Dorota Sinclair is a risk taker.
The Polish-born physical therapist-turned-shoe rep recently launched a line of women’s fashion-comfort looks under the Lirio label. Sinclair learned the shoe business as U.S. distributor for Portuguese comfort brand Fidji and is now putting her fashion know-how to work on a collection with a funky, vintage point of view.
“I don’t really follow the trends,” said Sinclair. “My signature is distressed leathers and [incorporating] different colors for a color-blocking [effect].”
The designer headed to Portugal for production. The country, she said, offered her the chance to work one-on-one with artisans in a factory and further hone her design skills.
Since Lirio’s debut in fall ’13, Sinclair has picked up a mix of comfort and fashion accounts including Amenity Shoes and Imelda’s, both in Portland, Ore., and Koi in South Pasadena, Calif. Today, Sinclair distributes both Fidji, retailing for about $180 to $200, and Lirio, priced from $150 to $160, under parent company European Design, based in Portland, Ore.
1. With no formal design background, why did you decide to bow your own line?
DS: I have existing relationships in Portugal, so it was a natural progression for me. I wanted to bring something different to the market that would address the needs of U.S. [consumers]. Portugal has a history of shoemaking. I feel I’m supporting an underdog because Portugal is not [as] well known for making shoes. Working with Fidji, I didn’t just come and pick up shoes. I tried them on and [sometimes] made changes. The people there are [roughly] 80 years old and making shoes since they were little boys. They showed me how to put a shoe on the table and see if it’s balanced. Their [knowledge] rubbed off on me.
2. Who is the Lirio customer?
DS: They’re professionals at the university, doctors, lawyers and teachers — ladies in their 50s. They’re [women] on their feet all day who want to look fashionable but aren’t going to wear stilettos or flat shoes. We also have younger people who just finished college. They want to be a little different. It’s also people who pay attention to where shoes are made. They don’t want shoes from China. It’s [similar] to buying organic meat or finding out where chocolates comes from. [Customers] are more aware of where shoes are made and want to support a small country. At the end of the day, people want quality and styles that won’t be out of fashion next year.
3. What have been the advantages and challenges of launching this brand?
DS: [An advantage is that] customers can deal with me directly. They trust me when I bring a quality product and deliver on time. However, the hardest part has been finding sales reps for different regions. I am constantly looking for people. I also [have difficulty] getting the word out. I don’t have a business degree or marketing [experience]. At this point, it’s what my company needs. When I brought Fidji [to the U.S.], the whole market had crashed. It was hard. People would not invest in new things. They had no money, and there was no lending. But my business continued to grow because the Fidji product was fantastic.