Brittney Perry is redefining the meaning of #BlackGirlMagic.
What makes Brittney so extraordinary is ironically her ordinariness. She was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana where she focused on success in the corporate sales world. She has a full-time job where nearly none of her coworkers know about her booming weekend hustle. Her normalcy makes her success as a sneaker designer and business owner even more compelling. She dreams big just like the rest of us, and is constantly learning from trial-and-error. Unlike most, Brittney transforms those abstract ideas and dreams into real designs and tangible products.
I had the opportunity to chat with the Indy native/Chicago resident over a cup of joe (or an agave latte in her case) at Osmium Coffee Bar over in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago.
Listen in on my conversation with Brittney and learn more about Perry Co. Shoes.
This interview has been slightly edited for the sake of clarity and brevity.
For the record – it’s super cool that you have your very own shoe line. Did you anticipate producing this specifically or did you just want to do something creative?
I actually thought about doing a shoe line when I was in college. I did an internship at Eli Lilly and I was like “I want to create a shoe!” The only thing was that I couldn’t draw that well.
You just randomly wanted to make a shoe?
Well, I’ve always been into sneakers since I was a kid – I was always the tomboy. I’m kind of tall so I have bigger feet, but women didn’t have a big selection. There’s just that one wall at Finish Line.
But I didn’t think I could do it because I couldn’t draw and I didn’t have the money to put towards it, so I just kind of forgot about it. When Instagram came along, I started networking and meeting new people. I ran across a freelance designer and the thought to start came up again.
I know that tiny Women’s wall all too well! And it’s always the shoes that are pink and electric blue, never the cool classics like the guys.
Exactly. I want the good stuff! The men have a whole section in the store, plus they make my feet look smaller. [Laughs.] So, yeah I’ve been into shoes and I wanted to do something that was unisex. Both guys and girls could wear them. I think that’s the direction that the culture is moving towards with the equality movement. There’s still a barrier, but it’s becoming more open. Perry Co. will be for everyone.
I think that’s the direction that the culture is moving towards with the equality movement. There’s still a barrier, but it’s becoming more open. Perry Co. will be for everyone.
I love that! I have small feet so I was never able to buy men’s shoes, but as far as clothes I’ve always been one to stray towards mens clothing in streetwear. You’re right, the line is blurring.
Yeah, there are some girls that are into urban wear. Where’s our stuff? There isn’t really any. Some mens lines are starting to design clothing and accessories for females – like Kith Women. There’s more of a movement to include women in the urban wear talk, but I don’t just want to focus on urban wear. Since I’m in the work environment, I want footwear that’s versatile. Something that I can rock with my business casual clothing, but still dress down with my normal casual clothes.
I get that vibe, definitely! I was talking to my friend today and I referred to your shoes as sophisticated sneakers. You can wear them out somewhere and they can be casual or classy.
Yeah! You can play it off if you want to dress it up or make it casual. Versatility.
Do your coworkers know about Perry Co.?
Maybe a few but my industry is fairly conservative. I’m one of the youngest people at my company and I’m one of the only black people.
There’s a cultural difference, definitely.
Yeah! So, I like to keep things as separate as possible.
I’m used to the traditional mindset, though. That’s why I’ve always wanted to leave Indiana. A lot of people there are focused on starting a family and stuff like that. Here, it seems like there are more people into the arts. It’s more acceptable to not have a 9-5. I don’t have anything against where I’m from, but I feel like there’s more opportunity here.
Yes, it’s very different.
It’s crazy because it’s so close – only 3 hours away – but it’s super different.
I totally agree. I didn’t start the site until after I’d already moved to Chicago. I didn’t plan to move here to do anything creative, but it came about after being in the environment.
What made you want to start the blog?
I’ve always been interested in creative writing. I started off with a private blog that was more of a journal – nobody could see it but me. One day, I was talking to my friend about what I was writing and she suggested that I share it. So I did.
Shoutout to her!
Right! I honestly didn’t think people would read it. I figured if I share it, nobody will read it anyways so who cares. But people read it and eventually artists started asking me to share their crafts.
And once you’ve made one connection, stuff just keeps going! It’s good that your friend pushed you because sometimes that’s all you need. You could be thinking you’re not ready, but when you put yourself out there you realize maybe people do want it.
You could be thinking you’re not ready, but when you put yourself out there you realize maybe people do want it.
Speaking of connections – you recently did the fashion show with Sheila [Rashid]! That was so cool!
How’d that come about?
She reached out to me.
Woah! How’d she reach out?
It was on Instagram. I wasn’t going to do Instagram at first because I didn’t feel ready with all of my stuff. My friend suggested that I just start sharing content to gain followers before I actually released anything. So, I was posting pictures of stuff. I liked one of her pictures, and then she went on my page and commented on one of my pictures like, “I need these!”
Dang that’s super tight.
Yeah, crazy. Then she DM’d me a bit later letting me know that she was doing a fashion show.
That’s helped me a ton because now I have other opportunities from doing that one fashion show. Some stylists want me to do shoes for photo shoots. For example, there’s an artist named Odd Couple who was having a photo shoot for The Fader and his stylist needed some shoes for the shoot.
Little opportunities are presenting, but I still have a lot of work to do. I’ve gotta get my name out there so everyone knows that I’m here to collaborate and work hard. I want to collaborate more with local Chicago brands and designers. I’m staying in my lane with shoes, but I’d like to work with people like Sheila who have clothes and are looking to do complete look books. If someone wanted to incorporate their designs into a shoe, I’d be down to do something like that.
Collaboration is everything! You linked up with a freelance designer to create the shoes. What was the process like to design? Was the existing shoe the first idea or did you think of something totally different?
I had maybe 6 or 7 other ideas and different styles. I probably will use some of them later but this is the first one so I wanted to go the simple route. My first shoe is my first impression so I kind of looked at some other people that were doing things similar to me.
Most of the footwear lines are in Europe or New York. Common Projects is based in New York. Then you have Filling Pieces in Amsterdam and Collegium, which is based in California but manufactured in Europe. I looked at the market to see how they were marketing themselves and where I could fit in differently. At the end of the day, there are so many shoes out there but what’s going to make someone buy my shoes over a Nike or Adidas? It’s hard, but there’s a market for anything it’s just about how you brand yourself.
It’s hard, but there’s a market for anything it’s just about how you brand yourself.
That’s your marketing savvy coming through.
If Kanye’s wearing it, it doesn’t matter if it’s ugly. He’s wearing them so I have to have them. You have to be careful with who you want to wear your stuff and how you want it to be perceived.
So within this space of footwear creatives, are there a lot of women or black women?
It’s all men. There’s a lot of women designers getting into urban wear but they work for big brands like Adidas and Reebok. They don’t start their own. I think I’ve run across two girls that do stuff with shoes. One was from here – she did bespoke custom orders. I ran across another girl that’s in Africa. She does shoes, but I don’t know if it’s specifically sneakers. She’s just getting started.
I’m surprised but I’m not surprised. I recently read that Vashtie was the first female to have her own Jordan and I was surprised because it seems like there should’ve been other female creators around before that.
Yeah! And now you’re seeing more females involved with the behind-the-scenes of sneakers. Rihanna has Fenty and there are a few others that have partnered with Adidas. There’s not really anybody that makes their own.
And not with this positioning either.
It’s always kinda bubble-gummy, fit in with the girls, pinks and purples.
Right. I’m trying to gear it towards gender neutral colors like white, black, olive green. That’s what I’m working on. I’m still even working on the design of the shoe because it’s not completely how I want it.
This isn’t the final?
No, these are samples. But I’m trying to look for local manufacturers. If I could find somebody in Chicago it’d make the process easier.
It’s a lot of hard work but at least the ball is running.
For a lot of creators their first instinct is to go with the t-shirts or hoodies. I don’t think anybody really jumps to footwear.
No they don’t. Not really.
Did you ever consider taking a simpler route and creating clothing rather than shoes?
I like fashion but I’m not really a fashion-type. I’m pretty simple. I can pick out dope things for you to wear, but I’m not really into creating it. Plus, there’s so many clothing lines out. I feel like if you’re going to do the clothing line route, hopefully you’re doing stuff like Fat Tiger where it’s not just words or a picture on a shirt, I want actual designs. I just stay in my lane and do the shoes. I was thinking about doing accessories and stuff too, like socks or hats.
I respect that. Why try to fit in when you can do something even cooler that stands out?
Right. I’m staying in my lane and focusing on shoes.
How hard was it to design a shoe silhouette that doesn’t look like everything else out?
That’s one thing that motivated me – there’s a lot of the same type of uppers. The upper of the shoe for boutique sneakers is pretty much plain. So, I wanted to change the uppers and do some zig-zaggy lines. I wanted to add a little of pizazz on the back.
When did you start actually working with the designer? How much time did it take to get from the idea to the final product?
I actually started in 2015. I’ve been working on this for awhile. I even wondered how I was going to pull this off but it’s happening. Your biggest obstacle is usually yourself. If you think you can’t do something, you won’t.
I will say, my first sample was terrible!
Your biggest obstacle is usually yourself. If you think you can’t do something, you won’t.
It just wasn’t what I wanted… I knew it wasn’t “it.” So we went back and did another one. We did at least three.
With your designer you just tell them in general what you like and they draw mockups?
Yeah. So, I’ll try to draw it the best I can to illustrate the style that I want. It’ll show how I want the tongue and the upper and he’ll send me a demo sketch. I’ll suggest changes and say “let’s try this.” So it’s kind of a back and forth collaboration. We’ll do a test pack which is basically a digital 3D photo of how it would look in color. Then, once you do that you get all the measurements of how everything will be and we’ll send those measurements to the manufacturer who will do the samples. Usually the first and second ones are trash and then by the third one it comes together. [Laughs.]
The delay is really the cost – it’s expensive. I may have a really good time period at my full-time job and that money will go towards pairs of samples to see what they’ll look like. And that’s when Sheila reached out and said she needed them for the show so it worked out perfectly! It had to be fate because timing has been perfect.
End of interview.
Key Takeaways for Your Personal Endeavors:
- Do the things that you’re most afraid of. You’re your biggest obstacle.
- Learn the things you don’t know and collaborate with those who know more.
- Timing is everything – but it doesn’t hurt to start now.
All photos were taken by Bria at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.