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Inside the mind of a shoe designer

Yvonne at Brooklyn Shoe Space where she made some of her shoe prototypes

Why shoes?

I fell in love with shoes when I was about 15 or 16 years old. My best friend’s father owned a shoe factory in China, and I would visit him every year where I had the rare opportunity of seeing first-hand how shoes were made in the factory. The smell of leather and exciting sounds of shoemaking machines humming in the background stayed vividly in my mind all these years. I remembered the best part of every visit was going into the sample closet where I chose as many shoes as I wanted to bring home and that made me a very happy girl! Somehow, I was always drawn to brightly colored shoes with exotic materials and sequins. Wearing these fun and colorful shoes brought me to a happy place where I felt like I could express my individual fashion sensibility.

Inspiration behind my shoe design

When I set out to design my shoe collection, I always ask myself these questions:

1) What do my target customers want in a pair of shoes?

Yvonne wearing her handmade black stilettos

I hate to admit to this, but for the longest time comfort was not in my dictionary when it comes to my choice of footwear. As a shoe lover, I obsessed over the shoe designs first, and how they pair with my outfits. Comfort was the least of my concerns because for me, buying a pair of shoes is an intensely emotional decision. Only two things mattered: 1) they made me feel excited about buying them because of their unique designs, and 2) they made me feel confident standing out of the crowd. I would endure the discomfort of wearing beautiful shoes so long as they look good with my outfits. Many times, I ended up buying the shoes first, and then happily bought more clothes to go with the shoes.

So, imagine my jaw-dropping moment when I reviewed the results of a footwear survey I conducted with my girlfriends and other women two years ago when I decided to design my own shoes. Almost all of them listed comfort as one of their most important factors in buying shoes, followed by other factors such as design and price.

This survey made me realize that what I valued in footwear was not what my target customers wanted. I have to think about comfort first when it comes to designing my shoes because this is what my customers want. At the end of the day your customers are the ones buying and wearing your shoes, and therefore it is important to design footwear that help them solve their problems.

2) Cityscapes

View of New York City (photo taken by Yvonne Liao)

My shoe designs are very much influenced by the hustling and bustling of urban cities. As the saying goes “You can take the girl out of the city, but you will never take the city out of the girl.”

I grew up in Singapore and now live in New York, so I will always be a city girl at heart. The towering geometric shapes and bright lights of skyscrapers, coupled with the cultural diversity of people from all walks of life bring bursts of color, energy and excitement, so I try to incorporate these elements into my footwear designs. I like to observe what types of footwear people are wearing on the streets. To me, it is always the shoes, and not the clothes that offer the window through which to peek into other people’s personalities and fashion styles.

Personally, urban cities also symbolize the possibility of turning dreams into reality. City development would not have been possible if not for the creative engineering innovations driven by people. Therefore, I want women who wear my shoes to dare to dream and feel confident that they conquer the world.

3) Cultural influences, fashion trends and everything else in between

I love bright colors and prints and am especially drawn to gold, silver and red palette, so I always try to incorporate these colors into my designs. My friends like to affectionately call it “very Yvonne”. I think the strong attraction to red and gold stemmed from the meanings these colors symbolize in the Chinese culture. Red symbolizes fire, good fortune, and joy. It is the color of happiness and often used in joyous celebrations. Gold symbolizes wealth, royalty, opulence and prosperity. These colors are used often together to spread the message of good fortune and prosperity for every woman who wears a pair of Yvonne Liao shoes.

My footwear designs are also inspired by the latest runway styles, fashion trends and material innovations. Before I start designing my footwear collection, I like to keep a college of the latest footwear styles and colors on my wall to set my design direction before I start sketching my designs.

I hope this blog provides you with a little more insight behind my design process. Want to learn more about my shoe designing process? Subscribe to my weekly newsletter to get updates on my upcoming footwear collection!

Additional reading:

Famous footwear designers’ thoughts on shoe designing process:

- Secrets of Shoe Design:

- Kenneth Cole's Advice on Becoming a Shoe Designer | Footwear News:

- Abstract: The Art of Design (Season 1, Episode 2):

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