You know the lady who lives in her shoes? Yeah, I know her. No, really, this women describes herself as "the girl that lives in a shoe." Ok, she actually designs then, but either way her story, is amazing. Recently I sat down with the queen of shoes to talk shop and hear the story behind her oh so colorful shoes.
Poppyseed: First things first, love the shoes babe. Second, can you give us a bit of an intro?
Kelsey: Hi! And yes please! My name is Kelsey Cardinale (aka Kelsey Archila until this past May-- newly married!) I run my own hand painted shoe business called KLC. I'm also a freelance shoe designer for a variety of brands. I'm mostly known for designing extremely colorful shoe prints. Some of the companies I freelance for include Reebok, Inkkas, Printed Village, and BucketFeet.
PS: Wait, did you major in design then? Also, congrats!
KLC: Actually, I have a Bachelors degree in Psychology, which I used to get my first full time job as an art instructor for FREE, an amazibg theater program in New York, which helps differently-abled adults become as independent as possible by letting their creativity shine. Working at FREE allowed me to merge my love for people with the urge to create and be silly. It was my first "art-related" job and basically set the tone for my career as a designer.
PS: How did you break into designing shoes then?
KLC: I have always been a "closet" artist, meaning I would draw and paint things but never really felt the need to share. As a teen I would get into trouble doodling excessive journal art for my best friends during class, and I never really let that side of me go. Finally after graduating from college I realized that (1) I was broke and (2) None of those cool clothes on Pinterest are affordable enough (also they're very hard to actually find on the real life internet). My only option at the time was to make my own outfits. In my case, shoes were the most realistic project, as I had never been to fashion school and if I tried to sew I would probably poke an eye out. So I went and bought myself a pair of white lace-ups and a 24-pack of sharpies. I wound up making myself the most badass festival shoes I had ever seen.. both in person and on the Pinterest. Then I bravely posted a photo of them online and immediately had a list of requests from family and friends asking me to make them a pair. Finally after years of part time shoe doodles / full time art instructor, a friend sent me a link to BucketFeet, which was like nothing I had ever seen before. All of their shoes were made by real artists around the world. They had actual artist portfolios for each pair, giving credit to the designer and telling their stories. I immediately knew I needed to be a part of it! So I entered BucketFeet's first contest ever, and wound up winning. This win gave me the most amazing gift I've ever received: my design was mass-produced, sold on their site and my heart nearly fell out through my butt. I didn't even care about the money I would get, or that my shoes were sold in Nordstrom and Lord and Taylor (just kidding I totally cared about that last part). But in reality, all I really cared about was the fact that MY face, story and design was being shared with the world. I try to reminisce about that day every so often to remind myself of how far I've come from that life changing moment.
PS: Winning that contest sounds like a Cinderella story! How did you feel throughout that crazy ride?
KLC: Winning the contest was basically like floating on an ice cream sundae. I actually felt really stinkin' cool and little did I know it would become the launch of my career. I am still so proud that I've had the opportunity to leave my footprint on the world (pun intended) and I truly owe it to BucketFeet for giving me my first big break.
"My original sketch for Bucketfeet's design contest. Winning the contest. My first shoe for Bucketfeet."
PS: So, going forward do you want to start manufacturing your own shoes? Correct?
KLC: Yes! I've had a great experience with every company I've ever freelanced for, however there is something very satisfying about thinking "I could be in control of everything I make". I want to know who's wearing my shoes and which boutiques are selling them. Most importantly I want to build a community directly with my customers. This doesn't mean I'm going to stop freelancing any time soon. Freelance has taught me everything I know about shoe design and I think there is much more knowledge to come my way in the future. I'd just also like to dip my toes in the water as far as "calling the shots" goes.
PS: Looking through your products I see A LOT of color. What inspires you?
KLC: I've always been inspired by uniqueness and originality. As a designer I probably shouldn't say this (but here it goes).... I don't believe in the "rules of fashion". In my opinion, who says I can't wear black with blue? Why do I have to wear all black during the winter when all I really want to do is drown in rainbows and prance around in a multi-colored jumpsuit? Portraying who I am through my products has always been a priority, and I think everyone should be confident enough to show who they are through an outfit, even if its not trendy according to a magazine (or a blog post.. let's be real it's 2018).
PS: That’s a powerful inspiration. I mean, that really connects you with your customers and really empowers them, while also empowering yourself.
KLC: It's totally empowering to connect with like-minded people through my work. Essentially, the designs come straight from my brain, which makes me feel that much more vulnerable when sharing with the world. I'll never lie to myself about the fact that validation is important. Even though we'd all like to pretend that it doesn't matter what they think, it can really make or break a creative person to see what the public has to say. However, what I've loved most about this journey is that there are other people who understand my mindset. It's liberating to inspire others to be true to their colors. Of course the likes and comments always makes that feeling 100x better. It's just human nature to wonder if people like you, but being true and kind-hearted is never a regretful thing in my opinion.
PS: How would you describe your customer.
KLC: I've had a variety of personalities reach out to me for orders, engage with me on social media, etc. Most people I've connected with appreciate the color and the weird. Sometimes they're totally out there (in a good way). I guess I never necessarily sought out that type of following in specific, it just happened naturally and for good reason. It's like it was meant to be. I totally dig it.
PS: So now you are pivoting from freelance design work to doing your own solo brand. How do you feel about that transition? And what stage are you in right now?
KLC: Yes! I am terrified, but excited. I've always had KLC as my "brand", but KLC just officially became a business in the state of Washington! Right now I'm in the design phase, and once I have made all of my technical decisions (who knows how many times I'll change my mind), the plan is to sample some products. Of course it's always a learning process when venturing out on your own, so right now my focus is on making the best decisions for my KLC as far as production goes. Hopefully I won't royally damage everything I've worked for, but if I do I'll dust myself off and try again like my girl Aaliyah said.
PS: You mentioned earlier something about wanting to find an ethical manufacturer. Tell me a little bit more about that. Why does ethical manufacturing matter to you so much?
KLC: Finding an ethical, reliable manufacturer is probably the most important decision I'll have to make. I want to make a difference, and I believe in sustainability in fashion. I'm not just trying to sell designs, I'm trying to sell a mindset. I refuse to ignore the important details, and it would be totally against my beliefs to just "bang it out" for a paycheck. I find that ethical production helps maintain a loyal, trusting relationship with customers. I just can't see myself jeopardize that by taking the easy way out.
PS: What would you say to other women wanting to break into this industry? What helped you?
KLC: Oh gosh, I guess I would say that you have to put yourself out there! I know it seems scary, especially if you're just starting out, but if you maintain your individuality and stay honest, it will work out in your favor.. even if it takes years. All you need to do is take one risky leap. Share your creations. Go to networking events. Introduce yourself to someone and tell them about your life, even if you have nervous hives everywhere (this happens to me daily). Whatever it may be, do the scariest things over and over again. They'll start to be less scary as time goes on. I can't lie, the fear of being let down or ridiculed will never go away. I still have major anxiety before sharing a project, but the love you'll receive will grow big enough to the point where you forget about any of that dumb anxiety. Basically it's always worth the nervous hives.
PS: Amen! So, where can we follow you and get a pair of those shoes?
KLC: You can follow my everyday life on Instagram @kelsey_chinchilla . Also, if you want to know how insanely weird I get, you can follow me on Snapchat @kelseychinchila . For the shoes, you can buy directly from me here or you can find my most recent collaboration on inkkas.com !
PS: Thank you so much, Kelsey! Watch Her Hustle will be back in two weeks with another interview with a woman entrepreneur shaking things up. Until then, have a great weekend and we'll see you soon. #WatchHerHustlewithPoppyseed