Erika Carrero, founder of Elizée, blends Silicon Valley innovation with Italian craftsmanship.
footwearplusmagazine.com • january 2023
PLENTY OF TALENTED people have stepped into this industry with dreams of becoming the next namesake designer only to quickly crumble. Often, though, these failures to launch have little to do with talent and much more to do with a lack of business acumen. Translation: It takes beauty and brains to tango in this ring.
Enter Erika Carrero, founder of Elizée. The former CFO of leading Silicon Valley startups not only knows how to crunch numbers, she has extensive experience in launching subsidiaries, banking, working internationally with remote teams and acquiring new businesses. Carrero has been involved in creating business plans, sticking to budgets and adapting on the fly. “From an operations perspective, it was a natural progression to launch my own company,” she says. “I’ve had to be resourceful with limited resources in a startup environment.”
Now about that design talent? Carrero’s tech background plays a key role, as well as having attended classes at the Stanford Design School. The combo has enhanced her problem-solving skills and ability to think outside the box. An example is the high-density, open cell foam Elizée features in its insoles. The material was originally developed by NASA for its shock-absorbing properties for use in space telescopes. The label also incorporates latex gel cushioning in its insoles for optimal comfort. “These are just a couple of examples of how bringing together expertise from business, design, materials science and engineering allows us to be innovative in how we conceptualize and produce our shoes,” Carrero says.
Elizée’s design foundation of “form and function” is in step with consumers demanding comfort in all styles, according to Carrero. “Women no longer tolerate discomfort after two years of living in loungewear and cozy slippers,” she says. “Women want to dress up again, but in a way that makes them feel empowered, gorgeous and sexy—and totally comfortable. That’s Elizée’s sweet spot: We combine Silicon Valley innovation with the luxury craftsmanship of our Italian artisans to deliver all-day comfort in the sleek look of a luxury shoe.”
Carrero loves heels, and is obsessive about getting every design perfect. That’s her right and left brain combo coming into play. “I don’t rest until each style is that elusive combo of confidence-boosting gorgeous and comfortable enough that I’d gladly run through an airport to catch a plane in them,” she says. What’s Elizée’s overall aesthetic? Glamorous, seductive, feminine and pow- erful. The goal is to make woman feel the best version of themselves. That said, feet are perfectly imperfect. Women have different foot widths, ankle shapes, some have bunions, etc. We take these variations into consideration by providing seamless, full coverage for the most sensitive areas of the foot, yet the silhouette is flattering. Our best-selling Adriana sandal and Deia boot achieve that by breaking up a larger pattern piece into alluring, slender lines that also deliver comfort and stability. Similarly, many of our styles feature slim stability platforms under the ball of the foot to reduce inclination, providing extra stability, shock-absorption and cushioning.
How was business this past year?
Elizée continued to grow steadily. We’re currently in select boutiques in Napa Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, which have repeatedly restocked our styles. We’re also growing our stockists on the East Coast, including in New York and D.C., as well as getting great traction with the press and celebrities.
Who is the Elizée woman?
She’s constantly on the go, juggling a thousand commitments and varied roles in her personal and professional life, and she’s a frequent traveler. She owns her feminine power. She’s innately stylish, appreci- ates impeccable quality and instantly recognizes great design. She knows exactly what she wants, and she’ll accept nothing less than gorgeous style and perfect comfort.
What are some highlights of your latest collection?
Customers asked for a mid-heel sandal, so just in time for holiday parties and resort vacations, we’ve introduced two gorgeous styles on a new, 2.5-inch heel. They’re perfectly bal- anced, but also have a feminine shape that gives the illusion of being just a bit higher. They come in two neutral shades that complement a wide range of skin tones. As always, we selected the butteriest, Italian Napa leather, and we introduced a semi-transparent mesh to give a subtle seductive effect. The mesh calls back to our philosophy on intelligent design: providing full coverage of sensitive areas, while keeping the shoes sexy with a peek-a-boo effect.
Where do you look for design inspiration?
Nature is great inspiration. I take lots of pictures, focusing on how a wood grain pattern might look in leather and the way colors transition in rose petals. The mood board for my first collection was inspired by a hike near Aspen with rocks covered in ice. That translated into metallics and snakeskin. I also drew inspiration from he soft cream tones in sculptures I saw in Italy. For our second collection, I drew inspiration from the Italian Riviera’s sparkling waters. It made me think of transparency and delicacy, which we’re bringing to our Holiday/ Resort capsule collection.
What are Elizée’s goals for 2023?
The sky’s the limit! We’re focused on growing points of sale, particularly in-person retail partnerships, as we’ve seen how effortlessly our shoes sell when women feel the quality and comfort. In terms of product development, we’re always looking to push the envelope with comfort and are currently researching the next generation of insole technology. I continue to work with podiatrists to test our prototypes while incorporating the latest materials and designs. Our approach is to listen to our customers and design based on their specific needs. For example, we developed a new mold for a heel that provides enhanced stability at 60 mm. This height is not common, but we got strong feedback from custom- ers saying this is what they need. We’re also adding wedges with beautiful shimmering leathers for Spring ’23 and ultra-wearable 50-mm booties that I’m confident will be our new best sellers for Fall ’23.
What are some of your biggest challenges right now?
Predicting demand. From supply chain issues to rising prices of raw materials, the uncertainty of the current environment is even more apparent for independent brands. We’re fortunate, however, to have a strong partnership with one of Italy’s oldest heritage factories that works with us on minimums and delivery times. We aim for small production quantities and short turnaround times on reorders, which allows us to respond in a fluid way to demand, rather than overproducing. Another challenge has been heavy discounting from well-known designer brands and retailers. While we’ll occasionally discount select styles, we price our products fairly (SRP: $250-$675), so heavy discounts are not built into our margins.
Any advantages to being a woman running a woman’s shoe brand?
Having endured more insanely busy days in uncomfortable heels than I’d like to admit, I understand how a shoe that makes you look and feel your best can empower and propel you forward to accomplish anything. A shoe that is painful or makes us feel anything less than impeccably chic delivers the opposite experience. It holds us back. Thus, the feel is equally important as the beauty reflected in the mirror. This is a modern woman’s world; we should never have to sacrifice comfort for looking gorgeous.
What shoe must every woman have in her closet?
The three essentials of the modern wardrobe are: a knockout dress sandal, a wear-with-everything ankle boot and a demure pump. That achieves chic, year-round foundational dressing for any occasion. And if she invests in quality and timeless design, she’s making intelligent buying decisions and participating in the growing slow fashion movement. Heritage plus quality equals fewer items. All Elizée styles are designed to be foundational pieces that women can wear forever.
Who are designers you admire?
Gianvito Rossi for the attention to fit and classic yet seductive femininity. Aquazzura for their wild creativity with materials and showcasing the best of Italian artistry and craftsman- ship. And, of course, Christian Louboutin for pushing the envelope with sexy, colorful, playful design and experimenting with wearable yet unique leathers and prints. Yet none of these designers are women!
What is your first shoe-related memory?
I was influenced by mother and grandmother, who were always very fashionable. My mother ran errands in pencil skirts and stilettos, and I have a vivid image of her wearing a light pink matching outfit. She looked so beautiful and powerful. It’s my first memory of looking at shoes with different eyes. That’s when I fell in love with shoes.