5 Questions for C. Wonder’s Megan O’Donnell

C. Wonder senior shoe designer Megan O’Donnell spends her workdays awash in color. The company’s headquarters in New York echo the bold hues and upbeat graphic patterns that customers find throughout the boutiques.

“It’s a really happy brand,” said O’Donnell, who joined the firm in 2012 after honing her skills at Sigerson Morrison and Jimlar Corp.

And on the business side, the firm’s executives — led by Chris Burch, CEO of parent company Burch Creative Capital — have plenty to smile about, as C. Wonder has expanded rapidly.

Since bowing its two Manhattan flagships (in Soho and Midtown) in 2011, the door count has grown to more than 20 locations, including its latest, which opened in New Orleans in January. C. Wonder also went global in February with its first international boutique in Dubai.

Footwear continues to be a major driver for the brand, which has an eclectic selection spanning women’s apparel to home goods. “Shoes are an extremely important piece of our DNA and they have done very well recently,” O’Donnell said. “[The category] has gone quickly from very simple to lifestyle.” Aiming to take its shoe line to the next level, C. Wonder tapped Marc Fisher Footwear to handle production and development as of spring ’14.

Under Fisher’s guidance, the fall ’14 and holiday ’14 offerings will include C. Wonder’s first full cold-weather mix, centered on sleek boots and booties. Bedroom slippers will become more varied as well, and vulcanized soles and an expanded size range will be introduced. The brand also plans to add a monogramming option for select styles over the next few seasons.

O’Donnell said the shoe category, which retails for $98 to $148 and features everything from cheeky canvas animal-embroidered flats to more conservative patent pumps, has helped C. Wonder reach new audiences. “The footwear has transcended age,” she said. “As a brand, C. Wonder’s target customer is 39, but in footwear, we have girls who are 20 years old buying our novelty smoking slippers, and she might be shopping with her mom, who is 45 or 50 and buying our driving mocs.”

The designer also touched on the pros and cons of creating looks for a strongly defined brand, hot trends for footwear and how one celebrity’s social media sent the label’s smoking slipper skyrocketing.

How has the C. Wonder footwear mix evolved since its inception?
When we opened the [first] store, we launched [the shoe category] with a driving moc, a couple of ballet flats and a few simple pumps. [Since then] our assortment has almost quadrupled in size. Considering where we were, how tiny the assortment was just three years ago, compared with where we are now, we are beyond thrilled.

What has been your favorite C. Wonder celebrity shoe moment so far?
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley Instagrammed our dachshund smoking slippers, and literally we had 20,000 likes within 24 hours. It was unbelievable, and that drove so much customer traffic into the store that we had a wait-list for that particular shoe, all because of her one Instagram [post].

What’s the hardest part of your job?
The challenge is finding a balance — how do you offer novelty and whimsy in a way that many people would wear? What’s the fun that is going to drive her into the store, and then what are the great basics that she is going to take home and wear every day? At C. Wonder, creativity is king and the sky is the limit, but you also have to realize that you are a retailer and you want to sell product.

What are your predictions for upcoming trends in footwear?
Suede is a huge opportunity for us, and we’ve done well with it in the past. The colors for fall are so rich and luxurious that suede is an excellent vehicle for them. We’re also seeing a lot of casuals emerging in the market. The spring shows, like Chanel, sent down running shoes in these really elevated looks, which is exciting. We’re seeing sneakers evolve into something to wear every day, even to the office in some instances.

How is designing for a retailer different from a similar job with a wholesaler?
It’s great working with the other categories within the brand — going over and talking to the home designer, seeing the tile motifs she’s looking at and how that can translate into footwear. That’s truly unique compared with other footwear vendors. We also can offer a small quantity to see what the read is going to be, and Marc Fisher has been amazing with that. We pulled some of our fall ’14 prototypes, put them into stores and talked to customers about what they thought. We take that into account and we have changed designs based on what the customer wants because that’s what we’re here for.

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