Carrie Forbes — she of the Nineties crocheted bags of the same name — has made her return to the market, this time with shoes.
The Orange County, Calif.-based designer has rejigged her brand, focusing it on raffia sandals and leather babouche slippers, all handmade in Morocco.
In the Nineties, her crocheted bags were stocked at leading department stores including Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. She closed the business in 1998 to move to Italy for consulting work and in 2013 returned to the U.S. to begin work on a new shoe offering.
The streamlined footwear exhibits its handicraft with a personal touch — no two shoes are exactly the same, and their slight variances provide something of a visual connection to their makers.
For Forbes, product is prioritized over hype, branding and marketing efforts. Her lack of attention to buzz machines like Instagram have afforded her a unique versatility in the market since her label’s wares are up for social interpretation.
They have struck a chord across a spectrum of niche consumers: Vacation shoppers at Four Seasons Resort shops, luxury hounds at Moda Operandi, as well as style-conscious hipsters who have styled her shoes in campaigns for labels including Staud and Reformation.
“I’ve always been product driven — it’s good and bad. I care about product more than anything else, but need some help with branding. We’ve done a lot with very little [social media], we do Instagram and all that but don’t do enough — it’s my limitation and my strength,” said Forbes of the catch-22 of today’s rapid media machine.
The shoes retail from $86 to $350 due to U.S./Morocco trade agreements. “The production prices are very low but also importing from Morocco to the U.S. is zero duty. If I was importing from China the duty is 30 percent,” Forbes said.
The designer travels to the African nation frequently but says the working environment there for Western designers requires patience and French fluency. “Not many people [produce there] because it’s not easy. Without speaking French there is no way to get into the right sources. It’s a very different country to work in — I’ve put in my time and been patient, and it’s starting to work out. It’s been a journey.”
Forbes’ sales in the first five months of 2016 eclipsed her full 2015 fiscal year’s sales by 300 percent.
She said she will expand the brand beyond shoes in the coming seasons. She’s presently looking to introduce a clutch that utilizes traditional Moroccan la sabra stitching. Caftans are also of interest for the future.