By Cindy Atoji Keene
How to bring a fresh spin to a plain white canvas sneaker? This was one of footwear designer Julie Rando’s biggest challenges a decade ago when trying to help revitalize a classic American shoe made by Keds. “The most difficult shoes to design are actually the simplest ones,” said Rando of Lexington, an independent consultant for companies such as Clarks, Ryka and New Balance. “I kept going back to the drawing board, playing with the nuances of the product and pushing enough so it was different but not enough to scare away the loyal canvas oxford customers.” The result was stretch sneakers or a relaxed fit that would give for a wide foot or comfortably cradle a narrow instep. “At the time, it was such a different way of looking at the sneaker,” said Rando, who has been designing shoes for over 15 years.
Rando, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, started her career as a lamp designer but was lured to footwear when she saw an ad for a shoe designer. Despite doing a series of technical drawings and showing her talents, she didn’t get the job, but she did decide to leave the world of lighting for a different contract position creating performance athletic footwear such as running shoes, inline skates, ski boots, and basketball sneakers. Her career has turned more towards lifestyle, casual, and dress shoes, but no matter what the style, “There are many elements that go in to good shoe design,” said Rando. “It’s easy to design a $500 shoe where you can use the nicest leathers, constructions and ornaments. It’s a greater challenge to designing a $49.99 shoe while your labor and leather prices are going up.”
Q: What do you do as a shoe designer that most people wouldn’t think would be involved with the job?
A: You really need to have technical ability, including understanding how to work with factories in China. When I was designing lamps, one of best lessons I ever learned was that if you send a cracked lamp overseas, they will copy it exactly, down to the crack, even if you didn’t want it there. You need to cross every “t” and dot every “i” when working with China.
Q: What is the process of making a shoe?
A: After settling on a design, I send a technical drawing to the factory which makes a mock prototype, then creates a first mold to make a sales sample for a small production run, maybe 90 pairs to bring to trade shows. If response is good, the shoe will make the line.
Q: Do you wear the shoes you design?
A: Yes I do, but the sample size is usually size 6, and I’m size 9, so the trial shoes are usually don’t fit. It’s a good thing, or my shoe collection would be triple the size that it currently is. Manufacturers always test the shoe with a small size, because smaller shoes are cuter.
Q: How many pairs of shoes do you own?
A: Only about 50 pairs, because I don’t have a lot of closet space. It’s kind of ironic, as much as I love shoes, I’m actually more of a handbag addict.