Designing women: African American designers are building distinctive brands from casual to luxury to wearable tech.

AuthorBrown, Carolyn M.

KENDALL REYNOLDS IS A SECOND-GENERATION entrepreneur. The 22-year-old CEO and design director of the luxury shoe brand Kendall Miles Designs is the daughter of Loop Capital CEO James Reynolds and Sandy Reynolds, his wife and co-founder. Loop Capital currently holds the No. 2 spot on the BE INVESTMENT BANKS list.

The millennial designer's foray into shoe design happened after she enrolled at the University of Southern California for college. To deal with a difficult breakup during her sophomore year, Reynolds discovered a creative outlet in sketching shoes. She found that this cathartic activity helped her feel better.

While growing up in Hyde Park, Chicago, the young Reynolds spent much of her time in her mother's closet, enchanted by the extensive collection of designer heels. Naturally, after coming up with roughly 20 designs she was happy with, Reynolds showed them to her mother during a routine campus visit. "I want to start a shoe brand," she told her mother. "I'll be the designer, and I want you to help me build the business around it."

While her mom advised her to finish school first, Reynolds ventured to Milan the summer after her junior year to attend a training program at the ARSUTORIA School, a top accessory design school. What's more, she drafted a business plan, set up as an L.L.C., purchased a domain name, and met with industry experts. When it came time to graduate, she opted not to work as a designer at either of the two major fashion houses that had expressed a fondness for her designs, but instead stuck to her original plan for launching her own company.

Armed with $100,000 in financial backing from family and private investors, Reynolds recruited an international team, including a creative director in the states, who found an agent on-the-ground that could help navigate and communicate with Italian suppliers and factories. "I knew that I wanted to design high-end, well-made shoes out of a factory that practiced ethical business principles and paid attention to sustainability in the environment. Our agent got us into a factory that makes shoes for Prada, Miu Miu, and Brian Atwood."

To get on people's radar as a sought-after luxury brand, Reynolds understood that her shoe designs needed to be super sexy, super high stilettos with special accoutrements, such as ostrich feathers, perfectly dyed snakeskin, shiny gold hardware, and so forth. After conducting much of her research in vintage shops in both Paris and New York, in search of shoes with beautiful, delicate details, the overall aesthetic of Kendall Miles Designs for the line became inspired by the fashion of the 1940s and '50s. Handcrafted in Florence, Italy, the collection is named after herself and her younger brother Miles. Prices start at $600 for pumps and go up to $1,550 for embellished, knee-high boots. The Spring/Summer 2017 line, which uses an Egyptian motif through an assortment of semi-precious stones, is set to debut soon. This collection will also include a lower heel height and even a few pairs of flats.

In the first year of selling the collection, Kendall Miles Designs broke $100,000 in revenues; she projects $250,000 for 2017. Today, you can find Reynolds' shoe...

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