Charlotte Stone is an LA-based shoe designer whose eponymous brand is our go-to for footwear, no matter the occasion. As an owner of a small business dedicated to quality—and the greatest giver of advice—Charlotte is one of the most inspiring women we know. In this week’s Women Who Seek, she talks about everything from her life-long shoe obsession (we can relate!) to breaking through designer’s block and living a sustainable lifestyle.
1. What’s your most valued travel advice you’ve been given or have to give?
Eat in the neighborhood restaurants. Better food, better value and a slice of local life.
2. What do you wear to feel the most free and confident?
I wear a lot of vintage, and mix it with new pieces. I usually err on the side of simple and comfortable. Anything fussy goes to the back of my closet, never to be seen again!
3. What article of clothing or outfit do you wear most often?
Vintage concert T’s mixed with any of my Seek pants.
4. How do you incorporate sustainability into your life?
I refill all my plastic bottles at The Refill Shoppe here in town. We haven’t purchased new plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, dish soap, hand soap, laundry soap, or body lotion in 5 years. We compost and grow our own food as much as we can and we try to buy used or vintage wherever it makes sense!
5. What do you do or where do you go when you need to be inspired?
When I need to be inspired, and if I have the time and resources, I go to Paris. I love the street style there, I just post up in a cafe and watch the inspiration walk by.
6. What is the best advice you’ve received so far and who did it come from?
The first designer I ever worked for told me once, if you get stuck, turn it upside down, flip it inside out, shrink it, grow it, blow it apart. This really helps when I’m feeling like a design or concept isn’t working. I step back and approach if from all different angles, works like a charm.
7. How can women seek a sense of support and collective-ness for each other in the future?
I think having a creative collective is a good first step. An amazing woman here in Ventura set up the Ventura Creative Collective and once per month this big group of women get together to talk shop and support one-another. There have been some incredible collaborations that have come out of those new relationships. And knowing that we’re not alone, and mostly feeling the same things, is very relieving and calming.
8. Journey note: what are you seeking more of this new upcoming year (2020)?
This year I’m looking for more balance in my life. I’m a very driven person, which results in other parts of my life falling to the wayside. This year I want to take more time for hobbies, art, love, friendships and a major dose of self-care.
9. Out of all the places you’ve traveled to, which have you connected most to? Which felt most foreign?
I have a love affair with Italy. The food, the people, the shoes. China is the most foreign. Traveling there is a totally different sensation, the language is impossible, the food is wild, the culture is so different! It really gets the senses firing!
10. For as long as you have worked in fashion, you have focused on footwear. When did the shoe obsession begin for you?
Shoes were an obsession pretty early on. My mother is a designer and was always super fashionable. She had these Stefan Kelian shoes that I was bananas for. I still look for them on eBay! I didn’t know it was a viable career choice, but found some schools and was very encouraged by my parents to pursue it, I was lucky.
11. You spent a lot of time designing footwear collections for big brands before starting your own operation. At what moment did you realize it was time to make that leap?
I really loved freelancing for other brands! I still love it, but I don’t have the time anymore. When my line started gearing up, it just got to be too much. My husband sat me down one night and was like “you’re too busy, you have to make a choice.” It was hard, but I decided to take the full leap with my brand. It didn’t get any easier per se, but it is wildly fulfilling. The highs are super high.
12. Let's talk about comfort. Your shoes are unbelievably comfortable and functional without at all compromising style. Can you tell us a bit about how you achieve that, and how comfort is part of your ethos as a shoe designer?
My very first job as a designer was for an apparel brand. That head designer was very focused on femininity without compromising comfort or functionality. I learned which heel heights worked for most people, which memory foam had the best/slowest spring-back, where to cut an upper so it wouldn’t cause blisters, etc. All of this through trial and error of course, and working with great technicians who helped guide me as well. But we’re still learning, I’m never satisfied, and am always trying to make things better for our customers.
13. Another very special, distinguishing aspect of your brand is dedication to craftsmanship. Who are the shoemakers you work with, and in what ways are they indispensable to your product?
We work mostly with China and Italy. Our technicians in both countries are masters at their craft. These are people who have either learned the trade through generations of shoemaking in their families or have trained in the best technical colleges in their countries. Shoe making is so precise, 1mm makes a difference, so we rely on their expertise and experience. I’ve followed some of these technicians from factory to factory, I have a few on speed dial if I need extra help!
14. Are there any sources of inspiration for your designs that people might be surprised by?
I get inspiration literally everywhere. I have this thing happen where I’ll start seeing the same color patterns over and over again, like all of a sudden I’ll see bougainvillia blooming in peach and fuchsia, then I’ll see someone in an 80’s windbreaker in the same colors, then I’ll notice them in a piece of artwork. Repeating concepts or color ways are a sign I’m on to something, I will always dig into those.
15. How has Los Angeles, Ventura and/or the West Coast in general influenced the aesthetic of Charlotte Stone Shoes?
Well California has that laid back thing. I’m into that. It's about fun, happy, sunshiny shoes.
16. Running an independent brand is hard work and can be overwhelming and taxing at times. How do you find space for self care, and what's your favorite way to unwind and take time for you?
Honestly, I’m not that good at self-care (refer back to question 8 😅). But what helps my mind and body most is yoga, surfing/body boarding, bike riding, doing puzzles, and taking baths. These are all on my list of things to do more in 2020. Wish me luck!