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Forty years in the making She earned a degree in marketing and financial planning from Husson University in Maine, but she intended to work on the creative side using her love of art. “I always aspired to be an artist, so I went to school thinking I’d later work as a commercial artist. Now, it would be a graphic artist, but at the time there were no computers so we did it all by hand,” she said. Then in 1973, she answered an ad to be a sketch artist at International Shoe Co. that was then located on Washington Avenue. She was thrilled to get a job with “artist” in her title, but she ended up sketching shoe patterns. It wasn’t as exciting as she’d hoped, but “I really fell in love with the work. Once you’re in the shoe business you don’t want to leave.”From nightmare to dream job “I was the only female in a department of 40 men at a time when they were used to having no women around. Some men wouldn’t even talk to me . and the ones that did talk to me said things I didn’t want to hear, but I hung in and they hung in.” She said that her acumen for the work earned her the respect of a European executive at the company who became her mentor. “He said he liked my work and wanted to teach me everything he knew,” she said. She worked there for five years and then moved to the East Coast to work strictly as a designer. Even when her husband relocated to Missouri for work, she continued work in New York and kept an apartment in Queens (that was near her daughter at the time) and commute back and forth throughout the week. When she decided to stop commuting, she thought she’d have to give up working in the shoe business.After rehab “I think I’d watched too many HGTV home improvement shows or something. Rehabbing a house is nothing like you see on the shows. It’s . nothing like that. We rehabbed a four family house in Tower Grove, and it almost killed me,
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” Smith said. Although she finished and sold the home, she thought, if she was going to work that hard she might as well do what she loved. So she formed a partnership with Alan Wang, a 30 something executive at a shoe factory in Taiwan. They launched their business three years ago.Sensible appeal She describes most of her shoes as having a vintage vibe, “but I get most inspiration from London. I love the street vibe of London because it’s not pretentious and it’s just real. So you’ll see things that look very 1967 Carnaby Street, or some will say it looks either ’70s or ’30s inspired because of Downton Abbey. And she says that it’s the vintage vibe that attracts a wide demographic. She gets grandmothers who want the comfort and updated style, and she gets their granddaughters who grew up wearing Dr. Martens, sneakers, flip flops and ballet flats. “But it’s geared toward the 30 something who likes the styling, and it’s attracting some celebrities. Drew Barrymore came in to a West Coast distributor and bought six pairs of the line at full price! That’s exciting,” Smith said.Head over heels No shoe heel in her line is more than 2 inches. “So it’s perfect for the 20 year old Brooklyn hipsters and then we have 70 year olds in walkers coming in,” said Smith. She said that career women in sales like the look because it’s professional but still comfortable enough to wear all day.The next stretch She plans to expand the line with stretch fabric uppers that borrow from the athletics materials. These will be offered at a lower price point to meet two needs economics and women with foot problems that require more flexibility, but maintain the same style. “We want it to feel like a sock but look like a shoe,
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” she said.