Ad Account Executive by Day, Shoe Designer by Night

DDB Senior VP Elizabeth Brady Launches Own Footwear Line

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CHICAGO ( -- Two years ago, Elizabeth Brady enrolled in a shoe-design class. Today, she sells pairs for upward of $800.
Granddaughter of a shoe designer, Elizabeth Brady has traveled to England and Italy as part of her own quest to learn the ins and outs of shoe design and manufacturing.
Granddaughter of a shoe designer, Elizabeth Brady has traveled to England and Italy as part of her own quest to learn the ins and outs of shoe design and manufacturing.

"It happened pretty quickly," conceded Ms. Brady, who by day is a senior VP-account director at DDB Worldwide, Chicago, overseeing the agency's LensCrafters account.

Ms. Brady traces her interest in cobbling to her grandmother, who made sandals by hand and sold them to Saks Fifth Avenue, Marshall Field's and other department stores. "It's not like I sat there watching her cobble," said Ms. Brady, 42. But the family history did help persuade her to enroll in a footwear-design class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Salmon-colored pumps
There she designed and built a pair of salmon-colored, round-toed pumps, and found herself subsequently inspired enough to chase the hobby overseas.

"I was just fascinated, and I decided to figure out how to pursue it," said Ms. Brady. "I was very passionate about it creatively."

That quest took her to the U.K., specifically, Street, England, in the Somerset region, where she spent a week of vacation training on a three-dimensional, computer-assisted design program called Shoemaster. While there, she said, the schmoozing and networking skills she had developed managing ad accounts helped her connect with the anonymous manufacturers in Tuscany and Milan who produced her first line. (Like political speechwriters, high-end shoemakers insist on anonymity. "They don't even put their names on their doors," noted Ms. Brady.)

Business pitch
Ms. Brady conducted a new-business style pitch to get the manufacturers on board, presenting more than 20 designs and going so far as to use a translator to pitch the cobblers in Italian. They were sold, and the Elizabeth Brady shoe line was born.

The scale of the enterprise probably won't strike fear into Prada -- the order for the first 24-shoe line called for a total of only 450 pairs to be manufactured and sold at a handful of boutiques in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and St. Louis, as well as on Ms. Brady's Web site -- but the shoe line appears to be making friends.

The popular blog Daily Candy raved: "Our favorites include Bailey, a white patent-leather flat with cutouts and silver trim, and Jennifer, a silver thong with just enough flash to add sparkle without taking it over the top."

'Footwear News'
The trade journal Footwear News has also hyped the line, noting its "sleek yet whimsical sensibility."

Ms. Brady's shoes "are cute, practical and fun," said Mary Tsagaris, manager of Josephine, a boutique in Chicago's tony Old Town neighborhood. Last week the shop sold its first pair of Ms. Brady's shoes, a pair of "dressy flats," for $345. (It had carried them for less than a week.) "I think they're going to do very well," Ms. Tsagaris said.

Ms. Brady said she strives for equal parts style and comfort in designing her line. And the element of fun can be credited to her idiosyncratic style. Growing up, she said, "I was always doing something a little different, like wearing shoes that were a different color, or a shirt that had a certain kind of flair."

250 pairs of shoes
She now exclusively wears her own line of shoes (which include 250 pairs), not to mention 100 pairs of her old favorites, brands including Manolo Blahnik and Barbara Bui designs.

Still, Ms. Brady, who is married with no children, said she has no plans to quit her day job.

The time difference between the Midwest and Italy allows her to deal with issues hours before she shows up at DDB's downtown Chicago office. "It actually works out pretty easily," she said. "The hardest thing is that fashion is such a tough nut to crack. It's hard to stay ahead of the trends."

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