IF THE SHOE FITS: Aurora man follows his muse into designing women’s shoes

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AURORA | London, Milan, New York, Paris and Aurora.

Well, Aurora probably won’t be joining the ranks of those famed fashion capitals anytime soon. But a local businessman has planted the city on the region’s fashion scene by designing a high-fashion women’s shoe line dreamed up from his Aurora home.

Jeff Johnson launched Charm City Sole three years ago and the company has since grown to include 35 styles of high-heel shoes.

Johnson, who also has a full-time job in the financial services industry, never dreamed he would be designing women’s shoes.

“I have zero background in fashion design,” he said with a laugh.

But, he does like fashion and has about 40 pairs of men’s shoes in his own closet, including some exotic pairs made from alligator and ostrich skin. And, he has always been adept at sketching, though he never took the hobby too seriously.

A few years ago, after a fruitless shoe-shopping trip with his wife, Wendy, the couple stopped for lunch and lamented the fact that they couldn’t find a pair of shoes that matched what Wendy was looking for. As they waited for their meal, Johnson sketched a pair of shoes on the paper table cloth. His sketch not only lined up with what Wendy was looking for, it looked pretty good, too.

From there, Johnson started down the road that led him to launch his business.

“I tried to get my friends and people that knew me pretty well to talk me out of it,” he said. But each time, he showed them his sketches and instead of telling him to scrap the idea, they all encouraged him to go through with it.

He got a small loan from the bank — one small enough that if he sold one pair or 100 pairs he could pay it back — and launched Charm City Sole. He named the company after his hometown of Baltimore as a sort of nod toward the city’s home-grown fashion sense.

But, how do you take a shoe from the sketch pad to a manufacturing plant? Designing shoes is one thing, cobbling is another place he didn’t want to go. Johnson didn’t know the answer to that, so he did what most people in 2013 do when they have a question, he turned to Google.

“I had no idea what it would take to do it, who you called, how you got a shoe made, how you marketed it,” he said.

Eventually, Johnson found a plant in Hong Kong that would manufacture his shoes.

Initially, the shoes were only available online, but now they are also available at Eve, a fashion boutique in Downtown Denver’s Larimer Square.

The store’s owner Sabine Rocho, said she has been carrying the shoes since early this year and so far they have done well.

“They are a very sexy heel and with all the girls going clubbing down here they are a perfect fit,” she said.

Rocho said one of the things that attracted her to Charm City Sole was the fact that the company is local.

“We try to carry as many locals as we can,” she said.

But, Rocho said, that can be a challenge because Denver is a tough place for designers.

“Denver is always such a fashion-forward city that I am always disappointed we don’t have any construction out here,” she said.

The area doesn’t have sewing or cutting facilities that designers need, so the region often loses designers to cities like New York and Los Angeles where the necessary fashion industry infrastructure is already in place.

“The designers end up elsewhere, which is disappointing because we have such great talent out there,” she said,

Johnson said he hopes to grow the business to include other brick-and-mortar stores and to expand the company’s online presence as well.

The process has meant learning everything about selling shoes — from where to buy silica gel packets to how to design the simple drawing of a pair that gets pasted to the end of the box.

That’s been fun, Johnson said, but he wants the company to one day be known for making high-quality, high fashion shoes.

“They won’t see it and say, ‘Oh this guy taught himself how to design shoes,’” he said. “They’ll just say, I really like what you have and I’m going to buy your product. That’s what I’m trying to go for.”

For more, visit www.charmcitysole.com

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