. She views herself as part of the larger community and loves building relationships with local shoe-lovers. (Iris Hyon/WYDaily)

Rolston opened The Shoe Attic on Prince George Street in November 2012 and, in the five years since, has become a familiar friendly face to shoppers in Colonial Williamsburg.

The Shoe Attic, which moved to Merchants Square in February 2017, offers a unique collection of clothes, shoes, and accessories handpicked by Rolston. But she believes the “environment” is more special than the merchandise.

“As far as the shopping experience goes, it’s very family-oriented,” Rolston said. “You know that saying – treat everybody how you want to be treated? You treat them like family when they come in the door.”

Rolston says shoes have truly changed her life, turning obstacles (her stomach condition) into new opportunities (owning The Shoe Attic).
Rolston says shoes have truly changed her life, turning obstacles (her stomach condition) into new opportunities (owning The Shoe Attic). (Iris Hyon/WYDaily)

When one door closes, another opens

Growing up in Centreville, Virginia, Rolston dreamed of a career in dance or working with animals. Business wasn’t even on the list of possibilities.

When Rolston’s stomach disorder gastroparesis worsened in 2009, however, she was forced to live with her parents, who had moved to Williamsburg the previous year.

Strapped to a feeding tube and saddled in a wheelchair, Rolston was unable to hold a steady job because her health status was so unreliable.

Rolston’s mother bought her two pairs of Jeffrey Campbell shoes in an attempt to lift her spirits.

A Los Angeles-based designer, Jeffrey Campbell began his career in footwear working at a Nordstrom’s department store. He started designing and creating shoes in his garage in 2000. Despite his cult following and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, Jeffrey Campbell himself seldom gives interviews or poses for pictures.

Jeffrey Campbell, Rolston's favorite shoe designer, named this shoe after her: The Brittany.
Jeffrey Campbell, Rolston’s favorite shoe designer, named this shoe after her: The Brittany. (Courtesy Aemow)

Former Elle creative director Joe Zee called Campbell the “J.D. Salinger of platform shoes” in a Buzzfeed article from 2013. Campbell and Salinger may share a conspicuously low personal profile relative to their work’s popularity, but Rolston has found Campbell much more accessible than Salinger’s fans found their idol.

At Rolston’s first shoe show in New York City, not only did she meet Campbell but he also named a pair of his shoes after her. The Brittany is a mint green leather platform with a “clear, lucite heel” and electric blue straps.

Clearly, Campbell prefers to let his shoes – and the everyday women wearing them – speak for themselves.

Rolston says Campbell is her favorite shoe designer because his collections include shoes for “every type of girl.” The diversity of shoe styles and designs that fall under Campbell’s brand appeals to Rolston’s fashion philosophy that “all rules apply.”  

Campbell’s shoes — and the fashion bloggers who wrote about him — became a sort of escape for Rolston, at a time when her life had taken a turn she felt helpless to deal with.

Rolston began toying with the idea of opening her own store in order to share with other women the joy that shoes brought her.

Reflecting back on the excitement she herself found in wearing heels while she was in a wheelchair made it easier for Rolston to make the leap and become a small business owner.

She passionately attests to the power of shoes to raise people’s self-esteem and transform them into different versions of themselves.

“I really love when you find that person who finds the perfect pair of shoes and it just makes them so happy,” Rolston said.

Her inspiration for the shop’s name came easily. When Rolston first moved to Williamsburg, her father (a retired aerospace engineer) converted their home’s attic into a closet for her myriad shoes.

Thus, the name of Rolston’s boutique was born: The Shoe Attic.

Tags on the clothes in The Shoe Attic feature pictures of Rolston's family and loved ones, including her siblings and her horse Duncan.
Tags on The Shoe Attic’s clothing feature pictures of Rolston’s family and loved ones, including her siblings and her horse Duncan. (Iris Hyon/WYDaily)

Owning The Shoe Attic has allowed Rolston not only to share her passion for fashion with the local community, but also to surprise herself and push her limits.

“You don’t realize how many hats you have to wear,” Rolston said of being a business owner. “From the sweeping and cleaning the bathroom to dealing with the bank account and the vendors and the face of the company.”

Rolston says the experience has taught her to not take things so personally and made her “a very strong, very assertive person.”

“You have to learn to say no, which I don’t think young women are taught to say, and how to stick up for yourself – for a little girl who was shy, that’s a hard thing to learn,” Rolston said.

Owning a small business is no small responsibility. Rolston says she has grown immensely in the five years since she opened The Shoe Attic.
Owning a small business is no small responsibility. Rolston says she has grown immensely in the five years since she opened The Shoe Attic. (Iris Hyon/WYDaily)

As for the future of The Shoe Attic, Rolston intends to focus on the digital growth of The Shoe Attic’s website while keeping its physical base at one location.

“I like that I know all of my customers, and I couldn’t do that if I had multiple stores,” Rolston said. “But I also have a great online customer base, and I treat them just the way I do if you were in my store.”

Rolston says that her favorite part of the job are her customers, and it is clear that she has forged deep connections with her fellow shoe-lovers.

“I’ve built these relationships with people I would have never had,” she said. “They’re family now. When they say retail therapy, they really mean it.”

Read more profiles of local residents in WYDaily’s section In Our Hometown

Related Articles

MORE FROM AUTHOR