This Is What The Future Of Footwear Looks Likes
Meet the new class of buzzy shoe brands.
Think of Manolo Blahnik’s bejeweled-buckle Hangisi pump popularized by Carrie Bradshaw or Christian Louboutin’s red-bottom Pigalle stiletto — can you picture a contemporary equivalent? Designer Alfredo Piferi says you likely can’t because today’s footwear industry no longer operates the same as it did decades ago, where a single breakout silhouette could define a label. “For emerging shoe brands in 2022 to cultivate success that lasts, it’s crucial to have an element of difference that’s more profound than just one heel or a specific style,” the founder of his eponymous label details to TZR. In other words, a label needs to offer novelty and, most paramount of all, an explicit ethos people can resonate with.
It’s no longer enough to present trend-driven designs; To achieve an enduring legacy and make an impact within the footwear space, shoe designers need to consider precisely what they’re trying to say. There’s a lot of noise in the space, but a few voices convey their message the clearest — and TZR had the honor of speaking with four of them.
Below, four footwear vanguards detail the motivating forces behind their brands and deep dive into the story behind their designs. At a time when intentionality carries significant weight, these shoe designers are setting the pace of the industry and upholding their philosophies every step of the way. The future of footwear is here! Now it’s time to acquaint yourself with the new class of changemakers.
“For me, a nice shoe can change everything,” Pamela Costantini, one of the two creatives at the helm of nascent shoe brand IINDACO, says while dialing in from Paris. “I mean, I won’t say it can change your life — that’s impossible! But a really excellent shoe can change the mood of your life. Like, when I want to feel extra special or give myself a boost, I’ll wear our shoes with the Swarovski crystal flame,” the footwear designer says of the bedazzled fiery detail that’s become a signature of the Italy-based brand. “They make me feel good! They’re fun — and that’s important because, to me, fashion needs to be fun.”
Fun is an apt way to describe IINDACO’s offering in sum. Influenced by late ’90s and early ‘00s pop culture (“Remember Jennifer Lopez’s ‘Waiting for Tonight’ music video?” she asks), the company’s creations are party-ready and electric. Tall cheetah-print boots, metallic pumps in puce, Y2K-era flatforms made of wavy moiré — it’s evident that Costantini and cofounder Domitilla Rapisardi are having the time of their lives working together as a creative duo.
The two of them are longtime friends who first met when working at Roberto Cavalli in 2014, later teaming up to launch IINDACO in 2020 with a core theme of joy. “The name IINDACO comes from when Domi and I would meet up during aperitivo time, or cocktail hour. Just after sunset, a little bit before nightfall, and usually, the color of the sky was this indigo blue — or indaco in Italian,” describes Costantini, who previously held tenure as Givenchy’s senior footwear designer. With their celebratory offerings, the cofounders call on those moments of sipping cocktails with a dear friend, when you’re both a bit tipsy and exist in a little perfect bubble: You’ve had a few drinks and probably shouldn’t have another, but the night is young, and who knows where it’ll take you — that’s IINDACO.
As for the double ‘i’s at the front of the name? “That’s because we were both born in November, so we wanted to add in the number 11,” Costantini explains with a laugh, saying that they couldn’t resist positioning themselves front and center because, ultimately, IINDACO is a self-addressed love letter. “The brand is a really big reflection of Domi and me — who we are personally and how we are together. For instance, I'm more quiet and very minimalistic. [Rapisardi,] on the other hand, she's a party girl who loves to go out. She loves sparkles, the Backstreet Boys, and the 2000s,” the cofounder describes. “And you can actually feel the combination of us in all of our shoes.” The sleek silhouettes — a classic peep-toe mule, wide knee-high boots with feminine kitten heels, and square-toe T-strap heels — reflect Costantini. “Meanwhile, you can also see the part of Domi — she's the Swavaroski crystal flame heels and metallics.”
Aesthetic differences aside, the two founders also share a passion for eco-consciousness. “We are trying to do something that’s beautiful, fashionable, and joyful but with the values of a sustainable brand. And we approach it in two ways: using upcycled materials and innovative textiles.” Recycled plastic and paper make up the heels and insoles of their designs, and IINDACO’s leather is biodegradable at 95%, as opposed to genuine hide, which Costantini cites as typically only being 10% due to harmful added chemicals. “We don’t say we are 100% sustainable because that’s not possible — just by having a brand and producing pieces, it means you’re inherently not sustainable. We are just an alternative for a greener life.”
Looking ahead, Costantini is excited. IINDACO has an exclusive capsule with Browns debuting late this coming fall, which the designer promises to have lots of sparkles and sultry silhouettes. And in the immediate future, she and Rapisardi leave tomorrow for their annual work-meets-pleasure vacation. Last year was Puerto Escondido, Mexico, and this time they’re spending three weeks in Bali. “We’ll maybe work like four hours a day and then spend the rest of the day enjoying the new country — hit the beach and swim,” she says, unable to contain her eagerness for the trip. After 21 days of soaking up the sun, splashing in the waves, and galavanting around Bali, who knows what joyous creations the duo will dream up next?
When Yuni Buffa tunes in for her Zoom call with TZR, she’s relaxed and displays a breezy effect you’d expect someone to have on a late-summer afternoon. But you can tell the shoe designer is energized by something. Katie Holmes, she says, has just stepped out in New York City wearing her brand’s baby blue ballerina flats for what might be the umpteenth time. First appearing in the actor’s personal style file last December, the timeless shoe has become an evident go-to of hers, with Holmes often wearing the style while exploring downtown Manhattan. And, as Buffa describes, there is hardly an endorsement more genuine than an off-duty celebrity repeatedly wearing your work while out and about, simply living their life. “It’s very rewarding to see that women love my shoes — to really cherish and treasure them, to find them comfortable enough to wear them again and again. To me, it’s a bigger reward and success than anything else,” the shoe designer says.
Buffa didn’t always plan on being a shoe designer to the stars. She originally studied industrial design at Rhode Island School of Design but later pivoted to fashion when securing a job in Alexander Wang’s accessories department. That was all it took; Her passion for shoes ignited, Buffa transitioned to Rag and Bone, where she spearheaded their shoe department. “But by then, I was ready to have the opportunity to create my own aesthetics and exacting standards in how I create shoes. And I wanted to be liberated from the fashion calendar and the overproduction that it can demand,” the designer details.
She launched her label in 2020 with an intentionally slow pace. “My approach to everything, from design to production, is very mindful and minimal. For example, I design and introduce one style at a time instead of a collection, which allows me to obsess over the quality and fit and to really take the time and not rush.” To wit, her deliberately thoughtful process is quite “old fashioned,” as she calls it. “Everything starts with a wooden last, which is a form shaped like a foot or the inner side of the shoe — I call it the skeleton of a shoe. And I work directly with the last maker; We shave, carve, and build together — ‘Oh, a little less toe, a little more arch and curve here.’ That’s the basis of the foundation for our shoemaking — everything follows afterward.”
With the fast-paced pressure of the fashion industry, for Buffa to maintain such a steady and traditional design process is incredibly rare. “I think what differentiates Yuni Buffa [from other modern shoe brands] is that we live and spend most of our time in Tuscany. We don’t have an agent who sources things for us — we do everything ourselves.” That includes put-putting around the city in a teeny-tiny Fiat (“You don’t want to visualize me driving, though. I’m terrible at stick shift. I am a hot mess— but I had to learn to learn!”) and visiting the artisans and ateliers in person. “I’ve become good enough at Italian to directly communicate with everyone, too, which gives me full control over how we make, source, and craft our pieces and where our components are from.”
Buffa explains that the company is happy to be small and hands-on, to make all their shoes very thoughtfully. “I’ll admit it’s more of a pain in the ass to do it this way, though,” she says with a laugh. “But it’s what we like to do —and we are very proud of our process.”
“To be a successful shoe brand and designer in 2022 is more than just creating a product — it’s to change the perception of a product,” says Piferi, whose extensive resume boasts legacy behemoths like Valentino, Versace, and, Jimmy Choo. “And I would love to be remembered as somebody that really changed the luxury customer’s perception of vegan shoes. Because as soon as something is labeled as vegan, leather-free, or responsibly made, there are so many broad associations of it being cheap — and there is a lot of room for change in that type of thinking.”
Ethical consumption is a personal cause for the London-based creative, who cut meat from his diet eight years ago. And, perhaps surprisingly, Piferi cites his early days of vegetarianism for inspiring his approach to luxury shoe design. “When I thought back to first substituting meat on the table, it was quite a creative process. So, originally, when it came to my brand, I was wondering, ‘Can I be creative enough to make design-driven shoes — because I think they need to be beautiful, to start — but at the same time leather free?” After winning Footwear New’s 2020 Launch of the Year Award for his namesake label, Piferi realized the answer was a resonant, emphatic yes.
Despite his early and ongoing success (Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, and Zoe Saldana are all fans), Piferi remains bashful. In particular, he’s hesitant about what comes with the designation of eco-consciousness. “We need to be careful with what we promise to the customer and when we say 'sustainable' in fashion because it's very difficult to be fully so.” The pitfall of green-washing, he says, is very real. “However, I do think there is an element of responsibility — which is a word I use much more confidently for me and my products — that comes down to the choice of material we use.”
Piferi works with companies in the Italian territory of Parabiago that are pioneering biomass textiles, meaning that 48% of the material’s composition comes from GMO-free field corn and non-virgin recycled plastic. “We use BIOVEG-certified Nappa leather, our suede of 100% recycled PET, which is made of post-consumer plastic waste, and our insoles are pure cellulose. And for our heels, we use recycled ABS plastic,” which he explains is a reworked compound widely considered more durable, long-lasting, and recyclable than PVC.
To be clear, though, you don’t have to be a connoisseur of vegan fashion to shop the shoe brand. “When I talk about the Piferi individual, that could be anybody. Effectively, whoever can connect with my product can become part of the brand.” At this, Piferi smiles, recalling a recent interaction on Instagram with a customer. “A few weeks ago, I saw this beautiful woman who posted a picture wearing my shoes — but she was also carrying a crocodile leather bag,” he says with an enormous laugh. “I had to sit and think, like, ‘OK, how do I feel about this?’ and then after a little bit, I realized that if I can convince the crocodile customer to buy vegan, well, it’s mission accomplished. It means she loved the shoe so much that she didn’t even care [it was vegan]. And it’s one less piece made of leather, so I call that a win-win.”
You’re likely familiar with D’ACCORI’s vertiginous, high-shine platform heels. You’ve seen the lofty shoes on Instagram It girls and celeb style mavericks alike — Dua Lipa, for instance, wears the 150mm Belle Sandals in glittery lilac for nights out in Soho. The brand’s designs exude a ‘You know what? Let’s go out and dance!’ feeling of spontaneity that perfectly satiates your craving for post-lockdown, ultra-sexy partywear — which, admittedly, was what Mo D’Accori planned for with his self-titled brand’s 2021 launch. “What was clear was that everyone was ready to dress up and party. So I felt the time was right as we came out of the pandemic, to just really go for it because people wanted to hit the dance floor,” the designer shares with TZR.
Hailing from Amman, Jordan, D’Accori has loved shoes for as long as he can recall. Thus, when he came of schooling age, he jumped at the opportunity to pursue footwear full-time. “I moved at the age of 17 to London to study at the London College of Fashion. While I was there, I spent most of my time studying how shoes were made and sketching some initial ideas,” details the designer, who remains based out of England’s capital city. “Oh, and I also spent time keeping track of who was wearing the most outstanding shoes,” he says, admitting he’s always been a pop culture aficionado — and, to his astonishment, D’accori’s interest in celebrity fashion had an early and enormous payoff.
Think back to the mid-aughts — which celebrity made the most ostentatious, jaw-dropping, boundary-breaking footwear choices? Hint: Rah, rah-ah-ah-ah, Roma, roma-ma! Yes, perhaps the most notable platform enthusiast of all time, Lady Gaga herself, was the shoe designer’s first-ever fan. “In 2011, I created my first pair of prototype shoes, and they actually went on to be worn by Lady Gaga,” he details, saying her endorsement from a decade ago still “feels surreal.” And, to this day, she remains a proud customer. “Fast-forward ten years later and after brainstorming countless ideas, going through a lot of sample trials and many errors, I came out with the brand. And Lady Gaga was one of the first people to wear D’ACCORI when we officially launched,” he explains, referencing her wearing the brand’s strappy Belle sandal to a November 2021 screening of House of Gucci. “It felt like a full-circle moment.”
Other adventurous dressers of the same A-list ilk quickly followed Mother Monster. Like Gaga and Lipa, Doja Cat and Ariana Grande are partial to the chunky-soled platform Belle Sandal. Euphoria It girl Alexa Demie, however, owns a pair of D’ACCORI’s Lust Mule in shiny lime leather. “What has also been incredible,” adds the designer, “is that I've heard back from some of these stars, complimenting me on how the shoes look, reaching out directly to me to show their love and support for the brand.”
Ultimately, however, the shoe designer says you don’t have to possess a certain amount of star quality to join D’ACCORI’s club of club-going footwear. “Our shoes are made for anyone and everyone who loves to dress to the nines, feels empowered, and shows up looking the hottest version of themselves,” he describes. Yes, the creative is here to encourage people to let loose, perhaps get down and boogie a bit, but the ultimate goal with his brand is self-empowerment. “[D’ACCORI celebrates] everything that makes you feel unique and great about yourself.”