Woman-Centric Designer Melody Eshani: From Selling Shoes Out Of Her Apartment To Brick And Mortar Success

The hardest part about interviewing Melody Eshani is not getting distracted shopping on her website—I bought two pairs of earrings over the course of writing this article. I first fell in love with Melody Eshani’s designs through the windows of her Los Angeles storefront located on Fairfax Ave., an area known for its ultra hip streetwear collections. With her second line of Reebock classics out in May, Melody’s style is as signature as it is eclectic. And if her merchandise doesn’t happen to catch your eye, her story surely will. Hers is a journey of following your heart to the extreme.

Melody grew up in Los Angeles and began designing about ten years ago. She is a proud law school drop out, and got her start taking night classes from the Art Center in Pasadena. “I fell in love with Product Design and it grew from there,” she says. With minimal training—“I did an internship at Creative Recreation (a sneaker company)” she says—Eshani headed to Hong Kong for a more hands on approach to design. A month later she started production at a factory in Hong Kong, and two months after that, she was back in LA with her first collection. 

Check out our interview with her below, and you’ll soon see why I now own this pair of earrings in every color. Oops. And a necklace. 

[Photo Courtesty of Melody Eshani]

SCOUT DURWOOD: You started with shoes. When and how did you add jewelry to the mix?

MELODY EHSANI: Shoe production and development takes a lot of time, its not a quick process- especially the way I was doing it at that time. I had produced my first collection, but after I came back from Hong Kong, I craved some sort of creative process and the desire to work with my hands. I fell in love with the laser cutter at Art Center while I was there, and had always wanted to make jewelry using plastics...so I started to make things at home while I was waiting for shoe samples, etc. 

SD: What was it like to transition from selling products out of your apartment to opening a brick and mortar store?

ME: Well, after working at home, I had moved my operation to a warehouse in downtown LA, and then to a retail store. I was very comfortable at a warehouse, I never wanted a retail store to be honest.  I grew up working in the mall, and I had a distaste for retail on that level. However, to my dismay, in my personal process of meditation and checking in with myself about my growth—it kept coming up, so I grudgingly started exploring it, and it unfolded pretty effortlessly. So, now I’m thankful for it. I very much like to control the customer's experience with my products, so considering the fact that I don’t wholesale to other stores, it's pretty nice to be able to create that environment for my customers.  We use the brick and mortar location to host events, have speaker series about topics we are passionate about. It’s almost like a community hub, so I enjoy it. 

SD: How did your collaboration with Reebok come about, and how has it changed the game for you?

ME: It started off with them asking me to participate in a project they were doing with a handful of "influential" women across different fields in different continents.  The particular shoe I designed for that project ended up being a success and caused us both to want to explore more of a formal collaboration together.  It changed the game for me because it gave me access to a corporation that had a strong heritage and legacy in this particular area and an infrastructure that could support almost anything I wanted to create.  For someone like me who started from the bottom (literally) and figured out how to do everything on my own, it was eye opening and low key life changing to all of a sudden have a whole team that  was there just to support my designs.  

[Photo Courtesy of MelodyEshani.com]

SD: You’ve mentioned that one of your early influences has been hip hop. What influences you now, and how do you feel that hip hop culture has shaped your overall vision as a designer?

ME: I’m often influenced by anything that's authentic and pure.  Meaning, I can tell the difference between something that is staged and something that just is by design. I think there's a divinity and magic involved in that. This often leads me back to nature. I always say God is my favorite designer. It also leads me to music that speaks to me, the current state of humanity and what role I feel I can play in providing a new voice or perspective. Hip hop shaped my overall vision, because at its inception hip hop was the greatest voice of its time.

SD: How do you feel that product design is capable of changing the world?

ME: I’d like to preface my answer by saying that i believe any and everything that comes from love can change the world. I think a garbage collector who does his job with passion and pride can change the world.  I come from a lineage of very normal people who have done very remarkable things that have created change in the world.  Product design to me is often inventive and provides solutions to problems while considering beauty and function at the same time.  Look at what Steve Jobs was able to do with the invention of the collective's most relied on product of all time.  Its pretty life/world changing if you ask me. 

SD: Jewelry and footwear aside, you are an incredibly successful business woman. Could you talk a little bit about the balance between the the

ME: It’s very challenging. Even though I have steadily worked on building something that I am proud of, I struggle with balance and often have to settle with the fact that I am doing everything that I can possibly do, and that’s all I can do.  I think it’s especially hard at times because I’m single. I never thought I’d say that, but a lot of successful women have the support of a partner, and I think when you have that, it really helps.

SD: With so many balls in the air, what is a typical day like for you?

ME: As of late, I have tried to create a more consistent schedule. For two days out of the week, I work outside of the office where I focus on being creative.  For the other three days of the work week, I’m in the office and that involves everything from taking meetings with people, factory visits, late night Skype calls, researching new materials, re merchandising the retail store, managing a team of ten employees which could be a job in itself.  Its pretty vast and varied. 

SD: For a long time, and I think maybe even still now, you were the only woman-owned design store on Fairfax Avenue.

ME: We’re the only woman's brand store on Fairfax, however there are a few other woman owned shops and more women have been getting jobs on the block which is really cool. We have Catwalk which is a dope vintage store thats been there since forever owned by a lesbian couple that you'll want to befriend instantly, Goo which is a hair salon owned by a woman, and Jon & Vinny's which has a great female staff led by a female head chef which is really dope. 

SD: You talk a lot about the importance of female empowerment. What does female empowerment mean to you, and how do you incorporate that into your work?

ME: I push female empowerment a lot because we still have inequality.  Male privilege is something that’s very real—all of these double standards that exist make it really hard for women to enter certain arenas of work and life in general without having to go up against a lot of inertia, and thats just not fair. I speak from a firsthand experience of being a self made woman who has had to deal with a lot of things that I shouldn’t have had to simply because Im a woman. I incorporate it into my work by creating awareness, providing a refuge and using my voice through my design and every other platform I have to make women feel like they're not isolated, they're not "crazy" or weird, they are in fact supported and part of something bigger. It’s much easier to cope when you realize its not personal, but rather a global trend thats occurring, and that we each can play a role in change.

[Photo Courtesy of MelodyEshani.com]

SD: Would you define your brand as feminist? Why or why not?

ME: I think feminist has become a politically trendy word as of late. I stand behind equality 100% and I stand behind what I believe to be the true form of feminism that strives for equality, not sameness, but equality. 

SD: You’ve talked a lot about always changing as an artist. What are you drawn to now, and how do you hope to integrate that with your products?

ME: Currently drawn to a lot of technical things. I’ve been researching a lot of different materials and how they're used to make different types of products and in turn how people are integrating them with tech. I’m pretty sure it will lead to something :)