The Interview: Alana Oates of Llani

The Interview: Alana Oates of Llani

With bated breath my eyes remain fixated on the salesman kneeling at my naked feet. Delicately, he lifts the lid as the rich scent of leather permeates the air around us. In one swift motion the shoe is plucked from its box and slid onto my waiting foot. Like a shot of caffeine injected directly to the bloodstream, my heart rate quickens and my mind becomes transparently clear. It's in this instant that I realize, shoes are the answer to world peace. 

Am I being dramatic? Maybe a little, but I know I'm not alone when speaking about the power of shoes. With all of their different shapes, heights, and materials, shoes are beautiful sculptures created to cover up our hideous extremities known as feet.

Shoes are transformative. A pair of block heeled mules dress up a white tee and blue jeans in a feminine modern style while black leather motorcycle boots, worn with the same outfit, communicate an entirely different persona.  

As a child, I will never forget the advice my aunt once gave me. "You can always tell the kind of person someone is based on the shoes they are wearing," she told me while teetering atop a pair of Dior open-toed heels. While studying abroad in France, one day, a classmate of mine was feeling particularly kind and told me she loved my shoes. Mentioning the compliment to one of my teachers, I was informed that a Parisian complementing your shoe choice is the equivalent of being accepted into the Illuminati. It was a proud moment. 

So, no, shoes may not actually be the answer to world peace, but they definitely can be the key to personal tranquility, even if only for a short time. Undoubtedly, nobody knows this better than the founder and owner of Llani, Alana Oates. Since Llani provides the comfort of home in the form of handmade Indian shoes to bold-spirited, creative and independent women. 

Read on for an interview with Alana where we discuss all things beauty, lessons learned, and of course, shoes. 

Emily Pisano (EP): You probably hear this a lot, but when it comes to career envy you have one of the best jobs! Is being a shoe designer as delicious as it sounds? 

Alana Oates (AO): I really really love what I do, so I would say yes! It's like anything else though, now that I have my own company I wear many hats! Some days I get to be creative and design or simply go out looking for inspiration or spend the day in archives doing research. On a not so fun day, I'm picking up my shipments that come from India and unpacking boxes. I can honestly say, good and bad, I wouldn't rather be doing anything else.

EP: Prior to launching Llani you designed for Anthropologie and Old Navy. How have these two previous jobs prepared you for launching and running your own company?

AO: My previous jobs were everything in getting me ready for this step of launching Llani. Anthropologie taught me how to hone my creative visions to make them marketable. It also taught me it was ok to push the envelope and play outside of my comfort zones. I traveled a ton in that role too and for parts of some trips I was alone, which made me unafraid to be in a weird part of the world (luckily, I was armed with a corporate card!). 

Old Navy was much more conservative, but that was like retail boot camp. It forced me to be more organized and how to formally present in front of executives. Working for Old Navy also meant designing great fashion at an affordable price and I always felt good about accessible fashion. 

EP: Both are definitely great companies to work for and what fabulous learning experiences! Where did the name of your company, Llani, come from?

AO: Llani is a play on my childhood nickname 'Lani,' but I added the double 'L' because it looked better when written. 

EP: From previously speaking with you, I know Llani shoes are handmade in India. What about India inspired your fabric and color choices?

AO: India inspires everything I design for Llani. My partners in India are so creative and we really collaborate on the embellishments and motifs. I love the intrinsic beauty of everything created in India. The architecture, the markets, the Saris, even the trash trucks are decorated! The trend in India is becoming more clean and modern so I'm constantly referencing the authentic heritage goods they are known for. 

EP: What is your favorite and not so favorite part about owning your own business?

AO: Lots of favorites: being able to create my own timeline, calendars, and line plans, answering to myself, and partnering with other designers, creatives and influencers. Having the freedom to work from my phone is also a major plus. 

My not so favorite parts would be not having a paycheck, being responsible for soothing the rare (but real) 'unsatisfied customer' and running inventory. 

EP: I can strongly relate. Collaborating with other creatives is also one of my favorite parts of owning a business. What made you gravitate towards shoes as a designer as opposed to clothing and other accessories? 

AO: I studied fashion in school and to be honest, by senior year I grew to dread sewing. I actually despised fabrics, seams, thread weights, stitch gauges...it all became tedious to me. When I was introduced to shoes and was working with leathers, lasts, heels, and hardware - I fell in love! 

EP: Describe your personal style in three words.

AO: Eclectic with a feminine undertone. I'm short, so I really love playing with proportions like layering a long white sleeveless tunic over a pair of vintage Levi's. I wear our Llani babouche EVERYWHERE because they are the perfect flat for day, but the foil adds a little shine, upping the ante to every look. I also like to add a wacky huge earring to an outfit, and I have been carrying my Tesoro mini bucket since I got it two months ago. It's the perfect size! 

EP: Love Llani's babouche in spice! It's on my wish list. And so happy to hear you are loving your Tesoro mini bucket! What is the most meaningful thing in your closet and why? It can be a piece of jewelry, article of clothing, shoes...

AO: I try to keep a pair of every shoe I design, but it's getting to be really hard (like an entire room in our house hard!). When in doubt, I love walking into a meeting knowing that I'm wearing my portfolio on my feet. I'm also a huge vintage junkie so I love my Bakelite minaudière, silk pajama sets from the 40s and lots of fur!

EP: You must feel so proud when you walk into that room in your house. It's like a wearable trophy case. Where are your favorite places to shop at the moment? 

AO: I'm so proud of Philly's shopping scene, I love Meadowsweet Mercantile, Vagabond, The Geisha House, and Vestige! I have been spending more time and energy decorating our home, and sundayshop.co is my favorite for those things you never knew you needed. For vintage lighting and art I'm always scouring charish.com.

EP: Recently, I have become extremely interested in beauty products. Do you have any products you simply can't live without?

AO: YES! I'm a massive beauty fan and I have a very regimented nighttime routine. 

Here it is...

My mother invented the world's best wash cloth, the Nano Tech Facial Cloth! It's incredible as it removes all of your makeup (with only warm water) and gently exfoliates. I use Cetaphil and the NT cloth religiously. After cleansing, I use P50 1970 which is the Holy Grail of all products. I buy it at Rittenhouse Rescue Spa. If my skin is feeling good and healthy, I'll end with The Ordinary's HA Serum and a rose mist (I'm always trying different brands) on top. If I need a little extra moisture, I add Drunk Elephant Marula Oil before the HA serum. If my skin needs an extra boost, I'll do either a Glycolic or Lactic Acid treatment or mask. Drunk Elephant's Baby Facial is great too. 

EP: What is your favorite shoe moment in history? By this I mean a favorite scene from a movie, a piece of art, an insane design from a runway show...

AO: I love the sculptural heels that Roger Vivier introduced in the late 60s, like the virgule heel (virgule means comma in French), which is still in his line to this day. He was a sculptor and applied his training to his shoe designs. This heel interest has come full circle and is all over the runways right now. 

EP: What are three things that can always be found in your handbag?

AO: My favorite lipstick (Matte Praline from E.L.F., I buy it in bulk!), mini Altoids, and a stack of Llani business cards. 

EP: Name your worst fashion faux pas of all time. 

AO: It was 2008 and I had just gotten back from Puerto Rico. I wanted to show off my tan so naturally, I rocked a low-slung A&F denim skirt with a pair of Uggs, à la Paris Hilton. (Insert face palm emoji). 

Flash Round

EP: Vodka or tequila?

AO: This summer...tequila.

EP: Iced or hot coffee?

AO: Hot

EP: Flats or heels?

AO: Flats for day, heels at night.

EP: Sweet or salty?

AO: Salty

EP: Pants or a dress?

AO: Pants

EP: Tote or a clutch 

AO: Clutch

All photos used in this interview were taken by Stephanie DeFeo


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