Colombia is known for its excellent coffee and "Modern Family's" Sofia Vergara, but if Paola Cavalli gets her way, her name might soon join that esteemed list. Cavalli (pictured left) is a shoe designer who has just broken into the U.S. market by way of Puerto Rico. (There's no relation to Roberto Cavalli, the Italian fashion designer.)
Her style is reminiscent of that of 1940s actress Carmen Miranda, a virtual fruit salad of bright colors and patterns. And her background is colorful too.
It Began in Kindergarten
Most 5-year-olds enter school with scuffed sneakers or Mary Janes. Cavalli wore purple shoes, starting a fascination that would grow over time. She studied fashion design in college and at the last moment -- a month before graduation -- decided to add journalism and social communication to her expertise. But she missed fashion.
In a fortuitous twist in 2003, she bought some leather, started sketching, found a shoemaker, and a business began. On walks with her young son, she'd show her designs to other women and found her first customers.
Then she heard that a famous Spanish designer, Aghata Ruiz de la Prada was coming to town. Cavalli designed and presented a pair of shoes to her, which were well-received.
Blahnik to Bonaparte
While she would like to achieve world recognition like designer Manolo Blahnik, she hopes fame comes because of her individuality. Cavalli's work is a bit more accessible. Consumers can own two or three pairs of her shoes for the cost of one pair of Manolos.
Speaking of Manolo, Cavalli doesn't consider more well-known shoemakers as role models. Not Manolo, Steve Madden, Stuart Weitzman or Salvatore Ferragamo. She does, however, respect the words of Napoleon Bonaparte when it comes to being patient. The emperor is reputed to have said, "Dress me slowly, for I am in a great rush."
Cavalli, who designs for little girls also, has brought a new idea to her Puerto Rico store. Similar in concept to "Build-A-Bear," girls can design their own shoes and then wear them home. Cavalli also will honor special orders from grownups when, for example, a woman loves a shoe's design but would prefer it in a different color.
Cavalli at Home
The hardest part of her job doesn't even take place at the office.
She says the most difficult part of her job is when she has an inspiration that ends up keeping her awake all night.
And her shoe closet? Don't even ask.
"I have not taken the time to count them but must confess that all the samples of every collection are done in my size."
She is constantly "on," drawing inspiration from everywhere and always open to ideas.
"Every day someone around me contributes something important to my life," she says. "I learn from my artisans, employees, colleagues, friends, and even my children. I am thankful to life that I am blessed with always receiving good advice."