Ultimate Ears talks with luxury shoe designer Angela Scott about the art of handcrafted footwear
Angela Scott is a luxury shoe designer and a female founder who means business. After working in the construction business and realizing how impractical it was to wear heels, she founded the bespoke footwear brand, The Office of Angela Scott, in 2012 in hopes to create shoes that will empower women. Her shoes highlight the craftsmanship of traditional shoe-making by using high-quality Italian leather and textiles. These handcrafted shoes are manufactured by a family-owned factory in Portugal using the Goodyear weltconstruction, the most traditional method of shoemaking.
In addition to Scott's signature aesthetic in her designs, she has a strong leadership strategy and philosophy based on her multifaceted career experience. Her approach to design and inspiring story has made her a go-to brand for numerous high profile celebrity clients including Jennifer Aniston, Taylor Swift, Cate Blanchett & Julia Roberts. And just like Ultimate Ears, she takes design and comfort to another level. Read more of our conversation below!
ON BEST IN CRAFT
Who are you?
Who am I? I'm a woman who means business. If I wanted to put it into true form, my nickname is cutthroat. It sounds harsh and cutthroat is a heavy term, but I think it's because I'm sort of a straight shooter. I'm as real as it is, what you see is what you get. There's no circumstance, there's no pretense. When I want something I'll go after it. I'm kind of scrappy. I was a foster kid my whole life, so I've had to work really hard to get what I want.
But I also have huge empathy. Whatever I'm going to do, there has to be a level of pay-it-forward involved with that too. My pay-it-forward started first with the footwear by paying it forward to the craftsmanship of floor making. There are a lot of men's brands that still do Goodyear welted shoes, which are shoes that are hand constructed and that are sewn rather than glued together, but there weren't many offerings for women. So, my pay-it-forward first was really getting to know those factories and the art, watching it die, and knowing that if I produce footwear for women who consume a lot more footwear than men usually, then I can open up that world of hand craftsmanship to women and Goodyear welt craftsmanship to women that might inspire other brands to do the same.
What do you think your superpower is?
My superpower is that I know people really well. I think it's that empathy factor. When you grow up as a foster kid and when you grow up kind of knowing that you've got to figure it out yourself, that as much as I'm loved, I have a great family, I have awesome brothers, I've got a good community of people, but deep down there are sort of these characteristic in me that know that you've got to do it yourself, you've got to figure it out yourself. It’s survival of the fittest basically, right?
I think my superpower is having empathy. I can read people really well. I have an ability to look at what's deeper in people versus just what's on the surface. I think that is why our loyalty was so strong because it wasn't about selling products for me, at least for our brand in the beginning. It was about getting to know the women buying the product, honestly. Truly knowing who they were, not just as a figure, and going, "Donna is X amount of dollars a year, or this person is X amount of dollar a year." It was more about, what does she do? What is she interested in? What's her superpower? I think my superpower is having the ability to be open and to know other people's superpower.
Tell me the name of your company and tell me why it's called that.
The brand is called The Office of Angela Scott and the Office of Angela Scott is really about all women. I didn't want to name the brand after me, and it wasn't my name to begin with. My name was a different last name until I got married, which I got married after I started the brand. The brand wasn't namesake when I started it, it became namesake after I started it because my husband's name is Scott Milden and I didn't want to be one letter shy of Mildew, which is Milden. It just smelt, the last name smells bad and I didn't want to be Angela Milden, so I took his first name.
The Office of Angela Scott represents all women. It is named the Office of Angela Scott because it represents mothers and lawyers and doctors. I like to say that we are all the office, and that's why it's the Office of Angela Scott. It's not about me, it's about all of us. It's about The Office of Angela Scott.
Tell us about your career trajectory getting into the world of shoes.
Normally, you would go the fashion route then fashion intern and take that pathway, but I didn't know that there was access to the fashion world when I was younger. When I went to college, I got into the construction world and I worked for Ty Warner in his asset management company and did a lot of project management. I love construction. I love the idea of building something from scratch, from seeing something go from a drawing to the framework, to then the actual finished product. That really was a big part of why I chose the way we do make the shoes.
The trajectory went from college, being an intern at UGG, getting really interested in footwear, then moving into construction, really understanding and having an appreciation for the art and the craftsmanship of things. Then working for Neiman Marcus and understanding that that ability to start a brand was possible. I thought it was such a far reach having not gone through the fashion route, that it wouldn't be accessible to me. So, when I went to Neiman Marcus and I started meeting designers and realizing that the design world was quite small and these big luxury brands that you think are so big are actually two people hustling in the garage. That was a real reality.
So, I took the leap and started looking for a factory. That was the biggest, that was like the intro into footwear was me meeting and getting introduced to various different factories and how they build shoes.
This is a segment that we call “Best in Craft.” Can you describe what is Goodyear welted and why it's so unique for us?
Goodyear welting is a type of craftsmanship. I would say that is the best form of craftsmanship and footwear. The reason being is that before there were factories that could just glue uppers of a shoe to a sole, shoes were welted because you didn't buy 20 pairs of shoes, you bought one and then you had to have it re-soled because that's what you could afford. It's also the best way to have something sustainable. Goodyear welt craftsmanship is where the upper of the shoe is actually sewn on to the welt of a shoe and it's a leather rand that goes around the side of the shoe. This allows the shoe to be resoled and repaired and it's really a testament to craftsmanship. It takes a lot longer than gluing and stitching a shoe or just gluing a shoe together. There are so many components and so many steps to Goodyear welt craftsmanship. It's a craft that's gone basically to the wayside.
For me, I just have such a love for honoring tradition and that craftsmanship is really a part of our tradition and footwear.
Like I said, this series is called best in craft. So, what does best in craft mean to you?
To me, “Best in Craft” means offering somebody something that is crafted in such a way that it allows it to last longer than a moment. It's not something you're going to throw away. Craft is all about the art of something.
I think the best in craft is really about creating an art form that is to be appreciated. It's not just even just the building of the product, but it's also the longevity that product has.
Also, the meaning behind it. Craft is doing something by hand. It's tactile.
Does it seem strange to you that an earphone company is trying to do a series called “Best in Craft?”
I think it's unique. I have to say I loved the whole process of it. I think that there's something about craft in music and in sound and it even goes back to nostalgia. Think about it, when you hear something, when you hear a song or a sound or a moment, it brings you back to a time and I think that the fact that a company that does sound is doing craft makes total sense because they're tied.
In society today, a name is an aspiration no longer traditionally tied to the craft itself. Can you talk about your brand relative to the quality, and think about yourself in the larger world of shoes and what that means?
I feel like what you're talking about is a time where craft used to mean patience because craft is patience, it's not overnight. It doesn't happen with 100 million dollar investment and a label, it doesn't. Fast fashion does, and you could have some really big fashion brands that make a lot of money, that are built in a moment of time but it's not craft and it doesn't have patience.
I think that for me, I'm going into my ninth year, I think in my tenth year I'll be an overnight success. I have to have patience knowing that in the first few years that we were a brand, people didn't care about Goodyear welt craftsmanship.The integrity of our brand really surrounds itself by the factory. For example, we just went through a super pandemic. We're still in the middle of it. My factory was going to close because they're small and they're family owned. The Italian tanneries were closed and materials weren't being sent. It was one of those things where I can sacrifice a little bit of my money to give to them ahead of time so that they stay in business.
I look to Coco Chanel who was a tailor and who started with such a small boutique and an idea that was craftsmanship. She built it into this huge, epic company that people look up to and people go okay, I want to be what those two Cs stand for.
I still believe in that. I believe in the art of integrity and longevity. I'm willing to wait the 60 years to become an overnight success versus just getting my paycheck. I'm not in it for the paycheck. Sometimes I wish I was, but I'm not in it for the paycheck. I'm really in it for preserving this idea, preserving this idea that to spend more time and craft into a product is going to keep it around longer and it's going to mean something.
You started in 2012, how many people are at the company now or how do you measure scale, how do you measure success? Where are you today?
Well, I'm not packing boxes in my garage anymore. I remember the very first time I got my first order, my first production that came in, it was just me. I was the only employee and person in the company. I had gotten really lucky in the start and I was delivering orders to Saks and Jefferies. I got big orders with big department stores and they send you this bible of regulations that you have to go through. As one individual to have to go through all those regulations, there were just so many specifications involved in that process and it was just me.
Being an individual person in the beginning to nine years later, we have 13 people now. It is so cool to see and it's such a journey but it also shows you what you're capable of. The first two years, it was just me and then from two to seven years, it was only two of us. Then, from seven to nine years, that's where we got our biggest growth. It just shows you how resilient you are. You can be scrappy. People can get it done.
What does female entrepreneurship mean to you and the power of women?
As a brand, our whole mantra is women who mean business. I think that there are a lot of women that aren't interested in fashion because they’re businesswomen and they don't have time to be interested in fashion. They love to look good, they like to feel good, they like to look dressed and polished, and all those great things, but they just don't have the time to do it.
We wanted to build a brand that really was for these badass women. So, I wanted to give women sort of the power play shoe where when they walk in somewhere, not only are they going to get complemented by maybe another woman, but they're going to get complimented by that other lawyer who is a man and it's going to be because he understands the quality of the shoes that she's wearing.
That's what I really wanted to do for women and it's interesting because as we grew as a company, I started getting emails from women that were like, "I've never been complimented by my shoes by a man, never, until I started wearing your shoes. And now I get compliments all the time." Or, "I had a huge lecture to give, and my boss recognized me first because of my shoes not because of what I've said. It was incredible because I got that recognition before I had to go on the stage. So, it gave me that confidence knowing that he already kind of gave me a little compliment, a little nod that I could go out there and kind of be strong."
I feel like we're in a point in time and in a really, really important time where women can extend their hands now. I want to be a part of that group of women where it's like we're extending the hand forward. I don't want my brand to just be shoes, I want it to be a platform or an arena for women to meet each other and be like, "What can I do for you? How can I help you up? I may not even be in your industry, but what can I do for you?” Badass women are incredible.
What's the definition of badass woman?
I believe a badass woman = strength. I believe in celebrating the immeasurable power of women. Badass women have immeasurable power. Women are so strong, sometimes they don't value their own capabilities.
In terms of your style and who you are, you're designing for badass women but there's a whole bunch of different looks in a collection. How do you separate yourself from your brand and what's the difference?
I think I'm like a little mix between a British school boy and a really edgy kind of punk rock version of Kate Moss, the skirts and the boots and the cashmere and the Flannels. I think it's a real interesting balance that you have to have when you start a brand and when you start appealing to certain women, is that you have to know the difference between making shoes for yourself and making shoes for the women that love your shoes. There are some things that I want to make for myself, but I know wouldn't appeal to the woman that I sell to. I would love a little chunkier, a little taller, a little kind of in that vibe for some things. But I know that wouldn't appeal to my customer. It's not that I can't blur the lines and sort of go a little edgier in things, and I do, but obviously I make crazy striped shoes too.
There's a balance between what my personality is and what my style is. My style is a little different than my customers. If you looked at all of our clients, I think that all of them style themselves totally differently. I get a lot of influence from them because I'll see the way they wear them and then I'll be influenced to design a different type of shoe, but there always has to be that little bit of me.
Are there any famous musicians that have been photographed in your shoes? Put us in the place with each of these musicians that have been wearing your shoes. Where were they photographed?
Janelle Monáe has been in them a couple of times. She's been in our shoes and she's incredible. She is a woman who means business. She's a badass. She's been in our shoes which is a total complement. She was on tour for a movie and doing press tours. So, she got photographed actually in them quite a few times. Several months later, Gap had hired her for one of their Christmas commercials and they had her wear her personal shoes, so she was wearing our shoes in that Gap ad as well. That was just from her personal collection.
Lady Gaga was getting a tattoo and was photographed in our shoes laying getting a tattoo. There have been a lot of musicians.
Taylor Swift was in New York just walking. This was kind of when New York her porch was her runway and it was kind of around that time when she was in the height of one of her biggest albums. So, everyday the paparazzi were outside photographing her.
Do you feel like that's actually driven your business? Has celebrity been a part of the success of your Office?
I really can't gauge that. We're not the type of brand at the moment that we post something that a celebrity is in, that the sales go up. We’re speaking to women who are pretty confident, we have strong women and they’re very vocal. We get emails all the time, but I think it definitely plays a role. I think it makes them feel good about themselves. They can be like, "Yeah, Janelle Monáe was in the shoes and so was I. We have the same shoes." I think it's a confidence booster for them. I don't necessarily know how to gauge whether it's increasing the sales. I'm sure it does.
ON WORKING WITH ULTIMATE EARS
What's your favorite musical artist or genres or what is your favorite?
My favorite, favorite is Queen. Just like hands down, I'm a Queen nut. It will be playing at my funeral. There's no doubt about that. Freddie Mercury was just not a normal human. The band is what made Queen, Queen. But Freddie Mercury is just a soul to be reckoned with and I adore him. When he was here, it was just he was unstoppable.
If you listen to the range of their music, from all the eras, there are so many varieties. It's just unbelievable that one band made all that music because if you were to listen to, depending on what album you were listening to, it could sound like a completely different band, completely different genre. That's what I love most about them, but I love all music.
Have you listened to music in your Ultimate Ears?
Yes. It's crazy cool. You know what I notice most about it is that when a certain part of a sound, either the instrument or the background vocals or something hits one ear and it doesn't hit the other or it sounds stronger or louder, you can hear it, that's pretty incredible.
Does music play a part in your life?
Hands down, always. Always. If there's no music, I already know there's something wrong. Sound is everything to me. I have to have that motion of noise and sound in order to feel productive especially in the design process.
Sound helps me to escape when I'm designing. It has the ability to transport you somewhere and especially now, this whole year with not being able to travel, not being able to go anywhere, to try and get inspired in front of a desk in my office and not being able to travel, not being at the factory working with the craftsmen, being able to go to Italy to pick my materials in person. I'm such a visual person. I like to be in person, I like to touch and feel things and understand the integrity of something. So, to do it all remotely, I have to say music has been such a strong play in that. I know that sounds funny, but it takes me to that moment. It brings me to Portugal. It brings me to Italy. It allows me to kind of get in the zone even though I'm not physically there.
What is your personal design process? You talked a little bit about cranking the music up, but what else?
When we sold to wholesale, I used to be more seasonal. Now I just design. Now I design year round and we just make products. Inspiration or the design process really starts from being inspired. It could be inspired from certain women that I've met. It could be I'm being inspired by a song or a time or a movie that I watched or a period.
I'm really into period films and shows. I can't tell you all the great shows that are on right now between The Crown and the, what is it called, The Queen's Gambit. That costuming was brilliant. That set design, the colors in it, all of that just got me so excited.