There’s a growing interest in appreciation for craft, and new designers are honouring traditional techniques to counter the cyclical, relentless nature of the fashion industry's output. Isabella Bowie, the founder of new shoe brand IZIE, which launched six months ago, is part of the cohort of young designers spotlighting these storied practices.

Honing her craft in New York, Italy and London, Isabella borrows from varied sources of inspiration with the same sentiment of elevated, everyday comfort in mind. Working with a small-scale, family-run manufacturer in Itay, each shoe is etched with a novel design detail, IZIE’s signature ‘I’ heel and crescent toe are both playful twists unique to the brand.

We spoke to Isabella to find out more…

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind IZIE and how your background in design and experiences in fashion houses influenced the brand's ethos?
At IZIE, we believe in shoes that work for the wearer, no matter the occasion. I often think back on my time studying design in New York City. It is a place for dreamers. People who embrace industriousness and dressing up. IZIE is designed with them in mind.

Before launching my own brand, it was really important for me to first understand the workings of things behind the scenes. I was lucky to have been able to learn from some truly incredible designers, spending time with their manufacturers globally and continuing to nourish my love for the making process.

IZIE is described as an accessories brand with "quiet confidence". How does this quality manifest in the design philosophy and aesthetics of your shoe collections?
We are a brand for those with an appreciation for design, quality, and fit. Everything is made by hand using materials that have been meticulously sourced. Design features such as the ‘I’ heel and crescent toe are unique to us and encapsulate what the brand is all about. They are distinctive and modern, just like the person we design for.

The decision to have IZIE shoes made in a small-scale family-run factory in Italy is interesting. Why was it important for you to choose this specific manufacturing approach, and how does it align with your values?
For me, IZIE needed to have a tight-knit supply chain that could take accountability at every stage. Finding a factory was hands-down the most important step in setting up the business. Our shoes are all handmade by Francesco and his family outside of Bologna. Francesco made his first pair of shoes when he was just 16. He is now 78 and his immense experience and sensibility for form have been instrumental in the making of our shoes.

When I launched the brand, I shared a series of videos about our making process. Educating the customer on the craft is essential to IZIE. We want people to be aware of exactly what they are buying and the level of thought that went into every stage. It's an investment piece.

Your shoes incorporate unique design details. Can you walk us through the process of designing a pair of shoes for IZIE? How do you ensure that each design is both thoughtful and uplifting for the wearer?
There is a lot of consideration that goes into the design of a pair of IZIE’s. Take our Port sandal, for example. It is a nod to a classic 90’s naked sandal, but we have reimagined it with an asymmetrical front strap which not only makes it unique to us but also creates a more secure and comfortable fit.

Our signature ‘I’ heel is something I am really proud of, as well. It plays with perspective, designed to look like a stiletto from the side, when it actually looks more like a block heel because of the wider base. The ‘I’ shape — in reference to both our name and the individuality of the wearer — was inspired by a table leg by Italian modernist furniture designer Enzo Mari, a nod to the brand’s affinity for clean, smooth lines and appreciation for architectural forms.

Launching an independent brand in the current climate requires a certain leap of faith. What motivated you to take this step?
I have dreamed of starting IZIE since I was in my early teens, but it was the reset of Covid that finally encouraged me to give it a go. I applied for a scholarship to a master's program in Italy — which I was very fortunate to get — and consequently spent much of 2020 and 2021 living in Florence building the foundations of IZIE. While everything else was closed during that period, factories remained open. This hugely played to my advantage. It was essentially a two-year private tour of the city’s rich history in craftsmanship and luxury techniques!

I will always remember the advice one of my professors gave me — it was so simple and poignant. He said, “piano, piano” or “slowly, slowly”. It is how the business is built. We are not racing out the gate. We want people to understand not only what we make, but who we are as a brand.

Can you share some of the key milestones or challenges you've faced in building IZIE, and how they have shaped your journey as a female founder?
IZIE is six months old so it is still early days. As I am sure is the experience of entrepreneurs everywhere, building a business requires you to wear many hats. I have been developing and working on the design and manufacturing side of things for the last ten years, but building a website, managing the accounts, marketing, and shipping…these things are all very new to me. Thank god for YouTube!

I also think that, as a woman, you sometimes have to fight to be taken seriously. I was once told to take a male family member to the factory as it would make things easier. They clearly haven’t met my dad or brother… Needless to say, I did just fine on my own.

Can you provide a glimpse into any upcoming projects or plans for IZIE that our readers can look forward to?
As a young brand, we are lucky to have a lot of flexibility and creative freedom in what we do. One of our brand missions is to use sleeping stock — leftover material that might otherwise go to waste — wherever possible in our collections. For next year, we are planning a really exciting, small-run collaboration using materials from outside the fashion space. We are also dropping a new flat style in the spring that I think our customers will love. It is a great addition to our lineup.

For women interested in entering the fashion and accessories industry, what advice would you give based on your experiences as the founder of IZIE?
Just ask. I couldn’t have done any of this without the friends, family, and fellow female founders who have lent a hand along the way. I often refer to the brand using ‘we’ because the amount of support I have received makes me feel like I am part of a team. There are always problems to solve, people to persuade, relationships to build, and accounts to manage. Having a good support system makes all the difference.

And I will pass along my professor’s advice — piano, piano.

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