Andrea Vargas Dieppa and Elisa Restrepo, the two Colombian natives behind hot shoe line Dieppa Restrepo seem more like friends than business partners when I meet them at their Lower East Side showroom for a chat. The laidback designers are two peas in a pod, finishing each other's sentences and dissolving into giggles as they look back on their four years working together.
This easygoing nature is evident in the shoes they design: simple, timeless and comfortable. They are more polished than a sneaker, more masculine than a ballet flat--the perfect everyday shoe for the modern woman.
I sat down with them to learn about how these two friends managed to bring together their Colombian roots, Mexican manufacturing and New York flair to create a successful shoe business. Read on.
Fashionista: What were you doing before starting the label? Elisa Restrepo: I went to NYU to Tisch for theater. When I graduated I became disenchanted with acting and moved to Paris. When I came back I wanted to do something different--make something. I went to Parsons and studied design, though to tell you the truth shoes was never part of that. Andrea Vargas Dieppa: I always wanted to do shoes and it was never even an option. People said it was so hard. In school people don’t tell you all the things you can actually do. I ended up studying graphic design at SVA. I worked in advertising a bit and for American Apparel, which helped us with finding factories.
How did you two meet? A: We had a lot of mutual friends and for years everyone was telling us that we had to meet. We would get invited to the same things all the time and everything. Finally we met, and six months later the label was born.
And how did the label come about? E: Andrea can find beautiful things in the most unexpected places. She can get go to the hole-in-the-wall places and find something amazing. So she had found these shoes in Mexico and always wore them. Everyone thought they were rad. A: They were like the patent leather original shoe of ours. So many people were asking about them and we realized we could make them. E: We weren’t thinking that far ahead, we just decided to go to Mexico and investigate these shoes.
When did the label come together? A: We just decided to do a little collection to see what happens. Then I was sitting at a café in LA wearing the shoes, and a guy commented on them. At that point we didn’t even have a brand, just a few pairs of shoes. It turned out to be Steven Alan, and he placed an order basically on the spot.
How did that change things? A: He placed an order for 40 pairs of shoes, so we had to go down to Mexico. E: It was really because of him that we jump started. A: Once you’re at Steven Alan people take notice. Meryl Streep bought a pair a week after they went into the store, and wore them out. That was huge.
Where else did you get stocked in those early days? E: Maryam Nassir Zadeh started her store around that time, so right away we were stocked there too. It just started like that. My husband is from Seattle and we went to see his family and I took some samples and visited the one cool store, and they made an order. Now the store Totokaelo is one of our biggest clients. It was a combination of word of mouth and showing them to people. A: My sister worked for Theory, so she helped us get in there.
What early challenges did you face? E: We ate a lot of crap. We were physically exhausted. We learned everything as we went. We didn’t even know how to make a shoe! We would go pick up the shipments at JFK ourselves, we didn’t have a customs broker, because we didn’t even know that a role like that existed! A: People would stare at us, like, 'What are these girls doing?' E: At the beginning it was orders for 60 shoes, or 100 shoes. Then suddenly it was 500 shoes. We carried as much weight ourselves as we could until we needed more help.
Tell me about the essence of the brand. E: It’s about the wearer. There are so many options. It really is a shoe for you to wear how you want. I love how androgynous it is and that they are a bit nondescript, but people can’t really tell what brand it is. They really are timeless. And comfort is key. Early on Andrea said we should be like a modern Converse. It’s more sophisticated.
What is the design process like? E: They are made in Mexico. Andrea lives between Mexico and here. We do a lot of remote meetings together. We always take one trip together every season and meet with the factory, source the materials. A: In the beginning you have to work with what you find, but now we have more access. Now we are at the stage where we create our own specific Pantone color.
Is it very technical? E: We want to know more about reflexology and all that stuff, but we have learned as we go. People help us and show us. We sit there with images and pencils and shoes and talk it all through.
Are you influenced by your Colombian roots? A: Yes definitely. E: For me, that original patent leather lace up, it has a salsa vibe a little bit. But more than anything, there’s a level of not taking yourself too seriously in fashion and being comfortable. It might be a Latin thing or it could just be our group of friends. You never have something wear you, you always wear something.
Who are your muses? E: The awesome thing about our shoes, is that there isn’t an ideal girl wearing them. I see awesome sixty year old women in our shoes and it is rad. A Diane Keaton or Lauren Hutton-type wearing our shoe is amazing. But then there are hipster girls in Williamsburg wearing them and that’s great too. There’s an infinite array of people that can feel good in them. A: I was once in Barranquilla [Colombia] and a bum stopped me and said, “those are amazing shoes!” From the bum to the Upper East Side woman, you know?!
What’s it like working together as friends? E: There is a breakdown of strengths and weaknesses that balances out. We are both creative but our desk drawers look very different!
Do you have mood boards? E: It isn’t a physical thing, but we have images in our computer or in our heads that inspire us. Sometimes we are really inspired by more tangible things like, What would we want to own and what would our friends want to own? It’s just a shoe; we aren’t changing the world. We just think about what we want and in what colors.
Have you done any collaborations? A: Yes, with different people like Opening Ceremony. We gave Creatures of the Wind shoes for shows. We lend for fashion shows or lookbooks. We worked with a label called Chancy, but that was a bit under the radar. We might work with a brand called A Piece Apart next year, which would be great.
Would you ever want to expand into other accessories? E: Yes! All accessories. Andrea wants to do sunglasses. A: Bags, hats, definitely sunglasses!