It’s usually pretty difficult to make your mark as a young designer — especially when it comes to shoes, one of the most difficult items to produce. But 25-year-old shoe designer Sarah Flint, who launched her namesake shoe business last year, has quickly amassed a following with her Über-functional designs.
Flint’s shoes are a reaction to the overwrought, wildly complicated styles that currently populate the shoe racks at luxury department stores. She crafts discreet heels and loafers that offer tiny, luxurious upgrades on the classics. A kitten heel, for instance, is piped with stingray; a pointy-toe flat is decorated with an origami detail instead of a traditional bow. Her shoes are wearable — and speak, in some way, to how women really want to dress.
Now in her second season, Flint’s collection is already stocked at niche boutiques including Edon Manor in Tribeca, CeCe in New Orleans, and Curve in San Francisco. She spoke to the Cut why she decided to launch her own label so early in her career and how she managed to get into the same Italian shoe factory as Manolo Blahnik.
How did you get into this?
Well, shoes have been what I’ve wanted to do forever, really. I started in retail when I was younger. Actually, when I was 15 I got a job at a luxury store [Massachusetts boutique chain French Lessons]. I went in there and was like, “Give me a job, give me a job.” And they were like, “You’re crazy, you’re 15. Come back in two years.” But I came back in two weeks and kept coming back and badgering them, so eventually they gave me a job and I worked for them for all four years of high school and then into college when I moved to New York. I was doing buying for them and going to Parsons. I went to Parsons for a year and then realized I wanted to just do accessories, so I moved to FIT.
What is it about accessories?
I’ve loved shoes since I was really little. I used to try and wear my tap shoes to school because I loved patent leather. My mother did not let me. And we lived in a very old colonial house, and she did not want her hardwood floors getting ruined by my tap shoes. It’s just always been shoes. I’ve always been sketching them. My grandmother lived in Paris while I was growing up, so I used to visit her there and make her take me to every shoe store, every atelier — it was amazing.
I switched to FIT so that I could just do footwear and I was interning at Proenza Schouler at the time, which was an amazing experience — especially because Jack and Lazaro have such a different aesthetic to my own. I really learned a lot there and got to work with [Louis Vuitton’s] Darren Spaziani, who was their accessories guy. He came from Balenciaga and had a ton of amazing insight to give. And then after school, I felt like I had all of this design background but had never actually seen production. So I enrolled Ars Sutoria, an amazing leather goods school, in Milan. I was there for a year.
Must have been a great experience.
My teacher was a man named Richard Siccardi, who had been a pattern-maker at the factory, one of our factories now, that at the time was only Manolo Blahnik but now is Manolo, Oscar de la Renta, and Sarah Flint. He was able to get me into that factory, which was amazing, because in Italy, they look at young designers and they laugh. But he vouched for me. In school, he and I bonded immediately over this idea that a lot of young designers are just going for what’s the craziest and what’s essentially the biggest science experiment. And we talked about the idea of returning to design where it starts with the shape of the last, which is the shoe form that it is built on, and the fit and the integrity of the materials.
But you say Siccardi gets a lot of offers from students to go into business with them. How did you convince him that you were the real thing?
I went back to New York, and I got a job nannying. I was designing in the morning, picking up the kids in the afternoon. I pulled together an advisory board. My dad is a venture capitalist, so I grew up at the dinner table talking about his ventures and the entrepreneurs he was working with, what they were doing right, what they were doing wrong. He said, “Okay, if you’re going to do this early, then you need to build a team and find some people who really believe in you and what you’re doing.” And one of the things he taught me was one of the most important things you can do is really collect the best of the best, know what you’re good at and what gaps you need to fill in. So that’s what I started doing. The first person on my board was Desiree Gruber, who is the CEO of Full Picture and the executive producer of Project Runway. She’s been amazing, just really helpful. And then I met Chris West from Marvin Traub and Associates, and then Edgar Huber — he used to be at Kiehl’s and then Juicy and now he’s doing Land’s End. So I found this group of people who believed in me, thought I could really do this, and I went back to Richard with that approach. We started with a capsule collection where we only produced a thousand pairs of shoes.
How were you able to get in contact with the advisory board? Was it through connections, or cold emailing? How did you get them to pay attention to you?
It was through connections. Desiree has been a family friend for a long time. She actually saw the first pair of shoes I made at FIT. It actually all circled … This person would introduce me to this person and I started collecting people. In the beginning, I didn’t have a business partner. One of my advisors introduced me to Tracy Smith, who is now my partner. Tracy was the president of global sales at Cole Haan. He was there for eighteen years. It’s been the best partnership because he came up through product development and merchandising and then went into sales, so he really has a lot of the pieces.
Tell me a little bit about your design philosophy — I know you said that it’s more about the construction and less about all the bells and whistles. What are you trying to achieve?
In the past ten years, we’ve had a lot of really amazing new designers, but they’re all coming at it from an approach where sexy means a six-inch stiletto or an enormous platform. I feel that elegance and sophistication is what makes a shoe sexy. How a woman feels when she’s wearing it, stable and not unbalanced, is part of that.
What has the feedback been?
It’s been great, really positive. Like I said, I think it’s something that women have been looking for and missing. My designs have something interesting and something new and exciting but won’t make you feel like a clown, either.
What are your big dreams for the brand? Do you want to do other accessories, or ready to wear?
I would love to do all accessories categories one day, like small leather goods and handbags at some point. Actually, the first season I was trying to figure out if I could do both, but I decided not to. But yeah, that would be the big dream: to create an enduring brand.
Photographer: Eric T. White; Manicure: Casandra Lamar using MAC Cosmetics at Factory Downtown; Makeup and Hair: Tiffany Saxby using Weleda Skin/Tarte Cosmetics and Davines at Factory Downtown.