While you might not recognize footwear designer Sarah flint walking down Madison Avenue (yet), you would certainly know some of her biggest fans. Flint’s eponymous label boasts a cult following of household names like Lady Gaga, Kristen Stewart, Heidi Klum, Amal Clooney, and, most notably, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. What attracts both Hollywood and literal royalty to Sarah Flint is perhaps the styles’ everyday wearability and understated-chic aesthetic.
And, it doesn’t hurt that the brand is aligned with some powerhouse celebrity backing as well. In 2017, Flint paired up with supermodel Cindy Crawford, who came on board as an investor and advisor and helped the line transition to a direct-to-consumer model. By leaving such doors as Barneys New York, Bloomingdale’s, and Shopbop.com, Flint was able to slash prices by nearly 50 percent ($350 is the average). Cutting out the middle man, the designer offers the best quality—all of her pieces are handmade in centuries-old Italian factories—for an improved value, something she believes consumers even at the highest end are becoming more attuned to. “I wanted to introduce this level of quality and craftsmanship to the next generation,” she explains. “A lot of my top customers—you’ll see them wearing Cucinelli pants, a Chanel bag, and our Emily pump. There’s a lot more transparency now.”
So how did this New Yorker break into some of the city’s most elite retailers, walk away from them, and become a favorite of fashion’s biggest influencers, all before the age of 30? We sat down with her to find out.
Ann Loynd Burton: You broke into the shoes industry, a notoriously tough business, at age 24. How did you do it?
Sarah Flint: This was what I wanted to do since I could even think about what I wanted to do. I was hyperfocused, ever since I wanted to wear my patent leather tap shoes to school. I was always drawing and sketching as a kid, then I went to FIT in New York for design. I felt there was space for shoes that were not only beautiful but also wearable. Then, I moved to Italy to study manufacturing. I learned about the engineering that goes into shoe design and had a mentor who worked with one of the premier factories outside of Milan. He got me into that factory to start sampling. Getting the manufacturing right is the hard part, and that was a lucky break I had there. It was a lot of hard work… It looks like immediate success now, but there were ups and downs.
ALB: Did you face skepticism as a young designer?
SF: Definitely, but more so in Italy than I did here. In New York, the fashion industry is used to young designers, but it was a challenge in the factories in Italy.
ALB: What made you pivot to selling direct?
SF: I really wanted to offer the best price-to-quality ratio on the market. Selling direct-to-consumer allows you to sell basically at wholesale to the customers. We’re still made in the top factory, but we’re able to offer a better price. That’s allowed me to take some of the margin and put it back into the product—like with added arch support and a new proprietary outsole.
ALB: You seem to align yourself with strong female figures. How do you feel your brand empowers women?
SF: The amazing thing about fashion, and shoes in particular, is that when you put on an amazing pair of shoes, it literally affects the way you stand and how you feel about yourself. We’re so focused on fit and wearability because the least empowering thing you can do is put on a pair of uncomfortable shoes and walk into a meeting. When you feel beautiful and comfortable, you feel that much more empowered. My shoes feel feminine in their detailing, and I think there’s a cool tension between the ideas of femininity and power. You can be feminine and powerful.
I do a lot with everyday essentials, and I think what’s cool about our celebrity following is that you see people wearing the shoes in their day-to-day lives—Heidi Klum on the soccer field or Amal Clooney walking into the U.N.—not just on the red carpet. Making a product that people want to live their lives in is so important to me. And it’s cool to see them repeat styles, especially living in such a world of never wearing the same thing twice. That’s a fun part for me.