Creative Spotlight: Shayla Dopp of Dopp
Dopp is the eponymous line launched by Shayla Dopp that specializes in incredibly simple yet high quality footwear. During our conversation at her inaugural brick-and-mortar in Berkeley, CA, I struggled to come up with a word off the top of my head to describe why I like her practice of naming styles and colors of her designs after important people and memories from her life. After the fact, I realized it’s because of the intention behind it. In fact, everything she does has purpose, direction, and inspiration to back it up. From taking the color palette of a Pompeian fresco to scouring LA for the perfect yellow leather to complement the most skin tones to simply naming her blue after a fond memory growing up in Santa Cruz, CA.
Dopp’s designs are minimalistic, wildly versatile, and made with comfort in mind. Slipping into a pair of Dopp shoes (I opted for an incredible pair of lime green Mary Sues) is like stepping onto a cloud. The sole is extremely soft and, after some wear, you sink into the shoe and the leather molds itself around your foot's unique shape. At some point, it genuinely felt like there was nothing on my feet as I bent, crouched, and leaned to capture the candy shop-esque space. Shayla’s passion and dedication to her craft at Dopp shows in each and every detail of her designs--from heel to toe.
Visit Dopp City at 2115 Allston Way, Downtown Berkeley, CA 💛
Interview by Alexa Wilson
What was your relationship with clothes growing up?
I didn’t grow up with a whole lot of money, so it was mostly thrift store clothing. It made me really, really picky because when you’re thrift shopping in a Goodwill for back to school clothing, it’s a little bit of a challenge. It got me looking at things in a really particular way and trying to find my own personal style really young and also appreciating that old things were always being made again because you just find them at every thrift store from every time period and then you’ll see the exact same thing in a new store.
Are you still into thrifting?
I am, I love thrifting!
Do you feel like your perspective on it has possibly changed from you were a kid kind of being like, “ah, I have to do this”?
Yeah, there’s been periods where I’m like, “I’m not doing that! I’m so tired of doing it!” It’s a lot of work, but I feel like it’s a lot of work to find anything beautiful in a lot of stores that fits you and looks good.
What motivated you to launch Dopp?
I first took a sandal making course and I loved that and I went back the next weekend and made another one, then I was obsessed and I had to do it again. I went and studied with this woman in Jerome, Arizona and she taught me how to make my first prototype and then I came back and got a container and worked out of it for a year while styling in my free time and I just couldn’t get enough. Then I realized very quickly after breaking my own finger that I was not going to be able to make money! I had to of done one week off of work where I had made a shoe everyday and I was so proud of myself, then I went home and my finger was just like [swollen] and it just grew and grew and grew. I just had to get a factory. I drove down to LA and asked absolutely everybody that I saw where I could get a factory and I found one! Then they dropped me and then I found another one and they’re still my factory to this day.
What do you know now that you wish you did when you first started?
I think that there’s a lot of misconceptions about having and starting your own business. I think the whole working for yourself thing is interesting and I think there’s a lot of truth and value in that, but also you are working for your customers and you can’t lose sight of that. Especially in America where the customer is always right, it’s very important to think of the women and hopefully men in the future that wear the shoes you make.
Part of your line is focused on the idea of “the science of comfort”, so I wanted to ask you--can comfort be powerful?
Oh yes, exceptionally powerful! I mean, I went to New York with a friend for my 19th birthday and we had to go because she was bleeding. Like this is a real thing that women face, like gorgeous shoes equals discomfort. I think that that is something that is so wrong and just against our rights as women to want to be beautiful. To be comfortable is something that should be an option.
I’m working with a shoe form maker and trying to style my shoes around the comfort factor. I’m always keeping a similar height heel and it’s a walker. I mean, it’s a scale of comfort definitely. A friend of mine bought these and she was like, “They’re orthopedic kind of. I don’t want to say that because I don’t want people to think they’re like...you know!" That has a bad connotation though, the whole idea of something being comfortable. The fact that she whispered that to me was like [jokingly] yeah, hush, don’t want people to know they’re comfortable! And also the interior leathers, I really try to work with really comfortable ones, feeling like you just slide in like butter!
What do you look for when you source your materials?
Well, obviously I want them to be super quality first and then it's color. I’m always studying. There’s certain kinds of things about leather, like when you buy a pair of black shoes and they scuff to white or a lighter color. These are dyed leathers and they're dyed all the way through. The side of leather you can see in a lot of boots and things--if [the outer part] is black and if [the inner part] is white, it'll scuff to white. Whereas these leathers that I have chosen for most of the shoes, almost all of them are all the way through [the same] color so even when you slightly damage, it's gonna last you. So I’m really particular about the quality of it, but also the color, the continuousness of the color. And I really love sourcing from meat by-product leather.
This is something I was really interested in--each style and color is named after a person in your life and an emotion you’re feeling, so I was wondering if you are emotionally involved in the design process and are these people and feelings going through your head as you design the specific piece or is that something you decide after?
The Cindy is a good example, which is named after my mom because every element of it I was thinking of her. The French blue is for her, the sexiness because she deserves a little pep in her step, and the heel was originally a pyramid which she’s obsessed with Ancient Egypt. The whole thing top to bottom was after her. The colors are all about my childhood with her--it’s like sky and sun. I grew up in Santa Cruz at the beach with her and those were our fondest times so it’s all rooted in that. Then the Mary Sue is Ben’s mother, Ben is my fiancee, and she helped me with my first little loan and helped me make this all possible so quickly. The colors are pasture because she’s in North Dakota and they spend all their best time on the pasture, then geranium because she loves geraniums, and tulips because that’s her favorite. She has had one knee surgery and so she needed something really, really comfortable to be named after her.
Lots of people get into fashion without going to school for it. With your experience studying in Paris, is it something you would encourage aspiring designers and creatives to do?
I really think that everyone needs to take their own path and find their own way. For me, the school was a bust. It was a really bad program. I had a couple really good teachers and a few horrible ones. I made amazing friends and I was studying in Paris and it was only a year, so it was relatively cheap. It wasn’t like a huge loss at all, I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but when I really got into it was when I started making them by hand. That was really my catalyst to it. I think everyone has their own way.
How would you define the Bay Area fashion scene?
I think Bay Area fashion has been seen and heard as being very bohemian for a really, really long time. You see even Gucci and Prada like “California Dreaming”, kind of taking this inspiration from us and I think that there’s a huge shift that’s about to happen. I think we’re really letting different people and different voice in right now and I think something really beautiful is gonna start spreading that’s totally new and I’m excited for that.
How much of a role do you feel curating a space for your product plays into how we experience clothing?
I really am into the idea of experiential shopping. For me, the easiest way to sell things to people is in person and making this space for them to experience, even if it’s an 8 x 8 pop up! So for me, I’ve seen it reflected in sales. It’s been a really positive thing for me.
What inspired this space in particular?
People have been telling me it looks like a candy shop, which I definitely want them to be yummy! I was actually talking to my aunt, Susan Marie Dopp, who is an amazing artist, and we were talking about going to Italy. She wanted to go to Pompeii with me and I was like "oh no, isn’t that where everybody...you know!" I’m just imagining the mother holding the baby and the whole thing. I was like, "I don’t want to do that!" I was looking at all these amazing frescoes--I was really getting into frescoes--and Pompeii kept coming up and up again and all these incredible colors. So I got really into it and the color choices from the dark green [carpet] to this green [wall] to [the ottoman] to that blue and peach [counter space]--those were all inspired by one beautiful fresco that I loved.
Favorite song at the moment?
The Homeless Wanderer by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou