Fashionistas everywhere know the rush that comes with scoring the perfect pair of pumps to complement a notice-me night-out look. But what's even more major? When you know you're guaranteed to be the only person with those particular shoes. And because not everyone can afford fresh-from-the-runway, so-expensive-it-hurts Prada flames, there's Dominique Wells. Thanks to an eye for high-maintenance glamour and a key celeb client, this 23-year-old PG County designer has turned her flair for shoe embellishment into a small business.
Wells's brand, Jezabelles Shoes, centers on taking a simple shoe--the "base"--and adding feathers, sequins, chains, and more to create a one-of-a-kind look.
"To me, I'm remaking the shoe," she says. "I think some of them are really outrageous and crazy--but that's fashion! If they were blah and boring, nobody would pay attention."
After graduating from Riverdale's Parkdale High School in 2007, Wells tried her hand at a number of things, including taking classes at the University of Maryland University College and working with a screen-printing clothing company, where she learned the ins and outs of developing and marketing a business. But it was during a 2009 modeling gig, while she was trying to coordinate a pair of turquoise pumps with the rest of her outfit, that she had the brainstorm for her product.
She remembers thinking, "I alter everything else--maybe I can just change these shoes to make them work." She used fabric and appliqués to enhance her footwear, and the finished shoe got rave reviews from the crew she was working with. More positive reinforcement followed once she posted the photos online.
"I wasn't even anticipating that kind of response," she says. "I wasn't finding a lot of people who did what I did, so I felt like I had found a niche for something people might actually want."
She began to lend her creations to publicists and stylists, which is how she became linked to James Cornwell, who works with R&B songstress (and DC native) Mya.
"They were red on red, and she clung to them like her life depended on it!" Wells remembers of the shoes the singer chose to wear, which eventually became a part of Mya's personal collection. "She thanked me via Twitter."
Wells formally launched her company in 2010, and estimates she's had over 150 clients since its inception. Clients (who typically order one or two pairs at a time) provide the base shoe and consult with Wells on the final embellishments. A custom pair takes between three to four hours to complete, and can run anywhere from $150 to around $225--but some have been priced upward of $500.
"It's a custom shoe. You're going to be the only person with this shoe, so it's worth it," Wells says. In addition to pumps she's worked on boots and flats. Mass production of her designs is the eventual goal, but for now she's taking things one step at a time. "I don't want to force [the brand] to be anything it isn't."