“Drea’s the name. Hustling shoes is my game.” First-time mother turned seamstress, Drea, is the creative genius behind baby footwear brand Ari&I which this month celebrates its first birthday in the industry. “It’s been a year already! I started sewing my first baby items only 3 months before that,” says the 26 year old designer.
Applying the tried and tested approach to her work, she has watched her product evolve over the past 12 months both in its look and feel and as a brand, extending beyond the reach of her Sonoma County home all the way to Australia and beyond via the power of social media. “Everything about my designs has made a complete 180!” she says. “The heel used to be different. The elastic was way tight. The opening was miniature. The soles were wide. There is always room for improvement.” An important lesson for any business owner to learn, it is Drea’s obvious passion for not only her products but the people who will be wearing them that truly comes across.
From a solitary sewing class in college to a fully-fledged line of kids and women’s footwear, this California gal is nothing if not tenacious. Converting Ari’s room into her sewing room “he co-sleeps with me anyway” the designer doesn’t allow space to become a limitation when it comes to growing her brand. Ari is involved in Drea’s design process in more ways than one, assisting her at the large cutting table where the magic evolves from ideas into reality. “I’ll stare at my piles of fabrics for a while until something clicks. Or I’ll stare at my phone screen and a photo will spark an idea.”
Confessing a weakness for online fabric shops, Drea is a staunch supporter of fellow small businesses from which she sources the materials for her shoes. “When I see something I like, I just buy it! I am a fabric addict. I’ll buy just about anything that catches my eye and go from there,” she says, asserting that the combined enjoyment and challenge of the process comes with coordinating her chosen fabrics for each individual look. “I’ll combine any patterns I wish I had the clothes version of in my own closet,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll ask friends or other mums to design a shoe and sometimes I’m inspired by outfits I see on celebrities and then try to create the shoe version of it.”
Speaking of celebrities, there is one particular celebrity mum whom Drea would love to see flaunting Ari&I. “I’ve always loved the Kardashians,” the designer admits. “I think it would be so cool to design an all-black and nude boot with Swarovski crystals on them because that’s what I think of when Kim pops into my head.”
Hearing Drea describe her designs is the equivalent to hearing the specials at a Michelin-star restaurant; each pair of sole mates sounds more delicious than the next. The blend of denim, mustard and monochrome humbug stripes on her Little Denim boot, the first design to be cut from the brand’s boot pattern has my sartorial taste buds piqued. “I immediately fell in love with it,” confesses Drea, noting that this design is among her favourites. “It reminds me of that quick outfit you threw together on the first try and didn’t have to go back to change 10 more times. I created the Little Denim boot and it was done. I fell in love and didn’t want to change a single thing about it. I even want a pair for myself.” I think I do too.
It is this inherent appreciation for individuality and unique style that lends itself so beautifully to Drea’s designs as she applies her knack for detail and personality into every pair of shoes she creates. From bananas to unicorns, lions and hearts and of course the urban cool grunge pair Mr Noah is rocking, there is something to suit every style. So what can we expect of the Ari&I aesthetic in the coming months? “I’m currently really inspired by all the monochrome and muted colours right now,” she says. “I really like the blacks. Dark black, light black, pitch black, faded black, pastel black.” Bringing it back to the classic; while everyone else insists on injecting orange, pink or love into that age-old saying; at Ari&I, black is the new black.
With the potential to explore knit fabrics in future designs, dreams of collaborating with George Hats to coordinate with her shoes and hopes of record sales month on month, every small business owner’s dream, Drea is philosophical about the evolution and development of her brand. “Everything takes time. Be patient,” she says, acknowledging that just like the feet she clothes, her business too must take baby steps in order to succeed. “Life is always full of balls to juggle,” she says. “Seriously, I have over 100 of them in my own living room, plastic and in all different colours. Find a balance! I really think balance is key. It’s like that quote… ‘happy wife happy life’. Well for me it’s… happy Ari, happy Drea. If I balance my work time and time with my son, we will both be happy.”
Ari is the key to it all, this mum-turned-designer’s love and muse as they journey on this exciting adventure together, so I have to end by asking whether Ari himself has a favourite pair of his mum’s shoes? “I’m still trying to figure that one out,” laughs Drea. “I let him pick out his shoes for bedtime and he always picks two different prints so I think he loves them all. They are all his favourites!