How a Mother of Two Turned Her Passion for Helping Children Into a Luxury Shoe Brand

For Elona Appleby, inspiration is everywhere.

Among her influences are her Albanian mother, who was the first in her village to own custom-made shoes; a chance viewing of a fight between two women over the last pair of boots in a store; and the arrival of her sons. All had a hand in the birth of her footwear label, James Carletons.

Launched in 2015 and funded solely by
Appleby and her husband, Charles, the made-in-Italy women’s brand is named after their two sons, Charles Carleton, 7, and James Cooper, 3.

“I remember rocking my first son in my arms after he was just born — and I knew I wanted to do something for myself and have a purpose, and that’s when I started looking into [creating footwear],” said Appleby, a former business manager at Estée Lauder. “I didn’t pull the [trigger] right then, but when I was pregnant with my second, I dove in and learned everything about manufacturing and trade.”

elona appleby james carletons
Designer Elona Appleby, founder of James Carletons shoes.
CREDIT: Courtesy

Though she didn’t have formal training and experience, Appleby diligently searched for factories in Italy that could execute her vision of quality-crafted “classic yet sexy” shoes for the 20- to 60-year-old “everyday businesswoman.”

Ultimately, she selected a partner who she said has become like family. “We send each other [casual] emails all the time, and sometimes they’ll [message] me to check in if one of the kids is sick,” Appleby said.

The family theme continues at every turn. Immediately after its soft launch for fall ’15, James Carletons landed in C Dobbs boutique in Corona del Mar, Calif. “[The owner], Carol Dobbs, and I met while I was in New York [showing the line] and fell in love with each other,” Appleby recalled, noting they now have a close bond. “We’ve been in that store since the beginning, and we’ve been selling well, and we’re the only shoe line in there.”

James Carletons shoes
A style by James Carletons.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

James Carletons — which retails from $300 for flats to $1,100 for some bridal styles — launched its e-commerce site in August and has also been picked up by Newport, Calif.-based boutique The Passionate Collector.

And true to its inspirations, the brand also has a charitable hook. “Our mission is to give 10 percent of all proceeds to orphanages around the world,” Appleby said. Last year, it donated about $4,000 to children’s hospitals.

James Carletons shoes
A bridal style by James Carletons.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand
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