Like many woman — and men — Vanessa Bolieiro has a lot of shoes. She says it’s a “modest” collection of about 40 to 50 pairs, but they somehow end up multiplying in every room of her house — stored in shoe pockets, racks, and bins. But Bolieiro has an excuse for her growing shoe stockpile: she’s a shoe designer for Boxborough-based Camtrade Footwear. “I have size 5.5 foot, which means I can fit into sample sizes, which are typically size 6 or 7,” says Bolieiro. “That’s a real asset when it comes to trying on pre-production samples which represent the look and quality of a product we’ll receive if we place a full order.”
Her small office is also crammed with shoes, organized by season, color, and style. On a recent day, Bolieiro wore Camtrade’s “Serendipity” wedge sneaker, released last year, and made with memory foam and a hidden functional pocket. It was one of the first shoes she designed for the company, when she was still transitioning from operations manager to shoe designer.
Bolieiro, 29, whose background is in customer service, didn’t expect to become a shoe designer, but found herself giving more and more input on materials, colors, and product construction during team meetings. A self-taught illustrator, she had a talent for sketching shoe patterns and started doodling ideas at work. Her managers started to notice. A few seasoned footwear professionals began teaching her about the shoemaking process, including the negotiations involved in dealing with overseas manufacturing plants in China.
Camtrade is producing 100,000 pairs of shoes for spring and 50,000 for fall, but it’s up against stiff competition, including local shoe giants like Reebok, Clarks, Rockport, New Balance, and Converse. But Bolieiro says she is inspired by New England’s shoe-making heritage and proud to help continue that legacy. The Globe spoke with her about the work.
“I live in a renovated mill building in Nashua, N.H., that was once a textile plant. In the entryway, there are fascinating old photos of a bygone era of manufacturing. It makes me think about how this area used to have hundreds of factories, including many shoe companies, but most are long gone. Now the footwear business is making a comeback in Massachusetts, including Camtrade, a 5-year-old business. We currently have two lines, Soft Comfort and Secret Celebrity, sold online and at small independent shoe stores. These shoes are meant to fill a footwear niche for trendy, comfortable shoes that use flex technology. Our focus has been to introduce newer categories to our collections, such as moccasins, mirror block, kitten heels, and fashion sneakers.
“The saying ‘live in the moment’ doesn’t really apply to the shoe industry as I am always designing two or three seasons ahead. It’s a 6-to-8-month process to go from sketching and conception to having the shoes in hand. Currently, I’m fine-tuning our fall production, finalizing shoe box, tissue, and carton labeling requirements, while working on spring 2019 design modifications.
“The biggest learning curve for me as a shoe designer was understanding shoe components and how they’re made differently, depending on outsole unit, last shape, footbed, and more. Selecting the right materials can make or break a style — translucent fabric is trending right now, so I’m working with suppliers to request swatches. It’s all about good working relationships so that the process is fluid. I often get up in the middle of the night to check e-mails, work on timelines and communicate details when the factory is available. And after all the ‘heavy lifting’ is done — such as deciding what size nailhead to use in a sole — I get to tap into my creative arsenal and give the shoes different names, like Honeyflower, a slip-on sandal with floral appliqué.
“One of my most important test subjects is my 7-year-old daughter, Alana. Featured in the fall collection are some shimmery fashion sneakers that were inspired by her love for glitter. But she’s also a critic, and recently has been saying, ‘Mom, you have too many shoes.’ My reply, of course, is that there’s no such thing as having too many shoes.”
Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.