Story by Julie O’Boyle and Rachel Schwartzmann – Shop Llani Shoes– Photos by Julie O’Boyle for The Style Line
In a neighborhood just outside of Philadelphia,
tucked away on a sunny, tree-lined street you’ll find the headquarters of Llani, the recently launched shoe line helmed by Pennsylvania native Alana Oates. Perhaps not the first place you’d expect to discover a quickly growing brand taking shape, but it’s here, in the picturesque home she shares with her husband, Fred, and their eight-year-old English bull terrier, Sophie, that Oates’ vision comes to life – slides and slippers dripping with embellishment, shoes made for the independent woman who at once craves style and the feeling of home. Shoes made for a woman much like Oates herself, “I live and breathe my work, but outside of that, I’m a social butterfly, a foodie, interior design junkie, and beach baby.”
Launched in October of last year, it didn’t take long for Oates’ beautifully constructed and undeniably unique designs to get noticed. Featuring sparkling trims sourced directly from India, leather tassels, and deeply-hued jacquard fabrics, the range of cozy slippers, slides, and babouche-inspired flats quickly gained Oates a cult following and miles-long waitlist. It’s no surprise that Llani launched with high praise and increasing demand, an alum of Anthropologie and Old Navy’s shoe design teams, Oates’ flexed her creativity designing shoes for a variety of customers before branching out on her own, “I know people say that you not are defined by your career, but being a shoe designer shapes so much of who I am.”
Stepping over the threshold of Oates’ home, it’s clear that the original Llani woman is immersed in her work, with prints, patterns, and plush textiles offering respite and drawing a clear connection to the vision of the designer. Warm and inviting, just like Oates herself, Llani’s headquarters offered inspiration in every corner. In our conversation, Oates shared a bit about her process, her background in design, and why the Philadelphia-area is the ideal place to cultivate creativity. Discover the full conversation and photo tour below.
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Before founding Llani in 2016, you spent time designing for Anthropologie and Old Navy, two brands that could arguably be on opposite ends of the design spectrum. How did this disparity prepare you for starting your own line?
It was so important that I had these two very opposite experiences. Anthropologie taught me to color outside the lines, how to surprise and delight a customer. To design with my heart, and inspire whimsy. At Old Navy, I learned how to be more disciplined and organized (which I desperately needed), how to fine tune my designs. Our collection had to be on trend but democratic, it was fashion for the people. It was like retail boot-camp. If I would have only had one of these experiences and not both, I would have been ill-prepared for what starting my own line has thrown at me.
How would you describe the Llani woman – who is she?
My inspiration comes from the women around me, those who are carving out a path for themselves in the working world. The Llani woman is creative, bold, independent, nurturing and self-aware. She is home-centric, eclectic, feminine. She shops with her heart.
You recently returned to the Philadelphia-area after spending some time on the West Coast. What made Philadelphia the ideal place to build your line?
I loved my experience on the west coast and I think everyone should live in California at some point in their life. I personally just feel much more grounded in Philly. I love that this city doesn’t have an ego. It’s very down to earth and creativity is embraced. I feel there isn’t any pressure to fit into a certain mold. In LA, SF, and NY there is a sense of an inner circle of ‘cool’- places to eat, shop, what you wear is all defined by this and it influences everything. Here, I don’t feel that. The creative network in Philly is all about support and collaboration.
There seems to be a renaissance taking place in fashion, with a focus on sustainability and mindfully made goods. How does Llani contribute to this landscape?
I think customers are being more conscious themselves, so the demand for more ethically sourced or mindfully made products is on the rise. We all want to know the story behind our clothing. There was so much invisibility just a few years ago in fashion and I think when light was shed on the dangers of the industry (like the fact that fashion is the second most polluting industry after big oil) people really felt personally responsible. Llani is a collaboration with our partners in India and we have clarity as to who is making the products. We try to produce with small, family owned, and female-founded factories. India inspires everything I design for Llani.
I love that your line focuses on comfort as much as style. Why was this important for you?
There is a versatility in fashion now. I love a good heel, but the trend is shifting. Women are choosing to start their own businesses so that their schedules can belong to them to spend time with family, travel more, or be at home. I think that is setting the trend for our workforce of the future. Why shouldn’t we feel just as glamorous and empowered at home as we do in an office?
How do you celebrate personal style?
I really make a ritual of getting dressed in the morning or for an event. One of my favorite places to be is in my closet, mixing pieces and trying on new outfit combinations. I love playing with proportions and wearing pieces unexpectedly (like a robe as a jacket or a dress as a vest). I don’t have any rules and I shop everywhere, from Goodwill to Moda Operandi. I invest in emotional pieces, vintage, and independent designers. I bargain for basics and denim.
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How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and what role is Llani playing in this?
I grew up in a very creative environment and I think it’s important to have a creative approach to any conversation or issue. Producing in India gives me insight into another culture and it’s always interesting to be immersed in it. Constructs of how business is done there vs. here leads to complicated conversations where compromise can only be reached through creative negotiations.
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
When we were chatting in my studio, you asked about my process. It’s not the easiest question to answer since now working for myself, I’m letting it change and evolve so that I can figure out the best fit for each project. But usually, it starts the same way each time. I collect hundreds of images from Pinterest, magazines, and design books. Then, the story starts to build itself, centered around a muse. Who is she, where is she from, what is she doing. Her surroundings, her colors, her materials… these decisions and visuals always inspire what the collection will look like.
How would you advise the next generation of designers to leave an imprint in the world simply by doing what they love?
Cultivate a powerful network. Be a positive force. Look to others for inspiration, not competition. Put out good energy and be supportive of your peers. A high tide floats all boats.