iRi NYC, the New York-based footwear brand helmed by 24-year-old designer Janet Yeung, is onto something. Having just launched this summer, iRi has already released its third collection and established itself as fledgling tastemaker with an eye for the future.
The shoes—a contemporary mix of heels and sneakers—are all classically produced in Italy, but the prices and silhouettes cater to a more modern, metropolitan audience. They're genderless, created with unconventional fabrics like Neoprene, and designed with graphic wavy details (they're signature).
For iRi's third collection, out now, Yeung was inspired by flight and traveling through clouds, which manifested into a tonal color scheme and softer materials. She honed in on "a sense of calmness," and wanted these styles to divert from iRi's aggressively bold brand DNA.
Click through iRi's latest, below, and learn more about the rising brand.
PAPER: What did you see was missing from the footwear industry when you launched iRi?
Janet Yeung: I felt that there were not enough custom developments in the market—meaning, that generally smaller brands (and quite a lot of bigger brands) buy components off the shelf and decorate the outside of the shoe. We approached it by investing into a custom sneaker sole and custom heel, as we felt this would really help differentiate iRi from the rest of the brands out there. We also wanted to offer a very high level of quality at a contemporary price point, so we decided to make everything in Italy and are fortunate to work with some incredible factories there.
How do you think iRi is filling a void in contemporary fashion?
We offer a really unique piece of footwear that is both high in design and quality, and and offered at a reasonable price point. That's what we thought was missing when we looked at the footwear industry in 2016 before we launched. With iRi you are going to either love it or hate it. There is no in-between. However I would love to be all things to everyone, and I know that this won't be a long lasting model for us. We did a lot of homework before launching and we hope that everything we do has a good dose of optimism, energy and playfulness to it.
Describe your personal point of view and how this perspective informs the designs.
iRi is an homage to my grandmother who raised me. iRi is the name of our town that both me and my grandmother were born in. Because of the story behind iRi, everything becomes personal for me. Each collection begins from my experience or memory with her. Even if things change and shift during the process, it is crucial for for everything to come back to a moment or story between me and my grandmother.
What led to the development of the squiggly heel and wavy sneaker sole?
In the initial design process, we brainstormed shapes that reflect optimism and playfulness and this led to our signature "dancing" heel. This then informed the wavy sneaker sole design. We definitely consider them both very integral to iRi, and hope they'll become our iconic silhouettes.
How does iRi address fashion's gender nonconforming conversation?
When we design, we focus on silhouettes and comfort rather than on gender. This allows us to broaden the way we think, and design our unisex collections. The data so far reveals our customers are fairly even in both genders, which positively shows we are able to reach our customers regardless of their gender.
Who do you consider your customer?
Someone who appreciates new, unique design and has confidence in trying new things. Someone who is an active mobile user who needs to be constantly inspired and experience something new. They most likely live in a city, so comfort is definitely important. It is hard to imagine them not responding to our shoes, which embrace both newness and wearability.
What's the concept behind this current season?
This collection was inspired from the moment of traveling, having not arrived at the new destination. It is the sense of calmness. Previous collections were much more visually stimulating with pops of colors, and this season we focused more on our signature shapes with calmer tones. This allows our sneakers and heels to reach a wider audience, while still holding on to our signatures.
As a young designer, what are some lessons you've learned in building iRi from the ground up?
Really believing in our identity and sticking to it helped in lifting iRi to where it is now. We still have a long way to go, but the significance of remaining who we are as a company and still balancing it with reality is one very important lesson I've learned. For me, success is the continued growth of iRi and being able to offer enriching, positive experiences to our community.