From Sketch to Retail Worldwide: Shoe Designer Alana Oates Talks Inspiration + Life

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Meet the Jersey queen taking over San Francisco’s shoe game one concept at a time — designing for the SF homestead Old Navy, Alana Oates has made the circuit of chic shoe designing from the ground up. Get to know this unconventional style maven as she runs us through her creative process.

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Stepping into Oates’ home, you’re instantly welcomed with a warmness that only comes from the familiarity of your families hospitality. Born and raised in the heart of Philadelphia, Oates is living bi-coastally with her fiance Fred, talk about long distance. Since attending art school and landing her first job designing shoes, the east coast princess packed her bags and moved to San Francisco and is now designing exclusively for the power-house known as Old Navy.

“I was encouraged to think creatively and color outside of the lines my entire life, and I’m lucky for that.“

Oates said about where her encouragements for shoe designing came from, “My childhood was a combination of arts, crafts, dressing up and creative messes. My mom has always been a style icon to me, and I continue to learn a lot about accessories and personal expression from her. I raid her closet to this day.“

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“What inspires me most about this specific industry is the ability to make a woman feel more confident, comfortable, and en vogue in a new pair of shoes.  I’m all for expression and empowerment.“

Oates designs encapsulate a woman’s ability to be forever chic and completely on the move. Whether her ideal customer is landing an interview or meeting a guy on the first date, she intends for her shoes to be superbly versatile. “I’m the lucky one that gets to provide that final touch.“

After designing for Anthropologie’s private label for an impressive 6 years, Oates felt that it was time for a change of scenery and pace, landing in the heart of San Franciso’s Marina District — Oates hasn’t looked back, “I’m a shoe designer for Gap Inc, designing their women’s shoe line for the Old Navy brand.

Creating fashionable items that are universally affordable, is something I’m passionate about.”

Designing heels to sneakers to mocassins and everything in between, Oates’ vast wealth of foot knowledge extends to the far reaches of Asia, Europe, and beyond. “My favorite work has been done while I’ve been in India, shopping the trim markets, and working closely with the artisans there. Without the right partners, the necessary dedication and an incredible attention to detail, a shoe design may as well stay on paper.”

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Alana Oates on personal style —

“For my personal style, I like to anchor my outfits with feminine classics before layering on vintage or imported pieces with lots of character.  I love a third layer. Right now my vintage reversible embroidered mandarin jacket, which can be black or bright red, is a clear favorite. I love versatility!

And the shoe always comes first.“

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When watching Oates design a simple sketch, it’s like watching a hot knife slay through butter. It’s clean, effortless, and looks smooth, “My inspiration boards are filled with feminine influences ranging from interior design to style icons. I’m loving the styles I’m working on this season - like a demure strappy block heel sandal in soft pastel suedes and exotic skins. After I have my silhouette, I layer on fun details like fringe, beading, or this amazing passamentry made from raffia I’m currently working with.”

Dedicated to a simple silhouette and a broad concept, Oates will let her mind run rampant with fanciful ideas, “When I design, I take a similar approach. I start with a silhouette.“

When asked about her most favorite shoe she has thus designed, her answer felt like a mother trying to choose between her kids, “It’s impossible to choose!” And understandably so. Oates’ designs have literally sold out in Japan alone, which places her in the market as a shoe designer to keep on your radar. Walking down the Market Street strip, one can easily recognize the work of Alana Oates being strutted down the brick sidewalked lanes of Old Navy on Market and 4th.

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When asked what style or type of woman inspires Oates as of lately, “I like to identify key items to add to my collection at the start of a new season. Right now for spring, I’m loving 70’s silhouettes, off the shoulder tops, a-line skirts, chunky heeled sandals (ankle wrap or detail is a plus), and a suede bag with a really special piece of hardware. I instantly love almost anything shiny, like a goldfish.“

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// Alana Oates photographed in her Marina District apartment — Alana is wearing vintage Chinese bedroom robes and shoes designed by her.


Written and photographed by Anthony Rogers, styled by Danielle Wallis. Meet other incredible Bay Area bellwethers.

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