Never stop appreciating people. The people you collaborate with are an intrinsic part of the success of any endeavor.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Landsman. She is a New York native who set out to bridge the gap between design and tech in the modern world. After receiving her Master of Fine Arts from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, she worked in corporate footwear for nearly sixteen years, designing for prestigious fashion brands including Alice + Olivia, Diane von Furstenberg, Vera Wang, Vince, Vince Camuto, Via Spiga, Clarks, and many more household names. She eventually established her consulting firm based in the Boston Seaport, where she specializes in balancing editorial and commercial opportunities for growing brands. She aims to make tech, art, and fashion education more accessible to everyone.
Through her passion for the design and technology industries, Landsman introduced a new Footwear Design Program into Boston’s School of Fashion Design and is working as a lead instructor in Visual Design, UX Design, Marketing, and Project Management at General Assembly Boston as well as acting as an advisor for Northeastern’s Scout (Design) Program.
Landsman is the founder and creator of Shoe York City, LLC, and is also launching her new shoe brand, della terra, this coming spring, operating its headquarters in Cape Cod and Boston.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always been fascinated by fashion, and more specifically, shoes. I see fashion as the intersection between art and life. Shoes being such a big part of how we physically interact with the world. When I was about five-years-old, on my family’s annual summer trip to Britain, I drew a picture of a shoe store window complete with shoes. All the shoes were patent leather mary-janes (what other types of footwear mattered to a five-year-old?). I incorporated fashion design into just about every project I did throughout college, grad school and I haven’t stopped yet.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
There was a moment when I realized fashion was about communicating with people. This can be an amazing resource for morale, motivation, and light in the darkness. Early in my career, our sketch review meeting deadline was looming and we were behind. I had just enough time to design the line of shoes for Via Spiga when a hurricane was on its way. Just in case, I stopped by a local candle shop and chatted with the owner about the best way to light a room with candles (hint: mirrors help). I worked through the night as Hurricane Sandy ravaged much of the tri-state area. Losing power early on, and being without power for 6 days, I completed the fall-winter line (with a slight gothic-inspired twist), walked to the edge of the dock (the only place with reception), and sent out my sketches via cellphone to the factory and my sales partners so we could make our deadline. I was not motivated by an artificial deadline, but rather the idea that without this timeline, my customer was less likely to get a fantastically designed, well-fitting shoe.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As a young designer in NYC, I used to walk a mile and take two trains from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to my 5th avenue office. The tragic mistake was wearing my sky-high platform stilettos on my morning commute. The blisters were not funny at the time, but now the images of me traipsing up and down subway stairs at 7 am seem quite amusing. Although they were not very comfortable, I felt empowered. I was ready to take on New York City with fashion. The funniest moments were probably when I became more comfortable with the commute and realized I could stop and change from my bejeweled ballet flats into my heels in the doorways of some of the office buildings on Madison Avenue, so as to minimize the commute in heels, while still making an entrance.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Della Terra is focused on accessibility and inclusivity. We are real shoes for real people and we embrace and support all facets of life. There is no reason to compromise comfort, productivity, or practicality for fashion. The style is built with your real life in mind. In the very beginning of footwear development for the line, I had a beautiful hand-beaded and embroidered heel made in India. Due to many exchanges between my office, the factory, and the beading artisans; the factory received these absolutely breathtaking heels that were about 3x too large for the actual shoes. We now showcase these larger-than-life heels proudly in our headquarters as they have become a symbol of how inclusive of everyone this brand should be.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Balance. Work hard and work smart. Take breaks. Each project will take exactly as much time as you have so you better have a plan, stick to it but be flexible and also have a life. Work into that planning time for yourself, your health, and your family. I cannot be a great designer when I do not have a 360-degree life that includes balancing all those things.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Every day I strive to be a good contributor to this industry, this planet, and to leave more doors open behind me for the people who may follow in my footsteps than I found entering this industry.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It’s not finished when you can’t add anything, it’s finished when you can’t take anything away.” — My Mom
This is true in design and it’s true in life. We have only so much time and so many resources, we must choose our priorities carefully. I decided to leave the corporate world when I realized that years had gone by without me using my vacation days. I needed to carve out time for my family and have made sure to do so ever since. I want to ensure my company does the same for every member of our team.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
Sustainability, Accessibility, and Inclusivity are so exciting!
These are areas that have been met with a lot of resistance because things have been done a certain way for a long time. There was an idea of this “winning formula” for showcasing fashion that did not include any of these factors. The consumer has demanded that they be included in the decision-making process and that is very exciting to see.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Breathe, it’s just shoes (or fashion).
a. It is easy to be completely caught up when you are passionate about something. Even harder when you are passionate about everything. Remember that design is just one piece of the puzzle. After traveling to China eight times a year, I realized that I was spending more time on planes than I was at home with my family. I decided to make a change and from then on have valued balance in my life exponentially.
2. Stay Humble
a. You have worked hard to get to this point, but have also benefitted from your friends and colleagues. Don’t take anything for granted. I am so grateful to have worked with so many amazing creative people and have learned from each and every experience.
3. Work Hard
a. This is hard work, and mostly it’s really not glamourous. If you don’t love fashion and it is possible for you to feel you can do anything else and walk away from fashion, you should. Be in this world if you absolutely have to be a part of it and will do anything it takes to make it happen. Much of the beginning of my career involved very little sleep and a lot of travel. I hardly stopped to notice because I was so passionate about what I was creating.
4. Be easy to work with (and for) — don’t be defensive
a. Never stop appreciating people. The people you collaborate with are an intrinsic part of the success of any endeavor. Show people that you value them and always be open to feedback — it will make you and your company stronger. I literally have a conversation about this with everyone I’ve hired: “I want you to feel valued and know your worth.”
5. Believe in yourself.
a. You are a magnificent unicorn. No one else is the same as you are, that is what makes the world interesting. For a long time, I did not know if I was “allowed” to explore other forms of design. After working in footwear design for over 15 years I was not sure I could contribute additional design talents. When I launched my Global Consulting Firm it became apparent to me that designing only footwear was like leaving these brands with only a small piece of the story told. As a Creative Director, I needed to tell the whole story, beginning with people, incorporating products, and ending up in the world.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
Technology and design are friends — not contradictions. In a world where the retail model is completely changing from brick-and-mortar to direct-to-consumer, it is important we identify the customer’s priorities and communicate directly with them. Studying psychology, photography, and digital media in college, my pivot to fashion was seen as a big jump. One of the greatest things I’ve learned in being a Creative Director is that design languages are universal and all about communicating and empathizing with people. If my design is not providing a solution to my customer needs, it is not worth creating. Utilizing design thinking processes and bringing technology in as a facilitator is a lot of what is needed to evolve this industry, bringing product and consumer closer together in a more agile way.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I feel privileged to be seeing some movements in the real world that I was told I would not see in my lifetime. I was told that sustainability was something we could not see in fashion (it was too expensive to educate the customer). I was told inclusivity in fashion was too big of an ask and that we would not see the diversity that mirrored the real world (fashion was aspirational and about capturing a certain set of aesthetics). The shift in the narrative has been entirely consumer-driven and that is powerful enough to make real change. I would love to start a movement that empowers a global appreciation for real people in their real lives, showcasing how beautiful that is and how satisfying it is to provide them with a product that solves actual problems.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram: @emlandshoes and @dellaterrashoes
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!