In 2010, Sydney Brown made a New Year’s resolution to align her personal values with her clothing choices.
“[I vowed] to stop buying leather,” said the Los Angeles-based designer. “I had always felt conflicted about buying leather… as I had been a vegetarian for 20-plus years.”
But not even a week into her wardrobe transformation, Sydney ran into an obstacle -- one that turned out to be an opportunity in disguise. “I needed shoes for an event and realized that there was nothing available on the luxury market for sustainably-made, animal-free shoes that fit my aesthetic,” she said. “I realized there was a huge opportunity to do something about it, so my journey began there.”
Sydney, who was working as a music promoter at the time, seized the moment and shifted her focus to fashion. Her eponymous footwear label launched in 2011. The heels, flats, platforms, and wedges in minimalist silhouettes and innovative materials and textures are both vegan and sustainable, plus they’re handmade by artisans in Los Angeles. The sophisticated-yet-understated looks have won a robust fashion following, including a bevy of celebrities.
And the label just keeps growing. Sydney, who also still works in music (she organizes the Taico Club Festival in Japan every year), recently launched the brand’s first online store. “The most exciting thing is to have a direct relationship with our customers,” the designer said. “We can hear their needs and receive direct feedback, which we can then integrate into our upcoming work. The response has been great thus far.”
Juggling it all is a challenge, though, she admits. “It is hard to catch my breath at the moment as I don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything.”
We were lucky enough to have her make time in her crazy schedule to chat with us about how music makes its way into her footwear, why she’s charmed by Los Angeles, and where you might run into her shopping for comfy clothes. Read on for all that, plus what she’ll be putting on your feet next.
Styles from Sydney Brown's spring '15 collection
What is about the Japanese aesthetic that resonates with you most when it comes to your own designs?
The emphasis on materials rather than embellishment is very interesting for me. A huge part of our R & D is materials based. Because we don’t use leather, we need to develop new materials that are usable for footwear but are also beautiful and unique. I’m extremely interested in the way the Japanese juxtapose traditional textile craft with new technology.
Does your experience as a music promoter influence your designs, too?
I’m constantly listening to music as I’m sent new releases by the labels I still work with. For every collection’s inspiration, I choose a California nature scene and give it a soundtrack to begin the design process.
Who are the most stylish musicians on the scene right now?
Recently, I saw Lightning Bolt here in LA. Brian Chippendale’s mask is always captivating!
What’s the best part about living and working in LA?
LA is having a kind of awakening now in art, design, fashion, and music. It is extremely exciting to be here. There is ample creative space, and the weather and nature are incredible.
Why don't more designers use vegan and eco-friendly materials, and what will it take to bring those into the mainstream?
For footwear, non-toxic or non-petroleum-based vegan and eco-friendly materials are more expensive, harder to work with, and more difficult to source. We’ve had to develop a lot of our own, as they hadn’t existed previously. There are a lot of exciting developments coming in the next three to five years, so hopefully soon this will be much more mainstream.
How would you describe your personal style?
Comfortable, wearable and easy.
What's next for Sydney Brown the brand?
We are in the process of developing sneakers for both men and women.