LOWER EAST SIDE — With size-four feet, shoe shopping was a nightmare for Sydney Pringle.
"I would sob because there was no option for me except kids' shoes," said the 45-year-old owner of the Little Shoe Store, which opened at 58 Orchard St. last Saturday.
"I would only buy shoes when it was absolutely necessary," she said.
She would purchase the "least offensive" footwear from the children's department, and that often meant awkward flats and sandals or just sticking with plain tennis shoes.
To help other small-footed women find attractive footwear, Pringle began selling tiny vintage and new shoes online more than two years ago.
The business grew into a weekly pop-up store last September in the East Village, and now Pringle is operating her own storefront with business partner Sindy Sagastume, who manufactures tiny shoes with her company, the Odd Slipper.
The shop sells shoes sized three to six.
"I don't want any other young girl or woman to have to cry because she doesn't have shoes to feel like the woman she wants to be," said Pringle, an East Village resident, who once had to stuff a size five pair of black pumps with newspaper for a job interview in the late 1980s.
The Little Shoe Store has more than 400 pairs of vintage and new shoes that can also be purchased online by domestic and international customers. Through Pringle's own experience of buying shoes, she has developed a network of vintage stores that help her shop.
"When they find petite sizes they will call me and send them straight away," said Pringle, who receives shoe packages from Idaho, Arizona and California. She also intends to delve into the other end of the market — women's sizes 10 to 13 — by the end of the year.
"I hear the same complaint that I had from women who just can't find shoes to fit them that they want," said Pringle. Keeping an eye on the heel hungry drag queen market is also on the horizon for the Little Shoe Store.
The collaboration between Pringle and Sagastume was sparked late last year when Pringle wanted to take on the Odd Slipper's brand to her web presence and Sagastume's online customers were crying out for a space to try on shoes.
"The fashion industry has been cutting off any sort of non-average thing," said Sagastume, 29, who brought her background in fashion manufacturing to the fashion tech startup.
"That is what we find with our customers, they have been so underserved," said Sagastume, who is also a size four.
"We have people saying they haven't bought shoes in two years or in four years."
The Odd Slipper uses a network of boutique cobblers in South Korea where they regularly use small shoe molds. To keep prices low – between $30 for flats and $188 for a pair of boots – Sagastume is the only bridge between customers and the manufactures.
Crowdsourcing is also a part of the business model. Customers can regularly vote on selected styles to determine some of the shoe types that get made.
"After voting closes we take a look at the votes and we manufacture the winners," said Sagastume, whose business partner in the Odd Slipper is Brandon Williams, who started working for Lower East Side crowd sourcing phenomena Kickstarter last year.
"Kickstarter was a big inspiration for us," said Sagastume.
As for Pringle, her small feet are balanced with a big heart with the Little Shoe Store being as much a crusade as a business.
"There is just such pleasure when a woman or girl comes in and they just have that glow when there are shoes that fit them," said Pringle, who still has a day job as a manager of a non-profit legal service.
"It has now become a passion," she said. "I absolutely love it."