As the creator of Love Your Shoes, Mary Houston's days are filled with selecting fabrics, speaking to retailers, and individually boxing the shoes that make up her premiere collection. Even her eleven and seven year old sons have become fluent in the language of shoe design. They share their own designs with their mom for reworking, and can talk about espadrilles with the best of them.
But what's most remarkable about the designer from Cork, Ireland is that a little over a year ago she'd never designed a shoe for anyone, much less for her own line.
Mary was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions. When you're done reading the interview, be sure to check out this photo gallery, filled with pictures of the impressive debut collection.
Wow, starting your own shoe line is so incredible. It's something so many of us shoe lovers have dreamed of, but we wouldn't even know where to begin. What inspired you to do this?
From a very young age I've loved shoes. I think I was 7 when I got a pair of black patent ankle strap shoes with white embroidery on the front, that was it, I was in love!My obsession has grown since then. I'd hate to think how many pairs I've bought over the years.
I suppose my love of shoes has inspired me to embark on this adventure. Each shoe is a work of art, some people love collecting paintings others (especially us women) love collecting shoes!
I've always enjoyed drawing them as a hobby, but until my friends made comments on how good they were, I hadn't given it any more thought.
But my husband reckoned that if anyone could get this off the ground I could, and I'm very happy with the finished product. They really have to be seen to be appreciated.
I've taken a big risk doing this, but it's kind of cool alright, looking at the initial design on paper and then being able to wear my own design.
Did you have any background in design or manufacturing before you began?
No I didn't. My background was in Advertising but I've always loved fashion.
As a teenager I made my own clothes from remnants picked up in fabric stores and bits lying around at home. Even some of my friends were brave enough to wear them!
I wanted to go to fashion college but my parents didn't think I could make a living from it so I ended up doing a Sales & Marketing course.
I didn't like the sales side of things but found the marketing / advertising very interesting and fell into that.
That was quite a while ago now.
I think when you're 18 it's hard to pick something that you want to do for the rest of your life.
I've tried a few things over the years and I'm ready to try something new now.
What made you decide to start your own line instead of going the more traditional path of designing for an existing label?
I approached a few design houses to see if they'd commission some of my designs but that was like hitting my head against a brick wall and I got nowhere. Obviously they all have their own in-house designers and don't need someone on the outside trying to sell them designs.
So you took the brave step of starting your own line. What has been the most difficult part of this getting this first collection from concept to completion?
I suppose getting the feel of the shoes right and making sure they are comfortable.
Concept is easy, it only takes a couple of weeks to come up with new designs and they just need refining before they go to the manufacturer.
The first collection was slow.
Since February ‘07 I've been sourcing fabrics, shoe jewelery and suppliers in Europe and Asia.
My fabrics were specially made. We sourced brooches and environmentally friendly outsoles. We've gone through 3 sets of prototypes on each shoe before we were happy with one. A few prototypes were thrown by the wayside along the way, but will be resurrected sometime in the future.
I've held focus groups with 20 women getting their feedback on which styles will work, which won't and what colors they'd like to see.
I'm very confident in my suppliers, they know where I'm coming from and they throw in suggestions that may better my designs.
It's been a long process, but I'd prefer to learn from mistakes made along the way with this delivery so I can turn them around quicker for future designs.