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From Taps to Straps – a story of dance & shoes

I was a very active child so my mom put me in tap dance class to channel my enthusiasm and I fell in love with dance. I would steal my mother’s shoes and dance around in her heels. My mother used to laugh and laugh. Of course it was funny because they were massive on me , but I would dance around the kitchen in the living room in her shoes.

I fell in love with shoes the first time I watched White Christmas with my mom-the 1954 movie musical with Bing Crosby. Of course, I was drawn to the dance scenes. The best things happened when the cast sings and dances. There was so much enthusiasm, energy and excitement. I wanted to be right there with them! Those satin heels just caught my eye immediately as she moved across the floor. I thought, “Oh my gosh, they’re pink satin. They’re amazing. Look at the straps on them.” I just knew I had to wear a shoe like that. And when she was twirling in her dress it was the stuff of dreams. I couldn’t wait to wear heels like that and dance. Now, it took a couple years for me to graduate to heels and tap but the journey and destination was full of joy and excitement. My wedding shoes were Betsey Johnson and they had a really pretty strap on them and I could just dance in them all night and they just need my dress flow around the dance floor as my husband twirled me around, just like that scene in White Christmas.

From there I fell in love with all types of shoes that were strappy, perfect for dancing the night away in. I walk on my toes. So if I wear pumps, I walk out of them. So straps keep me safe. I love a strap. A strap on a high heel on your ankle- so classy and sexy. I love a pump, because it elongates you, but I just love a strap on a heel.

Lindsay Dunlap is a Photo Fashion Stylist Check out her work at :http://lindsaymmchugh.wixsite.com/photostylist

Want to hear more about Lindsay’s obsession? Listen to our discussion on my KindredSoles podcast.

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Home Front As Store Front

promotional wreath
Home Front as Store Front

Like many small businesses during the pandemic, I have been working to find ways to promote my products. I design and hand make custom shoes for women under the name RoxAnneLava. To help my search, I’ve looked to commercial storefronts and considered how I can adapt commercial marketing methods to my business using my residential home front.

A key tool retailers have is one of the oldest marketing products ever used, the sign. Humans have used signs since we began providing products and services. The businesses needed to make their business visible to their customers and a sign immediately identified the product for sale. Think beer mug for a pub or a pizza for a pizza parlor or food for a restaurant. It is no different today. A sign is often the first marketing touch point with consumers.

The earliest form of signage was symbolic. Rudimentary symbols were used to indicate that an individual had a product or service to exchange or sell. By as early as 3000 BC, trade was developing and tradesmen needed a fixed location from which to sell. They generally installed an identifying symbol, or insignia to mark their place of business.

As the Greeks and Romans continued to develop commerce, we see the birth of the modern sign. Generally made of stone, terracotta, wood, leather or metal, specific symbols developed into a visual language that identified businesses by classification, for example a tavern.

As commerce expanded after the Dark Ages, the need for “trade” signs increased.  By the 17th century, English law required each craftsman or tradesman to exhibit a sign that identified the products and services they provided. Soon enough the utilitarian signs became more elaborate with each business establishing a unique visual to differentiate their business from the pack. Signs remained visual, as most people still were unable to read. This is the beginning of the logo and dare I say it – Branding.

As outdoor signs became more elaborate and heavy, they became dangerous hanging over the street. Tragic accidents occurred on the crowded urban streets below, necessitating ordinances that were created to limit the size, weight, placement and extension of these signs. AND now we arrive at my conundrum. Sign ordinances exist today and they are very specific in terms of commercial and residential usage.

A commercial sign is not allowed on a residential home, but I am allowed to decorate my home front. I can do window, door and stoop displays and I do. Sadly my window is not easily seen from the street. It is high up and hidden behind a tree. But my steps and door are primary real estate, easily seen from the street.

The digital age has given us a new set of tools, but often the traditional methods are still effective.  My plan is to create “signage” within the vocabulary of acceptable residential home decoration. This spring and summer, I’ve been playing with bunting for my step rail, ornaments for my tree, and most recently the wreath.

The wreath you see here is eye-catching, colorful and fun, key elements in getting passers by to stop for a closer look. It is a good size to display a message. In terms of my brand, the elements are sandals, a product I make. Sandals on the wreath are made from up-cycled materials, a core characteristic of my brand.  These particular materials are connected to life in the time of COVID, featuring bubble packs from Amazon and re-usable bags from Fresh Direct deliveries. They are perfect for a wreath that is subject to all sorts of weather.  The wreath was designed to be on my step rail and it will be there in the near future, but for now it sits on my door.

As my projects progress, I will include more sophisticated, yet understated promotion of my brand while still keeping to the residential language. I’m excited to get started.  Visual display is very me. Follow my journey on Instagram: @roxannelavarox

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A Pop of Pink. An Animal Print. A MaryJane – who could resist?

It’s great to go back in time during this time of being isolated, to really think about the memories we have around our shoes. I have to say I don’t have a lot of early memories. It’s mostly as an adult. In 1998, I was working at Bloomingdale’s in corporate product development. My office was inside the 59th Street store. So I was walking through the store every day. And sometimes I would linger off into the shoe department and I saw these girls – a pair of Emanuel Ungaro Mary Janes made in Italy. They were ridiculously cheap, less than $100. They were mine!

Emanuel Ungaro Mary Jane circa 1998

The pop of pink, the animal print relief, the classic Mary Jane style, the perfect storm trifecta wrapped up in these 3 design elements. Sexy and sporty, they could be dressed up or down. I still have them. They are still going strong. They’re probably 25 years old. Every time I see them in my closet I’m reminded of my time at Bloomingdale’s and my first purchase of a beautiful pair of shoes.

Elissa Bloom is the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator.

Want to hear more about what is in Elissa’s closet? Listen to our conversation on KindredSoles.

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THE JOY OF MAKING

I learned to knit when I was 3 and though I was so young, I discovered the absolute joy of creating things! I felt empowered. I learned to problem solve. I learned to design. I challenged and exercised my creativity. I learned to accept mistakes and understand that they are part of “seeing the hand” in handmade. Knitting opened up an entire world that has and continues to bring me great joy. My mother was an “off the boat” English woman who had lived through WWII. Through that experience she learned many useful skills and developed principles that she passed on to me.I constantly pass these skills and tenets on to numerous students and friends, allowing them to pursue their own creative journeys. So many times I hear people say, “I can’t do that,” to which I reply, “Of course you can. You just need someone to show you how. There is nothing more satisfying than watching the discovery and success on learners faces after they master the first steps of a project.

The past few months of stay at home has led to a similar experience of my own. Out of necessity, boredom or interest, the isolation has put us in touch with our creativity. We have been forced to learn new digital platforms to communicate, express and share our lives more often with those we love. We’ve had to find innovative ways of entertaining our loved ones and ourselves as well. Many of us have used this time to learn a new craft or skill, anything from bread making to mask making and numerous things in-between. We’ve learned to utilize what we have and what is readily available. We’ve learned what we need and what we don’t. We’ve learned to appreciate handmade and the value of human connection. We are in a moment where we can reset and forge a new path forward, personally, professionally and together as a global community.

Some of us, myself included, have been working through the pandemic and may not have had time to explore their creative side. I want to share the Joy of Making with you and have developed a challenge for you (and your family, neighbors, friends, etc.)

Take my upcycled sandal challenge.
NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY! This challenge is tons of fun for the entire family. Kids under 12 may need some adult help. In this challenge, you’ll come away with a basic understanding about shoe making components and materials along with an understanding of how adhesives work. You’ll also create your very own unique pair of sandals for indoor or outdoor use…a great challenge right down to your feet!

Partnering with various organizations and groups, I‘m challenging people to scour their homes to find 2-3 materials and an adhesive that will allow them to make a simple sandal. The sandal has 3 components, but you just might find a material that will double for 2. The Party sign in the above image can double as insole and outsole.

Upcycle challenge entries I have received stimulated me to re-think my shoe making kits. Using hair ties and placemats you can make your own beach or pool sandals. The placemat provides the fashion and fun, while the hair ties can be organized in a variety of groupings to make your unique 100% indoor or outdoor wearable design.

The first shoes I ever made upcycled components from a pair of well worn sandals and leather and hardware from a Betsey Johnson handbag. You can see the same design influence in this refined flat using upcycled bracelets and likely pyramid studs. The large pyramids are from a vintage bracelet acquired on my travels. I’m pleased to give them new life. Rethinking items we already own is a great opportunity to practice creativity, innovation and design. We learn new skills. We try new things. We understand how things are made. We appreciate hand made. We grow as people. And we work toward less waste. Celebrate the Joy of Making. Challenge yourself today. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram to catch the next Upcycle Challenge.

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I Love Mary Janes!

Mary Janes – you either love them or you hate them. Today, my friend Julie tells us all why she loves Mary Janes.

I buy shoes like many women do – too many of them. I own too many and so many of them are sort of predictably Julie. I know the people around me will comment about shoes , saying  “those are so Julie” and what it is that makes a Julie shoe is a variation on a Mary Jane.

Basically, what I wear a lot of is simply some variation on the Mary Jane. It’s so funny. The other morning I was browsing the internet from bed as one does in lock down and hit “buy” on a pair of shoes. A couple of  days later I was thinking about them and thought I think I bought shoes the other day but I can’t remember what I bought. I was asking “Will I still like shoes when they arrive?” They arrived just yesterday and I love them. They are a plum Mary Jane with sort of a stack heel, a slight platform and of course an ankle strap, walking across the instep and the suede! I just think they’re gorgeous. This  is a  classic Julie shoe. It’s a comfortable shoe, but it’s feminine. It always has that strap. For some reason, that’s just what I’m attracted to. I’m going to insist that Mary Janes can be really pretty too. I just think is super sexy and super pretty. It’s beautiful. There’s colors and texture and contrast and collage and the strap. It can go with a million dresses. So when I started to think about it, I began to realize a lot of people actually have more fraught histories with shoes than we think we do.

julies beautiful shoes
beautiful shoes

I want to talk about my origin story. Basically a lot of people who know me, professionally or socially don’t often know that I actually grew up Mennonite.. This is a picture of me and my brothers when we were young. Being Mennonite involves a very restrained style and a dress style that is prescribed by the faith, essentially, and the way that you dress is not about self expression. It’s about adherence to religious law. So the dress is the clothing that we wear, all homemade. My mother made all of the clothing that the three of us are wearing in this photo, except shoes, shoes, were not homemade. She had to buy these things. So it was a duty to spend money in a practical way.  We lived on a farm in a rural Mennonite community in Ohio in the 1970s. This kind of durable, sturdy, functional attire that is not pretty and it’s not to draw attention to you is all about getting the work done. And you’ll notice the shoes I’m wearing here is an Oxford . This is a dressed up picture, I think this was Christmas that we’re going to church or something like that and we’re dressed up for the holiday. And those were my good church shoes. So it’s a shiny black, could equally be for a boy or girl and a lot of times my shoes literally were hand me downs from my older brother. So we did our “sneakers” that are heavy black shoes, and that was the default. So my early history was shoe as function.

“Who else wears these kinds of big solid black things?” Raggedy Ann. She’s got literally black stumps on the end of her feet. And that was basically like with socks up above them but that was basically the model for little girls, your socks hiked up under your layers of dress.  I would have a slip under dress. Always proper undergarments and then socks and then this black stump of shoe and the shoe can’t really be that expressive.

Now add to that. I had childhood bunions. Hmm. So even as I grew older, I had to wear pretty heavy solid Oxford’s and shoes that would have a really thick almost two inch high plastic sole insert that would hold my foot in the proper shape as it was growing so I could not wear any kind of pretty shoe after that diagnosis. I think that would have been about second grade or so. Being a public school girl in a homemade dress in the 70s when all the girls are wearing pants and jeans withc decidedly the ugliest big clunky shoes sometimes that were even literally from my brother on the playground was my norm.

When I left home and was on my own and making clothing decisions that were unaffected by any church relationship because I had left the church and stopped dressing Mennonite when I was a teen, I bought these flat Mary Jane’s that you buy in Chinatown for $3-$4. They are fabric with little to no shoe support. When I was 18 I had my bunion surgery for the correction of the bunions so I had to wear a flat and open shoe. These fit the bill and were inexpensive, so you could buy multiple pairs you can have them in various fabrics or different colors. On my student income, I could afford to start a collection of shoes. So these were my favorite shoes for the four years of college and probably wrecked my feet all over again.

chinese mary janes

In the next pictures you can see all of the kinds of variations of Mary Janes that I own. They are all a flat or or modest kind of a stumpy heel. I like a little bit of a chunky heel. And a good slight platform at the front just like the ones I just bought. The brown ones here that are in both of the pictures on the centering right hand are by a company called Jambu that happily does different versions of Mary Janes every season. This is one of my favorite brands and they are just a little bit fun and just a little bit conservative. I can wear them for work, with professional dress code or with fun skirts for casual too.

Jambu

Julie Steiner is a museum professional, shoe lover and collector and knitter extraordinaire.

Want to hear much more about Mary Janes, the controversy, the academia and developing a personal style? Listen to our discussion on my KindredSoles podcast.