I first met Alana, creator and founder of Llani, at a pop up at Vagabond (one of my favorite Philadelphia boutiques). After, she joined us at the first Fishtown Flea I really got the chance to know her work and hear more about her fascinating business. Since then we’ve had the chance to borrow her beautiful shoes for Philadelphia Fashion Week and a few of our photoshoots - they’re always the perfect fit! Alana has amazing personal style - she always has the best mix of colors, textures, and vintage mixed with new in her whimsical wardrobe. I was so excited to learn more about her journey through entrepreneurship and how she curates her unique style, which you can read more about below.
You made a big jump from the corporate world of Anthropologie to starting your own business as a solopreneur. That’s a huge change - what prompted you to take the leap? There was a half step between Anthropologie and my solo leap. I actually moved to San Francisco for 2 years to relaunch the women’s shoe line for Old Navy. This was a really bold move for me. At the time my fiance (now husband) and I had just bought a house we were planning to renovate. I loved my job at Anthro and I really wasn’t planning on making such a drastic move, but it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Plus, living in California is something everyone should do at least once in their life! It was this experience that challenged me in so many ways, and prepared me for my next steps as a solopreneur. I figured out that I work best under pressure and I’m my most innovative when I’m in a tough spot. If it weren’t for this, I may have stayed at my Anthropologie job forever!
What was one of your biggest challenges at first? My biggest challenge was finding the capital to place my initial order of 400 pairs of shoes to launch the brand. Exploring funding options eventually forced me to launch a Kickstarter campaign. I was super uncomfortable with this idea at first. It was so scary to be putting my initial ideas out there, and hoping people would want to fund! And, as you know, if you don't meet or exceed your goal, you're out of luck. It was a nerve wracking 30 days, which wrapped the same week my husband and I got married. Lucky, we met our $10,000 goal through the help of mostly friends and family. It was a humbling experience to see just how many people were willing to support! Each doner is also given a reward in trade for their donation, so these supporters were also the very first Llani customers.
What was your first big win? When I first launched I was planning to wholesale the collection (I have since switched gears to selling mostly direct to consumer). The quest to find stockist lead to me have a meeting with Leigh Plessner of Catbird. Leigh loved the collection, but wasn’t sure about stocking shoes in their shop. After our meeting, I ended up sending her a pair of our Embellished Room Slides. Catbird photographed our slide for their website and Instagram, styled along with their beautiful anklets. They also gave Llani and really nice shout out! We literally sold out of our inventory overnight! We had orders going all over the world! After we sold out, we ran a waitlist for the restock and got up to 400 names on our mailing list. This was huge for us! Thank you Catbird ladies.
What’s your typical day like? Do you have any morning rituals, exercise, ways to stay focused while running your business? On the days that I work out of my home office, my husband and I usually get up at the same time. We both spend some time with our dog Sophie cuddling on her favorite rug, or if the weather is nice, we go for a walk. I try to make breakfast or a smoothie for us to share before he goes off to work. I always start my work day with emails first, and then I sift through the orders that need to be shipped that day. I love the ritual of packing our orders, the way we wrap each individual purchase and include a handwritten message. I take a break mid-day to make a cup of tea and drink it in my sunroom. That is when I take sometime to catch up on social, or set up a mini photoshoot. This room has the best light.
This past holiday season, you designed a collection for Anthropologie (that basically completely sold out!) - how did it feel seeing things come full circle? What was that experience like? That collaboration was so serendipitous! I was already planned to go on a two week development trip to India in July. Right before I left, I showed the team some ideas I wanted to put into work on the trip. I had been collection these beautiful vintage samples i was so inspired by, but they were textile based, and they didn’t feel quite right for Llani yet, as most of my collection had been suede and leather based. I designed into these vintage ideas right at the factories. We took trips to bazars to gather trims and embroidery ideas. We hunted for vintage embroidered Sari trims and applied these beautiful traditional techniques to the shoes. We had just come from Jaipur too, known as the pink city- so the color pallet was really inspired by that. As was the peacock and lotus motifs that cover the collection. Anthropologie was incredibly supportive through this process. Although it was originally planned to be only 5 styles, they increased the assortment to 10!
Women on Wings is an incredible organization that helps create jobs for women in rural India. You recently created a candle that benefits the organization - tell us about the creation of this project and what it means to you. I really wanted to create a product for the gifting season that gives back. A candle had been on my mind for a long time, so we put in it to work during my trip to India in October. During this time I was researching NGO’s in India that had a strong emphasis on helping women. I found Women on Wings through a Google search, and was so delighted when I saw thier Delhi offices were right near the hotel I was staying at. Thier Sr. Fundraising Consultant was able to meet with me the very next day. She was able to educate me on how Women on Wings helps to provides a sustainable means of employment for the neglected of the populace of women in rural India. I knew they were had the perfect organization to partner with.
The candle itself was inspired by female empowerment. The scent is rosewood and the vessel is marble which is strong and able to be reused in many ways long after the candle burns out.
Your instagram is gorgeous - you do such a lovely job of showing your brand, vision, and travels. Do you do your own photography? And what advice do you have for small brands starting to build an instagram following? Thank you! Honestly most of what you see is shot with my phone. This for me makes it so much easier and more accessible than trying to stage a full studio shoot every time I need to show a new product. My advice would be to choose a sustainable method to showcase your brand or product. We have to be creating new content all the time, so if it’s a big production each time, it becomes stressful and takes the fun out of it. I love getting my shoes to people too who also create beautiful photos and content. It’s so fun to see how our customers style Llani.
Where are your favorite places to shop in Philadelphia? For anything - fashion, home, accessories. I love shopping local in Philly! For Vintage- I always hit Meadowsweet first, then Vagabond. For gifts and apothecary- Vestige is my go to. For my home, Cuttalossa has so many great textiles I’m lusting after. If I’m looking for something special for an event The Geisha House has amazing dresses and fun earrings. Rescue Spa is my favorite place to relax and unwind and I swear by anything Danuta recommends.
We all secretly have those pieces in our wardrobe we cannot live without - what is your go-to piece in your closet that you won’t ever part with? Recently I’ve been collecting vintage PJ’s and bed jackets. I have one in particular that my grandmother gave me a few years ago for Christmas. It’s a black satin chinoiserie inspired jacket with a mandarin color that reserves to right red.
Llani shoes are beautifully detailed and embellished - what are your favorite ways to style them? Mostly I wear them with jeans and a block printed linen top for everyday. For night, I have been wearing our Glassy Deco Babouche with a pair of velvet wide leg trousers, a cashmere sweater, and a big vintage earring.
As a special gift from Alana to our readers - enjoy 20% your next purchase at Llani Shoes using code: LLANIXPF20.