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Flavors of Fashion: (shoo) comes to town!

June 11, 2010

Hi everyone! This week I am bringing you a profile of a new and splendid store called (shoo) that opened on State Street. Enjoy! —Carolyn

I had the pleasure of taking the grand tour of (shoo) last Friday alongside Pat Blake, one of the owners. Pat and sister Kate currently oversee two stores, the flagship store located in Milwaukee, and their newly opened location at 109 State Street. They opened their doors to the Madison community only two months ago, and ever since have been bringing us exceptional and rare footwear; accented with handmade and local merchandise, which includes accessories, bags, clothing and art. They even have an art gallery on the lower level!

My first impression of the store was a sense of awe—the store layout is fantastic and Kate and Pat have impeccable attention to detail, not only in the fabulous displays of shoes, but in the clustering of jewelery and bags, creative fixtures and a warm employee welcome.

Here’s what Pat had to say about (shoo):

Carolyn Akin: First, I wanted to ask about (shoo)’s history—can you explain?
Pat Blake: In November 2005, my sister Kate started the first (shoo) store in Milkwaukee’s 3rd Ward. We all helped, I was part of the process. A lot of family members came in and helped build things and paint; we had the store up and running in two days. It was pretty amazing. The first store is inside an art gallery in the 3rd Ward, so you have to physically walk through an art gallery space in order to get to our (shoo) store. By working there for the past 4 years, I have been so close to art. It helped us come up with the idea to include art in our second store in Madison, which opened April 3rd of this year.

CA: Was it always Kate’s dream to open her own store?
PB: Certainly, she dreamed of that in college. She started out in retail buying, and was down in North Carolina, where she  was a buyer for the whole Southern region. That grew into a sales position with companies like Steve Madden, Diesel and others. So, I was always a benefactor of awesome shoes! Then she was living right across the street from the space in Milwaukee. One day it became available for rent and she jumped on it.

CA: So how did you start out in the shoe business?
PB: I started out just working on (shoo)’s website. Aside from helping Kate get (shoo) off the ground and promote it, I was working on the website. Taking photographs and using Photoshop, just doing all the back office work on the website. I’m not a retail buyer at all, I’m the financial side of the business. Actually, I worked in the stock market in Chicago in options trading, I was a floor trader. So I went into a completely different line of work. I left that in 2004 and Kate opened (shoo) in 2005, so I worked on the website till mid 2006. I was completely gung-ho on that and she made me a partner in the business with her in 2007.

CA: What does (shoo) strive for as a store—what’s unique about it?
PB: (shoo) strives to carry the most unusual and unique footwear available in the city. Of course, Milwaukee and Madison are our only two locations. Wherever we go, wherever our next place will be, we’ll always try to be that unique footwear source.

CA: It’s kind of an eclectic feel.
PB: Yes, definitely. We also strive with our fixtures to create a homey feeling. Something that’s just different, something you haven’t seen before. We scour the earth to find that stuff in antique shops, vintage resale shops, Salvation Army, wherever. They’re very unique pieces that span from the 30’s,
40’s, up to the 80’s. We have some really great fixtures that complement the footwear. It all just ties into us being that unusual, unique and funky footwear source in the city.

CA: What can one find in (shoo), you obviously carry more than shoes. Any specific brands?
PB: Unique brands to our store that nobody else has in the state are Fiorentini and Baker, a boot line from Italy, and John Fluevog, a line out of British Columbia, Canada. They are made in Portugal and are really unusual and fun footwear for men and women. Another brand is Trippen—we are the only one that carries them in the state. They do bags and shoes for men and women. Cydwoq is a brand that is exclusive, but a couple other stores in the state carry them, but I think we have the best selection. It’s one of our best brands and it carries shoes, bags, and belts for both men and women.

Our accessories really excite us because we focus on carrying locally made accessories, either Madison or Milwaukee, or somewhere in the region. We have unbelievable recycled leather bags made in Milwaukee by a woman named Heather Hambrecht. Her line is called (h(om)e) and she’s been in our stores since 2006. Pretty much right after we opened, she came shopping in our store and she was wearing one of her bags on her shoulder, and my sister was like, “I gotta have it! Where did you get that bag?” Turned out she makes them, and that’s how the relationship started. We were the first store to ever sell her products and since then she has grown her brand to several states all from our Milwaukee (shoo) store, and now she’s here too.
Belts also, from a line made in Indianapolis, handmade steel buckles for belts called Fosterwells. They’re very cool. Also, some interesting tops from the Fashion Ninja by Areka Ikeler—kind of a sewing guru of Milwaukee. There is also a line out of St. Louis that we carry that are multi-functional hand-knit pieces done by a group of stay-at-home mom’s that have a knitting circle. So a lot of our stuff is just locally made with a lot of character.

CA: What would you describe as (shoo)’s atmosphere?
PB: The atmosphere is a homey, comfortable and warm. You walk in, and it’s like an art gallery of shoes, but it’s not pretentious in any way, shape or form. You want to be here when you walk in. The music is cool. The people are really friendly. My employees are awesome. We definitely focus on high-end customer service, because this is a high-end shoe store. So we have to go above and beyond to provide that customer service. Know peoples’ names, know their shoe size. Of course greeting people when they walk in, taking care of them. Just having good conversation. We don’t just get people shoes—we engage with them.

A few of my favorite things from (shoo):

Handmade, recycled leather clutch by (h(om)e), $140; (shoo)

One-of-a-kind flat made with recycled 60’s advertisements by Cydwoq, $259; (shoo)

Heels by John Fluevog, $269; (shoo)
(shoo) is the only carrier in the state of this brand!

Recycled bike part earrings by Becky Fesch, $30 each; (shoo)

Sandal by Everybody, $169; (shoo)

(shoo) / 109 State Street, Madison; (608) 467-6325

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