Shoes designed by Sarah Flint are worn by celebrities such as Heidi Klum and Jessica Alba. They share shelf space at exclusive boutiques with Jimmy Choo and Valentino. They’re produced in the same Italian factory that makes shoes for Manolo Blahnik and Oscar de la Renta.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Lincoln native making a name for herself in the world of luxury retail brands? Flint is just 25 years old.
Industry analysts say there are thousands of designers trying to break into the fashion business, but Flint has put herself in an enviable position.
The young designer attracted a team of seasoned fashion industry veterans led by Tracy Smith, the former head of global sales at Cole Haan, to help launch her namesake shoe brand last fall. She wooed elite pattern-maker Richard Siccardi to become her production manager. Heavy hitters, including Land’s End chief executive Edgar Huber and Desiree Gruber, an executive producer of “Project Runway,” sit on her board.
“She really has her business hat on,” said Ani Collum, a partner and consultant at Retail Concepts. “It’s refreshing to see a newcomer who is really young but can walk the walk and talk the talk. If she can hang, it could actually be great.”
Flint says her shoes are influenced by Boston’s understated and refined style. Her handcrafted designs are dictated by how materials fit the foot, creating classic silhouettes inspired by the 1940s. She’s also a fan of Japanese origami, as evident in her “Gustavia” flat and several other models, with folds on the toe that bend. Her shoes sell from $495 to $1,195.
“I always knew that I wanted to do this,” Flint said. “I’ve had a love affair with shoes. They get me more excited than anything else. I think a lot of women can relate to that feeling of confidence they get when they have this perfect pair of shoes.”
Flint, who now lives in New York, is one of four daughters of venture capitalist Jon Flint and Alice Flint, a former teacher who serves on the boards of two area schools. She described the household as “very entrepreneurial” and said conversations about young business owners her father worked with inspired her dream of running a company.
The designer got her first taste of the fashion business at age 15. She walked into a luxury store near her home, French Lessons Boutique in Concord, and asked for a job. She was turned down at first because she was too young, but she returned week after week for a few months and finally got hired. Later, she became an assistant buyer.
Flint graduated from Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in 2007 and went on to study fashion design at Parsons The New School for Design and accessories at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
She studied pattern-making and prototypes at the famed Ars Sutoria school in Milan, where she met Siccardi, and interned with the Proenza Schouler and Diane von Furstenberg brands.
Soon after her studies, Flint decided the time was right to start a shoe company and recruited her A-team of executives and advisers.
“I’ve worked with a lot of designers, and I had an instant feeling about Sarah,” Smith said. “She’s very focused, grounded, and determined. I knew she was going to be successful. I felt it instinctively, right away.”
Siccardi convinced a highly regarded factory in Italy to add Sarah Flint shoes to its production line. The company ordered 1,000 pairs for its first line of shoes last fall. It came back with an order of 2,000 for her spring designs, and her upcoming fall line will grow to 3,000 pairs.
Those orders represent a good start, but Flint’s company remains a small business in a ruthlessly competitive industry. Collum said Flint will need a lot of buzz to break into large-scale retail stores, like Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York, that prefer brands with huge followings of loyal customers.
So far, Flint’s company is sticking to small boutiques that match her style. She’s trying to build a fan base by traversing the country for trunk shows, where she can meet customers in person. Later, Flint hopes to land the big retailers.
Now, Sarah Flint shoes are available in 13 boutiques in the United States, including Tess & Carlos in Boston and Edon Manor in New York. They’re also sold on the brand’s website, sarahflint.com.
Nevena Borissova, who owns Curve boutiques in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco, said Flint’s age makes her stand out in the luxury shoe business.
“That’s a lot of doors for a young designer to be in,” said Borissova, who carries Flint’s line. “And what is this, her third season? That’s nothing. In this industry, you have to be in business for three years before people even register that you exist.”
At a recent show at the Tess & Carlos boutique in Harvard Square, Flint hustled to grab sizes, knelt before customers to remove shoes from boxes, explained fits, and rang up orders. Then she posed for pictures.
“She’s brilliant,” said Gilda Tunney, the owner of the Concord store where Flint got her start as a teenager. “I hope she becomes the next Prada. She’s great and talented and young to be starting something like this. But, you know, some people know what they want, and she always knew.”