My Road To Success: United Nude’s Rem D. Koolhaas

The road to success is rarely a straight line, but some footwear entrepreneurs’ routes took especially winding turns. Ambitions that started in one place ended up somewhere very different.

Here, Rem D. Koolhaas, creative director and co-founder of United Nude, takes us through his shift from architecture to shoe design.

What I thought I’d do in life:

I started out pursuing a career in architecture. While I was a student, I worked at several architecture offices, one of which was my uncle’s — the other Rem Koolhaas. I worked on several projects for [his company], OMA, including the Prada flagship store in New York. But Galahad Clark and I had already started United Nude before I graduated with my master’s degree in architecture.

The moment that changed things:

I was still studying architecture and had just ended a two-year relationship. I was devastated by the breakup and felt the need to shrink down from a large architectural scale to the smallest, most vulnerable scale — that of a woman’s foot. So I started sketching shoes. [The breakup happened] around the end of March 1999, and by the beginning of June, when I was 24 years old, I had designed my first shoe: the Möbius.

My biggest obstacles in the shoe world:

We launched the first shoe without me having any training in footwear — and I still don’t have any school training — but I became a designer through practice. Now, we make many shoes, but that’s always been the challenge, coming in as an outsider. At the same time, it’s that outside experience that has helped me design some of the innovative shoes I create. We broke the rules not because we wanted to break them but because we did not know them.

Advice for my younger self:

Focus on one market when you debut instead of doing a global launch from day one.

Would I do anything different?

I would have started lifestyle product categories earlier instead of just now.

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