Shilpa Iyengar & Harmony Pilobello, Founders of Alterre Shoes

09/27/19  |  Rebecca Perez  |  238 views


Shilpa Lyengar and Harmony Pilobello met at Parsons School of Design in New York, and although their backgrounds are in fashion design, they are slightly different. Harmony studied menswear and sustainability in fashion, and later worked at Coach doing trend research, as well as studying their vast collection of leather and becoming an expert in all things cowhide. Shilpa studied women’s evening wear, shoes design, and printmaking (at a short stint at Central St. Martins). As wonder twins do, we combined our fashion expertise to make a shoe line that we wanted to appeal to all types of women, and that would be wearable for everyone. Basically, we love what we do and consider ourselves shoe-per heroes... our mission is to stop women from hobbling around the street in uncomfortable, unpractical shoes, so that they don't have to sacrifice comfort for style. 

Was there a specific life event or reason you chose to become an entrepreneur/investor?

Shilpa: I was raised by entrepreneurs and was always encouraged to have my own business. I think the support and understanding at home and seeing my parents’ successes allowed me to take the risk of opening a business.

Harmony: I was raised by a single mom who worked hard to move to America and achieve her dreams. It made me realize that women can do anything and inspired me in following my own dreams.

What’s one piece of advice, quote, etc. you wish you could tell all entrepreneurs?

Stay flexible because you’ll never be able to anticipate everything.

What’s mission critical for all investments/business decisions you make? (eg. investment checklist you may have)

For any decisions we make from design to long term business direction, we always ask ourselves if it stays within our brand ethos and supports the community we have built. For example, will a new heel design still be able to be made with recycled plastic and how can we change it so it can be.

What’s your favorite question to ask yourself and why?

What are the three problems am I facing today and how will I work to address them? They could be personal or for the business, but because we are a small team our personal and professional lives are pretty intertwined. The problems could also be things we can’t solve right away and are longer term issues that we can work to chip away at. But we think it helps us structure our day to be the most productive and to know that we are always looking at the bigger picture.

What’s the single most important reason for your success?

At the heart of it we have both been very lucky to find such a great partner in each other. We bolster each other and it is nice to be able to completely trust someone who wants to achieve the same dream as you. We have also been able to build such a loyal community around the shoes by making the brand something we believe in wholeheartedly. Our first customers are some of our biggest champions today because they have been able to connect to us as women.

What does a typical day look like for you / how do you structure it? For example, your exact routine or rough percentages on how you typically spend your time. Early to rise or night owl?

Every day is different, but we have a seasonal routine. The order is pretty much: trend research, about two weeks of design, prototyping at the factory, corrections, photoshoot, getting everything ready to present the collection for the next season to press, making sales kits for wholesale, launching the current season on our website, then trunk shows with our current season. Seasons overlap a little, so we actually are juggling 2-3 seasons at a time in various stages of development.

On a typical day however, we wake up, look at our phone to catch up on some news, and see what emails have come in to prioritize what order we have to do any particular task. But really what we specifically do is based on what part of that seasonal cycle we are in. Generally, you could say it’s mostly collaborative computer work and brainstorming solutions for the future.

Shilpa: Night owl for sure.

Harmony: Productive in the morning but creative at night.

Do you have a favorite blog or book you recommend to friends or colleagues?

Harmony: the podcast “How I Built This” by Guy Raz

Shilpa: the podcast “The Daily” by the New York Times

Since being an entrepreneur/investor, what has been your biggest mistake and lesson learned?

There was one time in our earlier seasons where our factory sent our production order via DHL instead of our alternate freight forwarder and it cost us tens of thousands of dollars more than it should have. It was a big blow for us because we are a small company, but we learned that there is no such thing as over communication.

What companies and/or technologies are you paying attention to? Why do they stand out?

Harmony has been following Tik Tok’s rise and use as a kind of study into Gen Z and how the next generation will affect shopping patterns so we can make decisions accordingly. We also follow department store and general fashion retail closures and successes such as Barney’s recent bankruptcy and the ways Nordstrom is changing to fit a new retail market. It’s a transitional time in retail as things shift more predominantly online and it’s important to know where to focus our resources.

For more immediate planning, we follow fashion tech companies such as Rothies or Allbirds to see the future of ethical and sustainable producing and how successful it has been in the market. We look at fashion incubators run by councils like CFDA and see which brands have been getting funding to see how we stack up to them. And finally, we are always tracking the trend of customizability in and outside of fashion since that is the main concept of our shoes and we want to see if it is growing.

How do you think about networking? Is there specific way you prefer to network? (events, coffee, etc.)

We like to network in a more organic way and try to find opportunities for that. So, we wouldn’t go to a “networking event” per se but are members of a social club (Norwood Club) that we can make longer term connections with like-minded people at through events they throw. Once we meet people that we are interested in working with or getting to know more about we usually follow up with a more specific meeting over coffee etc. But I guess we always feel that making friends first is a better way to widen your general network since people help and recommend people they like, even if they themselves may not be directly able to work together.


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