“I felt very strongly that if I didn’t give it a go, I'd forever wonder 'what if...?'”

Image of Anna Elshafei
From Law to Slippers

Fed up with the stress of her sector, Anna Elshafei wondered if it was time to take a chance on her business idea. Through a series of step-changes, she now works in a way that better supports her broader life. Here's how she did it, and the lessons she learned along the way.  

What work were you doing previously?

I was working as a lawyer in China.

What are you doing now?

I now have my own new business, a luxury slippers brand. 

I also do freelance legal work.

Why did you change?

A number of reasons.

Partly because the politics and stress of working in big law firms just got too miserable; partly because I wanted the freedom to spend time in the UK (with my family) and in Egypt (with my husband’s family) as well as in China.

And partly simply because I couldn’t find slippers I really liked!

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

It was really when I had a health scare that was a result of stress. 

I didn’t act on the decision immediately but that was what prompted it.

How did you choose your new career?

Launching my slippers brand was more a compulsion than a considered choice. 

I felt very strongly that, if I didn’t give it a go, I'd forever wonder “what if..?” and that would drive me nuts.

Are you happy with the change?

Hell yes!

I’ve acquired a whole host of new knowledge and skills. 

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

I both miss and don’t miss working in an office environment. 

I miss the camaraderie of working with others. An office full of smart people is a really enjoyable and fulfilling environment to be in every day, if it’s well-managed and its culture nurtured. 

If it’s not (and so many are not) then it’s poisonous (the term “toxic workplace” is so apt, I think). 

I really don’t miss all that.

How did you go about making the shift?

I initially shifted from private practice to working as a freelance lawyer, and spent my free time working out how to get slippers designed and made. 

Gradually, the balance shifted so that I now spend more time on slippering than on lawyering.

How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?

I had none of the skills that I needed to start a footwear brand – or at least, that’s how it felt. 

There was a lot of flailing and faffing and swearing and weeping. 

Then I accepted that I couldn’t acquire all the necessary skills myself (as my daughter said, “that’s why all these things are jobs, mum”) and found people to help. 

I found brilliant people and have learned masses from them.

What didn’t go well? What wrong turns did you take?

No major wrong turns so far, rather lots of small but expensive missteps. 

Examples include failing to instruct photoshoot photographer to take both landscape and portrait shots (definitely need both); having a stall in an unsuitable setting; paying too much for web design and SEO audit…

The list goes on. I’m still learning.

How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?

I financed the shift with freelance work and by putting my savings into the business. 

And by being married – I knew my husband wasn't going to let me starve if it all went pear-shaped.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Giving up financial security.

What help did you get?  

The key help at the very beginning came from my wonderful shoe designer, Jess Good.

I found her by simply googling “shoe designer”.

Also help from the equally wonderful footwear consultant, Susannah Davda. I could have found Susannah by googling “shoe consultant” but actually, Jess put us in touch.

What resources would you recommend to others?

If you're in/can get to London, the British Library is an excellent, free source of market and statistical information that's behind expensive paywalls elsewhere.

If you're starting a business on your own, it’s helpful to have some cheerleaders, so do join a supportive group of people doing similar things. 

There are lots online so you can shop around to find one that suits you. For women, the Southwood Social Hub is a lovely one.

What have you learnt in the process?

I’ve learned that nothing is straightforward, but everything is “figure-outable”.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

I wish I’d been more systematic from the start, rather than plunging in feet first. 

That said, if I’d gone that way, I might have got strung up on detail and never have got going.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Life's too short to stay where you’re unhappy, and too long to do the same thing forever (unless you’re loving it). 

If you decide to launch a business, get plenty of advice about all the relevant areas before you start. 

When you do get started, you’ll need practical assistance more than you need advice, so have as much help in place as you possibly can.

To find out more about Anna's business, visit https://shaffay.com

What lessons could you take from Anna's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.