Last year my job as creative director stretched into new terrain: shoe design.
The Mohinders collection was not invented or designed by our company—each style is a collaborative variation on an heirloom design from Athani, India. Every pair is still made by generations of master shoemakers there (more on Athani’s shoemaking history here).
Some of the shoemakers we work with in Athani also make traditional open-toe sandals, in addition to the slides and flats you see in our collection. And, we’d heard folks would be into a simple, open-toe sandal from Mohinders.
So in the fall of 2017, we decided to give it a try: a single-strap, minimalist sandal design using the same heirloom technique in a modern shape. We thought, with such a simple shape, this would be easy (lol).
It was such a challenge! A pared-down sandal, with only one strap, means that strap has a big job—and each decision counts. Dimensions, shape, and placement are key.
We began with a few rounds of samples, based on a few drawings and measuring-tape estimates. They were terrible—too tight to even get on our feet, or some didn’t stay on when I walked. I almost gave up several times.
Then, I was re-energized (and learned a TON about smart shoe design) in a workshop with Rachel Corry last spring. Highly recommend! Rachel's 8 years of sandal making experience and experimental, open approach gave me priceless info and confidence.
Rachel said it well in a recent interview:
“Shoes are neat because they’re like a functional sculpture—they really have to work. You also have to make two of them, and they have to be the same but mirror opposites. The foot is a really fucked up shape, and trying to fit something on it twice is the ultimate challenge. There are so many variables.”
Image credit: Jules Davies for Gossamer
Post-workshop, I got back into the sandal design process.
This meant lots of tracing my feet, scanning footbed shapes to send to be printed (hopefully at 100% scale) in Mumbai, and lots of What’sApp messages / DHL packages back and forth with Abbas, our operations and production manager.
Abbas is based in Mumbai and makes frequent visits to the cooperative Athani, so he’d bring updated footbed or strap dimensions to the shoemakers there. They’d make a batch of samples in each size, send them off to our San Francisco Office, and we’d see if our ideas had worked out.
I’m just one pair of feet, so we recruited women friends and colleagues of many shoe sizes to gather real-life wearer data (shoutout to our crew of shoe testers, size 5 through 11!) We tweaked the sizing and tightened the upper, so it fits narrow-footed people but can also be stretched to fit wider feet like mine.
Now, almost two years and one trip to India later, we’ve perfected and released the sandal.
We learned so much along the way! Above all: in shoe design, simple does not equal easy, but it's worth taking time to get right. I’ve been wearing my pair now for months, and there’s nothing quite as satisfying as knowing we achieved a design that really works.