Combining west coast functionality and east coast spin, Jilleen Liao the brand's founder and creative director, is constantly up'ing the wow factor with her very minimalist style.
Being involved with footwear for nearly a decade, the designer took the leap of faith and began her signature line of leather sneakers now available in New York. Growing up in the skate scene in San Francisco, Jilleen knew that the culture called for shoes that could withstand, look ultimately cool and could constantly be wearable. "Sneaker culture has always been a part of my life because I grew up skateboarding during the 90's. Anyone that obsessively skates under the age of 20 knows decent shoes can easily blow out every 2-3 weeks," Jilleen tell us, "skaters' relationships with shoes develop early on. But even if you didn't skateboard in the 90's, San Francisco has always had a heavy outdoor wear / sportswear culture."
Bench-marked on a level of comfort, we can agree San Francisco's personal style is tied to nice slacks and steamed button down. As a SF native turned New York transplant, Jilleen agrees that her customer has to fit both ethos when it comes to making the final product, "I feel most people from San Francisco would agree that being comfortable is the most important thing. Style alone can make wearing a pair of sweatpants that much more acceptable. The city's influences have benchmarked a level of comfort and minimalism in the way I approach designing classic footwear."
Based in Williamsburg — the capital of all things young and hip, this designer is constantly inspired the parallels of fast-paced New York and stylish (slightly slower) Brooklyn, "I've been previewing some new styles for Fall 17 and have been receiving some really great responses!" She says, "I am hoping to do more shoppable events because I have a background in footwear retail and I love engaging with our customers in person to show them the quality of the collection. Kind of just brings everything full circle too which is super cool."
Though designing and fabricating is something that all designers must be head strong in, Jilleen has had to completely create her brand with knowledge gained in the field. "I would describe [my design career] as being a continual evolution and elevation of the brand. I am very big on sourcing my own components which allows me to continue to design more effectively around my supply chains." Of course, designing sneakers isn't a walk in the park (no pun intended). Everything from the initial sketch to sourcing correct materials that complement the foot and finding components that are breathable in real life, "I think it makes a difference because those small details you think people might not notice, turns out people do notice. As a designer, it's rewarding to see customers that much more pleased with the product."
Though when beginning to concept the line, Jilleen clearly observed the field as a craft and treated her steps very carefully, "there's a big bright line between getting into shoes as a designer and starting a footwear business. If you want to be a footwear designer, I feel one of the most effective ways of truly learning and appreciating the craft is to understand how to make a pattern by hand. It gives you additional insight on how to be able to understand how to work with factories more effectively.
For aspiring designers, Jilleen has very good advice to share:
Someone once told me "run it like a marathon, not a race." It's great advice that I still try to remember even now.
// Jilleen Liao, Onto Sneakers, ontonyc.com
Anthony is the founder of Bob Cut Mag and the director of business development. Anthony writes on LGBT, people, and gender issues but catch him also writing about other shenanigans he finds himself in. Want to partner with Bob Cut? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org