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Up Close With Footwear Power Couples

Designers share the perks and pitfalls that come with working as a team.

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Barbieri and Portman both have a hand in Bionda Castana’s product design, though ultimately Barbieri has the final say because, according to the pair, they’ve learned that works best for the brand.

“Both Natalia and I have equal contributions in terms of the actual design of the styles for the collection, but when it comes to the choice of materials and colors, I just accept that Natalia has better judgment,” said Portman. “Every season I put forward my choices and every season she looks at me exasperatedly. Needless to say, they do not make the final cut. Which is good because, if it were entirely up to me, the collection would look more brash than the end Bionda Castana result.”

Silver noted that after working with Cox for 11 years together, their design taste and preferences have melded. “We have somewhat of a similar aesthetic — what we think is appropriate or right. We have a similar idea and similar taste levels,” he said. “We understand what luxury is and what something ahead of the curve would be.”

“It’s just [about] figuring out what works for us,” said Jodie Snyder. “And as the business grows, it becomes a lot easier once you figure out your rhythm.”

And some days are better and more productive than others.

“You have to be careful how you talk to one another. You don’t want the personal to seep into the business,” said Cox.

Budin agreed that occasional, or even frequent, disagreements are just part of the job. “We have like eight arguments every hour. We’re normal people who get frustrated and tired. It can be exhausting and crazy, and it’s easy to take that out on somebody else sometimes,” she said. “We argue like sisters, but we know we are in it for the long haul, so you get over things quickly. It’s a waste of time to hold resentment or grudges.”

But Ashley Olsen observed that there is something to be said for conflict and at the end of the day, those disputes can ultimately make the relationship — and product line — stronger.

“We’re aware of what’s going on around us. Mary-Kate and I ask a lot of questions to understand what’s working in the market. We listen to customer feedback and respond,” she said. “We also push boundaries and ask our retailers to trust us on certain trends and ideas.”

For designers wondering if they could benefit from a co-pilot, Fidler advised that any potential partnership needs to have clearly defined boundaries from the start. “As with anything, it’s easy to be extremely positive and gung-ho at the start, but as reality bites, it’s important to have already thought through the tough stuff,” he said. “You never stop learning in this industry, and it’s great to seek out like-minded people and find mentors as you’re starting out.”

“You have to find the right partner, someone with a similar sensibility and similar goals in regard to the label,” echoed Silver.

And even when both designers share a vision when they set out, it isn’t always possible to stay on the same path as careers develop.

Be Inthavong and Steve Dumain, who founded the Be & D accessories line in 2004, ended their partnership in 2008 after finding themselves at loggerheads. “We felt we had grown so much together and it was time for us to part ways and see what else was out there separately,” said Dumain, who continues to run the brand by himself.

“There are wonderful things to working with a great design partner, when all the elements fit into place,” he added. “The challenge is that if you are not in sync all the time, the voice can lose direction. But as a solo designer, the direction of the brand and identity become more clear.”

Overall, the design process among teams can be quite the roller-coaster ride, from partnerships gone wrong to the challenge of finding the perfect balance between roles. But the best duos find a groove and, ultimately, business success.

“The psychology of siblings working together — you do hit a rhythm and there is something to be said for your partner finishing your sentence or you leave a business meeting and you’re thinking the exact same thing,” said Danielle Snyder.

Silver added that it’s important to just have fun and enjoy the ride. “Having a partner makes it so much more interesting and puts a lot of fuel into the fire,” he said. “When that happens, it makes the [design process] that much more dynamic.”

 

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