We talked to men’s footwear designer Dana Niddery about mixing different elements, always looking at the details and getting the opportunity of a lifetime.
What do you do?
I work with a team of three product developers, Frank Garcia, Ben Ruest and Pasquale Santamaria, and I’m the designer for the group. I put all of our ideas on paper.
So you draw shoes all day?
I do. I spend most days drawing men’s shoes for Call It Spring.
How did you get started?
I started from the bottom. I was living in Toronto working a summer job between high school and college. Basically, I was shipping shoes all day long and I was pretty good at it, too. I was working in a hot, sweaty warehouse getting to know my inner shoe shipper then I realized that in the front of the warehouse they had a design studio.
I met up with one of the designers who was always going back and forth through the warehouse and I asked him, “What do you do here? What’s your job?” And he told me, “I’m the designer.” I told him I’d been sketching my whole life and that I’d always been interested in shoes as far back as I could remember.
I said to him, “It’d be pretty cool if I could give you a couple of free sketches.” I was trying to sell him on the idea by giving him some free designs. Meanwhile, I’d never designed a shoe before. He asked me what I was doing in the warehouse – I was 17 turning 18 – and he was like, “Okay, gimme a couple of designs then.”
But first he gave me a shoe and told me to sketch the shoe. So I did a sketch of the shoe. Then he said, “That’s good. Now what would happen if I asked you to do a sketch of your own? Where would you start? How would you do it?”
I told him I needed to think about it. I came back the next day, and I’d spent all night sketching. I was getting frustrated because I didn’t know how to start. I gave him the idea the next day and he says, “That’s pretty good, but I think you could do better.”
I went home and sketched for about 4 or 5 hours. There’s paper every where, all over my room. Finally, I was like, ‘This is going to be it”. I show it to him the next day – same answer, “It’s pretty good but I think you can do better.”
I’m just getting pissed. I was like I’ve got to try this again. What happens if I can’t do this? So I kept going home and sketching and I kept bringing them back to him and he kept saying it’s not good enough.
Finally, maybe a week later, actually think it was even longer than a week, after giving him sketches everyday I said “Okay, this is it. This is the best I can do.” And he said, “I’ve been keeping all the sketches you’ve given me.” He lays them all out on the table from the first one to the most recent one all in order. And he says, “Look at where you started. See what I mean when I say, ‘You could do better?’”
“This one,” he said and he picked up my last drawing, “I actually want to get it made.”
It was like my dream come true. I was really lucky to have that opportunity at that time.
I was mentored by him and another designer. I was giving them sketches and kept working in the warehouse part-time, going to school and working in the office part-time. Then one of the designers moved to another position and it freed up a spot for a junior designer. My boss said, “I’d like to offer you this job. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, you’re going to have to do a lot of stuff that I don’t want to do.” I took the job and ever since then I’ve been sketching shoes. So that was like 10 years ago – I’m 27 now.
When did you join CIS?
About four years ago, it was January 2009.
Did you study?
I did some night school courses and got my certificate in design. It was a well-rounded design course — 3D design, a lot of sketching, drafting — it was nice introduction to everything. But it was the hands-on experience that helped me move forward.
At the time, there really weren’t any courses in Toronto, or Canada that offered shoe design. It’s a specific field and if you didn’t get into it through someone who was already in the industry, it was really tough to get in. I was in the right place at the right time.
What inspires your designs?
Maybe other artists can relate, but I look at the little details of everything. I’m shaking someone’s hand and I’m looking at their shoes. I base a lot of my ideas around appropriation – taking the best of one thing and combining it with the best of something else.
You think everything’s been done, but it hasn’t. Everything hasn’t been done. We’re in the stage now where brands and designers are pushing the envelope with technology and there are designers who are pushing the classic heritage style – I like merging the two elements to create something new. That’s what’s inspiring me at the moment. Music can inspire me; being somewhere, someplace at the right time, and seeing something picturesque can be inspiring and working with the guys I work with. We all feed off of each other – you’re working with different people with different sets of eyes and they all come from different backgrounds – it comes back to the idea of combining all the elements to create something fresh.
Do you design stuff you want to wear?
It’s great because I work in men’s shoes and the direction of Call It Spring is really young and it’s stuff I can relate to. But at the same time, what I want to wear isn’t necessarily going to be what a customer wants to wear. You could say that you have to put on a different hat, you have to be able to see things through the customers eyes. That being said, I do own a few pairs of CIS shoes. And there are definitely many styles in the collection that I’ll wear this summer.
What are you excited about for men’s trends?
I like that heritage styling, a lot of natural tan leather welts and round brogue. It’s really classic but fresh at the same time.