Inside the world of shoe design: an unexpected journey through careers
Dynasty shoe display in the design office.

Inside the world of shoe design: an unexpected journey through careers

Editor’s note: Chloe Rusek works as an associate shoe designer for Dynasty Footwear. Her interest in the design complexity of this business prompted her to request interviews and share what she has learned with Catalyst readers.

All photos by Chloe Rusek

Stepping into the forefront of fashion innovation, shoe designers Susan Giroux and Layla Copeland are paving the way for creative excellence in the bustling world of children’s footwear. With a blend of artistic flair and strategic business analysis, they offer a unique glimpse into the process behind crafting shoes that captivate the hearts and minds of young consumers. 

Giroux, the Head Line builder of girls’ shoes for Dynasty Footwear, began by sharing her insights and experiences in the dynamic realm of shoe design, unveiling the intricacies and adventures of her career path.

Giroux’s journey into the shoe design world didn’t follow a predetermined path. Reflecting on her background, she told the Catalyst, “Never. No. I was a music major and a business major… I thought I was going to be a concert trombonist.” However, fate had other plans for her as she found herself transitioning from retail to design after meeting her husband Paul, who also worked in the field.

“I have my own company, Susan Giroux, Inc., and I do contract work for Dynasty, which is a company. So when I started back then, the company I was with was Paul’s company in New York, which was EOS footwear.”

Transitioning from retail to design was an unexpected yet seamless shift for Giroux. “I got out and worked in retail, which I really enjoyed, but it was grueling hours—put in an average of 70 hours a week,” she recalled. Yet, her experience as a buyer for Target Corp. provided her with invaluable insights into the industry, shaping her approach to design.

The evolution of Giroux’s career led her from Brazil to China, reflecting the global nature of the shoe business. “The business of shoes has evolved… from Italy, then moving to Brazil… to really then Japan and it went on to Korea and then Taiwan and now ultimately China,” she explained. “That’s kind of the evolution of shoes, how the mainstream shoes kind of move from those countries because of pricing and that sort of thing to China.” 

Among the key aspects Giroux highlights is the importance of building trust and fostering honest relationships in the industry. “Nothing is more important than honesty… If something isn’t working, you tell them,” she emphasized. She said honesty, integrity and a deep understanding of her clients’ needs have been the cornerstones of her success.

The process of shoe design is a multifaceted endeavor that requires a blend of creativity, business knowledge and market insight. “So, it’s really multi-layers of analyzing the business from the bottom up and then the trends are just like the frosting,” she explained. Every decision is guided by the goal of creating shoes that resonate with both consumers and retailers alike.

Giroux’s journey is also punctuated by memorable anecdotes and love for animals, which often intertwine with her design career, such as one of her cat’s unexpected affinity for shoes. “Maggie, my cat, she was a shelter cat,” Giroux said. “I would come home and in the middle of the night, Maggie would go down to where I had all the shoes and she would grab a shoe and she’d come up to the stairs and all of a sudden she’d do her like, I got something for you, meow.” 

Giroux explained that her little furry friend had picked out what would be one of her most popular shoes that season. “There was a pink suede, genuine suede little fisherman with a big bow. Target was buying 200,000 pairs of this [and it] went [on to be] one of my bigger shoes in season, and she had it sitting there giving it to me.” 

This wasn’t the only occasion though. “So she did that two or three times. It happened so many times that it wasn’t even a fluke. Her nickname was Maggie Bonet and so I said, I’m going to design a line by Maggie Bonet. So I had labels made and I did about 20 styles of Maggie by name… and then they realized I had a talent for shoes so I started designing shoes, and the rest was history.” 

These anecdotes not only add a touch of humor but also underscore Giroux’s passion for both design and animals, showcasing the diverse facets of her personality. Today, Giroux not only designs shoes, but is also the vice president of the board of directors at the Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch where she hosts countless fundraising events for the animals.

Giroux’s story is a testament to the profound interplay between creativity and commerce in the world of shoe design. Through her journey she offers invaluable lessons for aspiring designers, emphasizing the importance of passion, perseverance and a deep understanding of the intricacies of the industry.

The shoe store room in the design studio.

In the vibrant universe of children’s footwear where whimsy meets practicality, Layla Copeland, a line builder for Dynasty Footwear, stands as a guiding force shaping the way young feet tread upon the world. Copeland graciously shared her side of the journey into the heart of the industry with the Catalyst and offered insights into the intricacies of designing shoes for the youngest of consumers and how she got into the business as well.

Copeland’s journey into the realm of children’s footwear also commenced unexpectedly, marked by a chance encounter with Giroux’s husband during her adventures as a restaurateur. “Funny enough, [when] I met Susan’s husband Paul, ​​I owned a restaurant at the time, and he would come in every day,” Copeland recounted with a chuckle, tracing the serendipitous path that led her away from the culinary world. “I was transitioning out of the restaurant business and he knew I was into creative and artistic things so he recommended I meet Susan, and that’s how it started.”

With an academic background rooted in the fine arts and printmaking, Copeland’s transition to corporate shoe design was a departure from her initial aspirations, but wasn’t too far from it. “It’s not what I expected to do, but I did plan on doing something creative so I am glad that it incorporates that,” she admitted with a hint of bemusement, reflecting on the unforeseen divergence from her academic trajectory. Yet despite this departure Copeland found herself drawn to the industry’s unique blend of creativity and commerce, embracing the challenges with an open mind and passion.

Similarly to Giroux, Copeland expanded on the idea that one’s degree title doesn’t matter. “I mean, I wrote for a newspaper. I taught at the University of Miami… You know, I did some things. I just think it’s interesting. It’s not always what your degree is. It’s you just kind of doing something.” 

From humble beginnings of assisting with mundane shopping tasks to traversing continents within a remarkably short span, Copeland’s journey exemplifies the rapid pace and dynamic nature of the field. “At first, I just did shopping and kind of little things,” she recalled, her voice tinged with a sense of awe at the whirlwind progression of her career. “Within a year, I was traveling to Asia and Europe.”

Delving into the intricacies of the design process, Copeland underscored the pivotal role of past successes in shaping future endeavors. “You always base it on something that’s working,” she explained, emphasizing the reliance on selling history as a guiding compass in the ever-evolving landscape of trends and consumer preferences. With each design choice informed by a tapestry of past successes and market insights, Copeland navigates the complex terrain of children’s footwear with precision.

While grounded in tradition the industry is not immune to surprises, as Copeland candidly admitted. From the unexpected resurgence of “dad sneakers” to the unlikely ascent of sock booties, she acknowledged the industry’s capacity for adaptation and innovation in response to emerging trends. “I didn’t see those sock booties coming,” she said. “I mean, I saw them in Europe and thought they were ugly. But, you know, when a big house brand like a Balenciaga or somebody like that does it, that changes things.”

One of the shoe racks in the design studio.

A significant aspect of Copeland’s role involves bridging global influences with local preferences, a delicate balancing act that requires finesse and cultural awareness. Indicating that she draws inspiration from European aesthetics while tailoring designs to suit American tastes, she expanded upon the intricate process of “Americanizing” trends to resonate with domestic consumers. By weaving together disparate cultural threads, Copeland crafts footwear that transcends boundaries and speaks to the hearts of young consumers around the world. 

“So things in Europe are very… they have a different eye than the American eye. So you kind of have to adjust it. When you go to the store and you see something once and you’re like, ‘I don’t know, it’s a little off.’ And then you see it again and again and again and you’re like, ‘I kind of like that.’ We try to speed that process up.”

Copeland gave insight into how large companies, such as Dynasty, are able to keep up with these trends aside from shopping worldwide and keeping track of high-end fashion brands. “So we have trends, services that make reports, and that’s a nationwide service that all the major retailers use. So you’re kind of in tune with what everybody’s looking at.”

Distinguishing children’s footwear from its adult counterparts, Copeland emphasizes the importance of infusing designs with an element of playfulness and whimsy. “You have to make it cute,” she asserted with a knowing smile, recognizing the unique considerations that come with catering to the youngest demographic. With each design choice carefully calibrated to evoke joy and wonder, Copeland said she ensures that every step taken in her creations is imbued with a sense of magic and delight. 

“I mean, these kids that we’re designing [for are] four or five, six, seven years old,” she stated. “So you have to think, ‘What’s a six-year-old girl want? Why not? What does mom want?’ And then make a version of that for the kid. You have to make it cute.”

Shoes with animal faces.

As for the sheer volume of designs produced, Copeland revealed the staggering scale of the operation, with hundreds of shoe designs or computer-assisted designs (CADS) churned out per season. From meticulous planning a year in advance to adapting to logistical challenges like seasonal disruptions and global shipping issues, the process is a carefully orchestrated dance of creativity and pragmatism. By blending artistry with efficiency, Copeland and Giroux ensure that each design captivates the imagination and meets the practical needs of young consumers and their families.

Reflecting on the evolving landscape of the industry, Copeland acknowledged the seismic shifts brought about by technological advancements and global events like the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed the industry from in-person to a mainly digital platform. From online showcases to remote collaboration, the industry has embraced innovation while navigating the ever-changing terrain of consumer preferences and market dynamics. Despite the challenges posed by these unprecedented times, Copeland and Giroux said they remain steadfast in their commitment to delivering exceptional footwear that inspires and delights young hearts around the world. As young feet set forth on new adventures, guided by Dynaty’s creations, Copeland and Girouz hope the world will become a brighter and more enchanting place for young generations.

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