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The Importance Of Balance With Shoe Designer Charlotte Stone

by: Rosie Dalton | 2 years ago | Features

Image: Charlotte Stone.

Charlotte Stone creates elegant, timeless footwear that is based on traditional craftsmanship. Originally from Ontario, the Los Angeles based footwear designer has always been passionate about maintaining a transparent supply chain, which is part of the reason why we are so excited to welcome her eponymous label onto Well Made Clothes. Effortlessly combining form with function, Charlotte Stone produces the kind of handcrafted shoes that garner a cult following overnight. Their bright colours inject levity into our wardrobes and their inherent comfort takes the stress out of getting dressing up.

After delving a little deeper into Charlotte Stone’s transparent supply chain recently, we were also keen to find out about her overarching design principles, what keeps her inspired and the importance of fostering positive supplier relationships. So all the way from LA, the designer asked our burning questions and gave us a little added insight into what goes on behind the scenes at Charlotte Stone HQ.

Rosie Dalton: Can you tell us about your earliest footwear memory?
Charlotte Stone
: My earliest footwear memories were putting on fashion shows with my sister in our backyard, using Mum’s clothes. I remember this particular pair of Stephan Kelian pumps in burgundy suede with this beautiful metal ornament on the toe. I wish I still had them!

Rosie: At what point did you realise that you wanted to make shoes? 
Charlotte: I was always interested in shoes, but I didn’t know it was a feasible career choice until I found some schools that offered programs specialising in footwear. As soon as realised that, my focus completely shifted.

Rosie: Having studied in Los Angeles but also trained at factories in Italy, what would you say are some of the key differences or similarities between the two? 
Charlotte: My studies in LA were all design theory based.  For example, I learned how to sketch properly and make practical line sheets and spec sheets etc. But when I got to Italy, it was ALL about real shoe making. I went to the last makers and made lasts from scratch and went to the heel factories and picked heels. It was like building shoes right in front of your eyes, it was amazing. I could see what worked and what didn’t work and learned from these incredible technicians. That education was priceless.

Image: Charlotte Stone.

Rosie: Footwear construction dates back a long time, but it has also evolved a great deal over the past few decades. Would you say that you are more influenced by the origins of the tradition, or do you tend to gravitate towards a more modern approach? 
Charlotte: I like a little bit of both. I love using raw vegetable tanned leathers with high-shine satins, or making a traditional moccasin using bright metallic leather to modernise it. I love the idea of handcrafted, hand-sewn footwear, but for me, there has to be a twist.

Rosie: I am so intrigued by the fact that your LA factory has also produced boots for the LAPD. How did this partnership first come about and why would you say that building good relationships with your factories is so integral to the business ethos?
: Lately I have been trying to bring my manufacturing – or at least some of it – back to the US. But that’s much harder than it seems. Making contemporary women’s shoes with heels and lasts is difficult because there is no industry left here to make the components. Lasts and heels need to be made outside of the country and then imported. I was speaking to one of my leather reps one day and he mentioned my boot factory, saying they were looking for some business. So I went in and asked if he would be interested in making some more contemporary boots and he was really into it. They are made the traditional way, goodyear welted, so they can be soled and resoled for the life of the upper and they’re virtually water proof with the way they are stitched. And, with shoes, it’s essential to maintain good relationships with your factories. You have to understand the challenges that they face, so you can work together and build a healthy business.

Rosie: Can you run us through the journey of a Charlotte Stone pair of shoes, from concept to creation? 
Charlotte: When inspiration strikes, I build on it! I gather my ideas for uppers, constructions and materials and then start sketching. I look at which styles have been hits in the past and build on them with new and interesting details and always with comfort in mind. The sketches and materials get sent to our factories, where they will work on the prototypes. Once we finalise the prototypes, I detail the collection in all the colours and materials; then we go to market. It sounds so simple, but its really hard – there are so many moving parts, so it’s a miracle that it ever comes together.

Rosie: You grew up in a very creative environment. How do you think that this has impacted upon your career trajectory to date?
: I lean on my parents for advice a lot. They are both designers and ran their own businesses, so having that base line has really helped me. I saw how much they worked, but also how they relaxed and took time away from it to recharge. They always took risks and helped each other out. That’s how my husband and I work together now. It is not always fun and we don’t always get along; but it is very rewarding. My husband always says “We might sail this ship into the centre of the sun, but at least we’re at the helm”.

Rosie: Do you feel that this visual creativity has also helped to inform your sense of experimentation when it comes to shoe silhouettes? 
Charlotte: My father is a graphic artist so I learned how to sketch and draw from him at an early age. That skill has helped me to learn proportion and how to sketch into silhouettes.  Creativity and experimentation with silhouettes is challenging with shoes, because there are so many parameters. Shoes are very technical, they have to be balanced and they have to fit, like no other item of apparel. So I like to design constructions that are aesthetically beautiful, simple and comfortable.

Image: Charlotte Stone. 

Rosie: Your side hustle is making hand-crocheted furniture with your husband, is that right? Can you tell us a bit about how you balance both projects and the ways in which each discipline influences the other, if at all? 
Charlotte: Yes, Pacific Wonderland Inc. is our line of handmade furniture. It’s this really fun side project that we get to play with, and even though it’s a whole different industry, there are so many similarities. Balance, proportion, comfort and colour; the same things I focus on in shoes. It’s fun to work with Steve on new weaving patterns and colour combos and it always trickles in to what I am doing with my collection. We’re working on a retail space right now and Steve is building out the whole thing with his scrap furniture wood; it’s going to be incredible.

Rosie: And finally, in your opinion, what is it that makes a really great pair of shoes?  
Charlotte: A really good pair of shoes to me are comfortable, original and luxurious. I want to be able to walk in them right out of the box; I hate breaking shoes in!  I don’t want them to look like what everyone else is buying (or knocking off). And I want the materials and constructions to be high quality – I want you to feel like a million bucks when you wear them.

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