For Prabal Gurung, timing was everything when it came to launching footwear.
“Instead of getting immediately into it, I wanted to understand the business,” said Gurung, who’s had a longtime passion for shoes. “I’ve always been fascinated by this idea of completing a look. As an apparel designer, you start by creating clothes, and there is always a shoe you envision, especially on the runway.”
Gurung, who launched his ready-to-wear label in 2009, has racked up a lot of knowledge in the past five years through collaborations with top footwear designers such as Manolo Blahnik, Nicholas Kirkwood and Cesare Casadei.
In fact, Casadei crafted the shoes for the designer’s New York Fashion Week shows for four seasons.
“When thinking of Prabal, I will never forget the immediate synergy and connection the first time I met him,” Casadei said. “We share exactly the same passions and commitment to quality, craftsmanship and attention to detail. He is young and so talented at the same time.”
For his debut spring ’15 collection, Gurung, who is an avid traveler, tapped into recent trips and his own heritage for inspiration.
“Having grown up in Nepal, I really value my solitude time when I’m exploring,” said the designer. “The first season was inspired by luxurious trekking, You’ll see strap details, little spikes, very much what I see in nature.”
Priced at $695 to $1,165, the new collection is comprised of six styles.
While Gurung is banking on footwear to play a major role in the label’s expansion, he doesn’t want to move too quickly with it.
“For the first few seasons, we are going to be very careful about how we distribute,” Gurung said. “It’s extremely important to get feedback instead of putting out a ton of product.”
Overall, the designer has crafted a five- and 10-year plan that is primarily focused on growing in the brand’s home base of New York. “We already have a great presence, but we are looking to strengthen our position,” he said. (Top accounts include Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.)
Here, Gurung talks passionately about entering the footwear game, why he handles his own Instagram and the challenges of being heard.
How big can shoes become for the brand?
PG: Footwear is going to be an extremely important part of our business. As with everything we do, we are very careful, and the growth plan is really thought-out. We want to make sure we are able to meet demands, so I want to build [the category] slowly but steadily.
Whose advice did you seek out as you ventured into shoes?
PG: I asked some of my biggest mentors: Carolina Herrera, Caroline Brown (Donna Karan’s incoming CEO) and Anna Wintour. I reached out to retailers, and I talked to Nicholas [Kirkwood]. I wanted to make sure I had an understanding of what I was getting into. It was extremely important that I get feedback. I wanted to be luxury, but at a smart price point.
What footwear lessons have you learned?
PG: It felt like I was going back to school. It’s a whole different ball game. It is one product where functionality and the design aesthetic truly need to meet. And shoes need [to evoke] an orgasmic reaction.
You’ve lived in a lot of diverse cities. How has that shaped your perceptions about fashion?
PG: I was born in Singapore, raised in Nepal, and moved to London and New York. Globally, the landscape of the business has changed completely. I was just in Bombay and in China, and the language of clothes varies culturally. Accessories are a universal language for women.
Where do you fit among competitors?
PG: Everyone is a competitor. If I stay consistent and have a voice, there is room for the right kind of product. If I find one person who likes the [shoes], it’s a job well done.
How is footwear incorporated into your runway shows?
PG: Footwear plays such a significant role [in illustrating] our type of girl. As designers, we prepare for six months for an eight- to 12-minute show. We always have taken shoes into account.
More broadly, what is the biggest obstacle designers face right now?
PG: Not just in fashion, but around the world, we are living in a very noisy place. How do you cut through the clutter and noise and speak loudly? How do you make at least one person turn around and hear you talk?
You created a lot of buzz with your Target collaboration. Why did you decide to produce a lower-priced line?
PG: I felt it was extremely important because it talks about the brand versatility. The world has changed, and women are shopping differently than they used to. They are no longer confined to the world of luxury department stores. Now they have access toonline shopping, and that has changed how people shop.
What is your biggest piece of advice for new designers?
PG: The most important thing is to figure out who you are and stay true to that. Challenge yourself. Fame is a result of hard work and good PR. It’s a byproduct of your passion. Everyone’s time will come.
You’re personally active in your social media. Why is that important?
PG: I’m very involved because the voice has to be authentic. All of the joy that I am receiving by doing what I love doing, I want to be able to share it via social media. It helps [consumers] get to know me, and I’m very curious about the women and girls who are interested in my world because I’m interested in their world, too.
What do you want consumers to know about you?
PG: My hope is for consumers to understand the product and my philosophy of femininity with a bite. I’m a very product-driven person.
You’re also passionate about your charity effort, Shikshya Foundation Nepal, which supports the education of displaced children. Why is that cause meaningful to you?
PG: I’m here by the virtue of incredible support. I’ve been fortunate enough to build this on my own without investors. Because of my work, I have a platform and a responsibility to be able to divert that attention to a cause that is truly important. Education is freedom, and freedom brings choices.
Where do you see the brand in the future?
PG: We definitely want to get into handbags and small leather goods. The most exciting time is now, and the next 10 to 15 years are going to be everything I’ve dreamt about: [crafting] a brand that can be global.