Her namesake footwear brand barely even a year old, but Nicole Saldaña has amassed a literal who’s-who of fashion insider followers – including Rihanna – as a fan base. It’s no surprise that this Opening Ceremony and Kenzo alum is making waves in the New York fashion scene and beyond, with a chunky, whimsical, girlie-girl aesthetic that has my inner 90s child swooning, and a collection featuring some of the coolest texture and color combos around (that pastel snakeskin boot anyone?). When the opportunity came to pick her brain before she brings her third collection to market, you better believe I jumped at the chance.
And I was so pleased to learn that the brains behind the brand lived up to be just as fantastic as her designs. One part thoughtful and driven (her career tips prove that she is a girlboss on the rise), the other irreverent and funny (I wish all brands were described as chunky monkeys), read ahead, Pretty Birds, and you’ll fall just as much in love with Nicole as you will her shoes.
You’ve worked alongside some of the biggest names in the industry, including Opening Ceremony, Tory Burch, and Kenzo. Was footwear design always a career you wanted to pursue?
Yes. Although I’ve worked both within footwear and RTW I’ve always been interested in the functionality-aspect of shoes. My father was an industrial designer and I was influenced by his love of design and process. In working with footwear, you start with the foot as a launching pad for creating the shape and everything evolves from there.
When did you first decide to start your namesake label?
After working for both large and small companies for almost 10+ years, I felt that I had finally gained the experience and confidence to venture off on my own. The initial framework and building of the collection started in 2015 and I officially launched in August of 2017.
What are some of the challenges you faced early on when starting your own company as opposed to working for another brand?
There are honestly so many… cash flow, time management, working as a freelancer while simultaneously working on the collection, logistical issues etc. I think overall, problem solving is something that you’re doing on a day-to-day. And staying optimistic is key to continuing the drive and passion for the business.
You name your shoes after your friends; do you feel like they inspire your shoes?
Definitely. Some styles are inspired by the personalities or alter egos of my girlfriends. Naming the collection after them allows me to have diversity in range when designing varied shapes and styles.
Take us through your design process. Where do you find your inspiration, source materials, produce your products, etc…
In a lot of ways, I design for myself or for a need I think is missing in the market. And I use that as a jumping off point. I’m also inspired by almost everything around me. The places I travel, museums and galleries I visit, textures, materials, leathers, but more specifically furniture design and objects.
I also utilize the fabric and leather fairs – Premiere Vision in Paris and Lineapelle in Milan – to represent and give me a feeling of the most innovative and high-performing materials that are out there. The process of visiting these fairs is super inspiring and so many ideas are born from the things I’m seeing, feeling, and smelling!
Once I have the collection concepted, sketched, and the specifications are completed, I work with my factory in Porto, in the North of Portugal on passing over all of the details to get the initial prototypes made. Every step in the process of developing the shoes are executed by hand by artisans that have been doing this work for generations: pattern making, cutting, sewing, gluing, lasting, finishing, etc. is all done by hand.
What tips would you share with someone wanting to break into the industry?
I would say get as much experience as you can and work for a multitude of brands before you start anything on your own. In working for other brands, you’re able to make mistakes and learn in a way that is more on your terms without a lot of financial commitment. It’s also important to work and experiment with ideas and concepts to evolve your tastes and aesthetic.
If you could describe the aesthetic of the brand in three words what would they be?
Funky, chunky, monkey
In the age of social media, how do you feel it impacts a business, and what ways do you feel your brand embraces it?
I think social media is super important, like it or not. I personally buy a lot of things through Instagram for myself – mainly vintage clothing. I think it can aid in becoming an extension of one’s personality or brand, and can definitely aid in reaching a lot of diverse groups of people.
What do you think someone should look for when investing in a quality pair of shoes?
I think the construction and materials are really a make or break for a good pair of shoes. You always get what you pay for. And, if you’re able to invest in a good pair of shoes, they should be able to last you a couple of years… if not a lifetime.
What trends do you see coming up in footwear?
The great thing about this generation is that there are so many ideas and concepts being shared that trends are almost obsolete now. There is room for everything, in a way.
What are some of your favorite pieces from your current collection?
I personally love the lug-sole Chris boot. This style epitomizes the type of shoe I was always in search of every season. It’s rugged enough for the rain and snow and has this utility aspect that I think is quintessentially New York.
If you had one tip on how to live a more stylish life, what would it be?
Don’t take yourself too seriously.