From the Andes to the Rockies

Greg Carson is not what one pictures when one imagines the owner of a women’s shoe store. Boyishly handsome with a perpetual five o’clock shadow, Carson is an avid football fan, a lover of all things craft beer, and a former telecom employee who knew nothing of fashion when he started his own footwear company a decade ago.

“I was at the mall with my girlfriend, and it was just painful to watch her shop,” explained the entrepreneur, seated behind the counter at his Denver store late last week. “It seemed like there were two rails she could choose from – she could either spend her whole paycheck on something she really wanted, or settle for something cheap that she didn’t love. I figured there had to be a better way.”

French for “Under the bed,” Carson and his business partner settled on “Sous le Lit” for the fledgling business’ name, reasoning sub-mattress was where a person often found what they were looking for. Originally located in the Mile High suburb of Littleton, the company soon moved to LoDo in Denver to provide better access to its rapidly expanding customer base.

“When we finally opened our doors, the response was overwhelming,” said Carson. “We discovered there was this untapped well of desire for these products that looked like a million bucks but were affordable to the average 20-something.”

Sous le Lit has expanded its purview in the intervening years, adding jewelry and select clothing to its catalog, as well as launching a new online store earlier this year. The company’s physical location on Platte Street has become a favorite spot for professional cheerleaders, media personalities and even Miss Colorado.

But for all its success, Carson said he refuses to stock products that don’t meet the standards of social responsibility befitting a community-minded organization. That commitment, in turn, led Sous le Lit to its recent partnership with Austin-based Fortress of Inca.

Founded in 2004, Fortress of Inca flies-in hand-made shoes from Peru, incorporating quality South American materials and authentic Andean designs into products of uncommon style and high fashion.

“I discovered my first pair of Peruvian boots while backpacking through South America,” said Fortress owner Evan Streusand. “At first I was hesitant of the idea of wearing a colorful, native-looking boot with lambskin lining, but I decided to blend in with the locals and add some flair to my adventure.

“I loved the new look and realized that the mix of traditional Incan textiles and the modern boot silhouette made for a very stylish product.”

The FOI line of boots, heels, wedges, flats and sandals are certified fair wage products that are built using traditional crafting practices, said Streusand. Those points were of particular importance to Sous le Lit, said Carson, in its decision to bring Fortress of Inca to Colorado for the first time.

"Any store can sell women’s shoes; they’re one of the few products with a built-in fan base,” he said with a laugh. “But at Sous le Lit, we’re very much about ensuring that the types of products we sell conform with Denver’s very unique sense of place.”

That the city has embraced the company is no surprise, considering the many ways the company has embraced the city. Though born and raised in the Midwest, Carson explained that his connection to Colorado and its one-of-a-kind spirit has given his store a brand with which people have identified.

“If I wanted to make money selling interchangeable widgets, I’d still be in telecom,” said Carson. “What I love about this store is watching people come in and find things that speak to them on a more personal level.

“You can find a pair of shoes at the mall; at Sous le Lit, you can find that pair of shoes.”

Sous le Lit is located at 1550 Platte St, Denver, Colorado, 80202

-Article compliments of Nate Strauch

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