You know the feeling when you’re packing for vacay and don’t have room to bring everything you want (or may want) to wear? The worst. How’s a girl supposed to look into the future and know exactly which shoes she wants on any given day of her travels? It’s basically impossible. Luckily, girl bosses Harmony Pilobello and Shilpa Iyengar are changing all that.
Pals from their design school days, Pilobello and Iyengar decided that women shouldn’t have to go without style while traveling, and launched Alterre, a line of interchangeable shoes that allows you to start with a base of varying heel heights, then switch out the straps for different styles. SO genius — how did we not think of this? Well, we’re glad somebody did.
At about $130-$195 for the varied lifts (the shoe) and $45-$90 for the looks (the straps), Alterre is basically the solution to being indecisive. They even sell beginner sets like this Blush Sandal Starter Kit ($220).
We sat down with Pilobello (while Iyengar was traveling, unfortch) to learn more about how their shoes — and their company — are helping change women’s lives for the better.
Brit + Co: How did you come up with the idea for Alterre?
HP: We both travel a lot and wanted to create something comfortable and easy to travel with us.
B + C: How many prototypes did you go through before you got the idea right?
HP: So many! I would conservatively estimate around 50. It took us nearly three years to develop looks (straps) that worked on all the different heel heights. We still keep some of our original designs in a box to remind us of how far we’ve come.
B + C: Do you see your brand expanding beyond shoes? (crosses fingers)
HP: Definitely. We already have several ideas in the pipeline, however, at the moment, they all revolve around leather accessories.
B + C: Any advice for other female entrepreneurs?
HP: Patience really is a virtue. We initially expected our shoes to launch within a year of having the idea. When it was clear we needed more time, we had to make the choice to either persevere into a world of unknown time or quit. I would also advise other female entrepreneurs to support and help each other. Throughout the years we have met so many strong entrepreneurial women that took the time to be valuable assets in our company growth. Without that network, it would have been so much more difficult to get on our feet (no pun intended). It can be as simple as congratulating someone reaching a milestone or telling them “you can do this” when they are unsure.
B + C: Any other packing hacks?
HP: What I love about our shoes is how little space they take when I travel. I always travel with a pair of our black mid heel, and I’ll stuff socks/tights inside the toe-box area. The straps are so small they can fit in all the nooks and crannies. I also like to pack in order of item size. Sort of like filling a jar of rocks with pebbles, and then sand. For example, I will square fold anything thick like a jacket, roll up anything smaller like a sweater, and then squeeze misc things like socks or liquids into the gaps. Aside from traveling for weddings, I can usually fit a week’s worth of clothing/shoes/etc into a 26L backpack.
B + C: You give five percent of Alterre profits to Restore, an organization that rehabilitates victims of sex trafficking. Why is this program so close to your hearts? How did you get involved?
HP: We first heard about Restore through a friend who was volunteering there. She invited us to a fundraiser event and the organization immediately resonated with us.
We both have strong mothers that have overcome trying circumstances to be where they are today — first-generation immigrants that left everything they knew to start a new life. It’s a great feeling to look back on my childhood and come away with even more respect for everything my mom has done and overcome.
Ultimately, it really circles back to our belief that women need to support each other. If our parents can start with nothing and succeed, then so can these women. At the moment we are only able to help financially by donating a percentage of our proceeds. We do, however, look forward to the day we can work more directly with the organization and offer more opportunities (i.e. teaching classes, jobs, etc).
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