There is a bit of a story to be recognized for N.Y.L.A. Shoes. Can you tell us about the significance of being one of the first fully owned Asian American footwear companies in the US?
My parent's started the company in the 80s, producing footwear locally in the US along with dress pumps from the Philippians. It was tough starting the footwear business as a foreigner in the US, I recall other vendors surrounding our booth at WSA not letting buyers in because they don’t want their buyers to buy our footwear. As we established our company as a design and quality destination, we started to work with a lot of those vendors that didn’t want us to be here in the first place.
My parents worked very hard establishing the company, always maintaining the quality and always looking for new trends and designs.
I feel that I’m proud not just being one of the first Asian American footwear companies in the US, but proud of being one of the last Made in Los Angeles AMERICAN footwear makers in the US.
Who created the name of the brand? Since you're based in LA, where does New York fit in?
I actually thought of the name when I was a teenager. It actually stands for Norman Yeh of Los Angeles, which is my dad’s name but N.Y.L.A. just seem much cooler. Shhh!
When did you know you wanted to become a designer? What encouraged you to do so and why did you decide to focus on shoes?
I grew up around shoes all my life. When I was young, I used to get nightmares about shoes. I loved drawing and creating shoes, clothing and handbags. Clothing and handbags, were not the business I wanted to be in.
I went to school as an Econ/Asian American studies major and got a job being an analyst for a big accounting firm. Before graduating, my father got sick and I came in to help out for about half a year. Running sales and designing the spring line. I fell in love with the interaction with customers and with the excitement and love I have when I see the shoes I design in department stores — 25yrs later, I’m still here!!!
"Fashion should not be what designers put out in the market and everyone follows. Fashion should be defined by consumers."
Who is your customer? Who are you creating these fun designs for?
My customer is a woman and/or man who knows who they are and doesn’t really care what others think or want them to be. What we wear defines to others who we are, so why not have fun, either in a 7” platform or a fun pony fur flat. Just be who you are.
Where do you anticipate taking the business to next? Is a full men’s collection in the pipeline?
As we moved to more "Made in LA" production, we would love to start an Athletic Leisure line for men. I also want to start doing belts and handbags.
Where do you draw inspiration from to create your collections? Does it change every season?
Lately I have been doing a lot of Americana-inspired fashion, traditional "Made in USA" footwear inspired by the 20s and 30s. I feel that "Made in USA" footwear is a trend that can last forever.
How do you define fashion?
Fashion should not be what designers put out in the market and everyone follows. Fashion should be defined by consumers. We should be following our customers and not designers.
How do you want customers to feel when wearing your product?
I want my customers to be happy. I want them to feel that they got a great deal on a quality leather product. I want them to feel comfy. I want them to feel the 5mm memory foam we put into our shoes and go — wow, why can’t all the shoes I wear be this comfy. I want them to feel unique. Be one of the few that owns a pair of shoes made in Los Angeles.
What is your favorite style ever created? Why?
My favorite style we created was this full metal sandal made from bike parts. It was a style we did in 1998, it was all from recycled parts. We were not thinking about being environmentally conscience, it was just a cool sandal.
What is your favorite part about designing?
I think everyone that designs are a bit egocentric. To be honest, my favorite part of design is to do a shoe everyone loves and is wearing.
If you were not a designer, what could you see yourself doing professionally?
Furniture designer. I love the shape and form of mid-century designs and love that there is no sizing for furniture to worry about.
Where is your favorite place to travel and why? Where are you most excited to travel to next?
Hawaii. It is always sunny and people are friendly. You see people from all over the world and see different styles. I also love Hawaiian food. I would love to visit Australia. It is one of the few places I have never been.
"Do what you can to make a difference. Know that every little bit counts."
What is your favorite footwear trend? Least favorite?
Minimalism. I love the no label, clean look that is becoming more and more popular.
My least favorite trend is footwear brands always following what other designer brands are doing. Be original and different. Have fun. Don’t be scared of what other people think, there is a style for everyone. If FishHead Slip-On shoes can sell a million pairs, anything can do well. You just have to believe!
You've made some incredible efforts to assist during these troubling times of COVID-19. Can you give us more information about how you've been able to make an impact?
It has been hard, but as member of the community we call LA, we have to do our best with what we have. We have kept all of our employees since March. They are all working from home to do what they can. We are also working with our sewing subcontractors and seamstresses that are out of work due to quarantine to make masks as a source of income. We are selling these masks at cost and are donating $5.00 per mask to the Mutual Aid Network LA. I wish we could do more, but we all have to do the best we can.
What advice or encouragement would you give to others to make a difference during this pandemic?
Do what you can to make a difference. Know that every little bit counts. If you help 1 person or 100, or 1000, it will make a difference in someone’s life. We all have to forget our differences and do our part. If we all can help even 1 person, and all of us help, we can help everyone. I truly believe that.