Written by Olivia Putnal Thursday, May 19 2011
Snapshot: Anyi Lu
Shoe designer, ballroom dancer, and Dress for Success advocate Anyi Lu creates shoes built for style and comfort. Named the North Bay Women Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010 by the Women’s Initiative in California, Lu’s philosophy is simple – looking confident and professional doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Lu’s shoe collection includes a unique construction that prevents women from experiencing foot pain while going about their daily routines. She celebrates the joy of “wear.”
Sold online and at 150 retailers nationwide, her stylish shoes are all about comfort.
Lu is a national philanthropic partner to Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that provides disadvantaged women with the professional attire they need for the workplace.
Womenetics: Tell us a little about your education and your career before becoming a designer?
Anyi Lu: I received a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from the University of Delaware and worked for DuPont and Chevron before becoming a designer. I left that part of my career to pursue happiness.
Womenetics: How did you learn to design shoes?
Lu: When I was a child, my grandfather taught me Chinese calligraphy and brush painting. These arts demand precision and creativity – a balance between technicality and imagination. One can say the same for shoe design. My engineering degree, technical drawing classes, and hours on the factory floor all contributed.
Womenetics: Describe the design of your shoes.
Lu: The heel height on most of my shoes is less than three inches. They all have arch support, and there is plenty room in the toe box. We use leather, exclusively, inside and out, and we use a very soft, stretchable lining.
We hand sew the upper and lower parts together. This technique allows the shoe to mold to your foot so that it becomes flexible – like a sock. Most shoes you see in the marketplace are glued together, and when the glue dries, it becomes hard. ANYI LU shoes are the opposite. They bend back like a piece of dough, and though you have the sensation of wearing a shoe, it is as if you are barefoot.
Womenetics: What was it like starting your own company? Did anyone ever tell you, you couldn't do it?
Lu: I’m sure my naivety helped me to have the confidence to start my own company. I simply would not listen to the naysayers. My parents encouraged me to choose a career that would enable me to support myself so they were uncomfortable with my decision to leave chemical engineering. Most importantly, my husband and business partner, David, believed I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to, and he is my biggest supporter.
Womenetics: What have you learned from your success in the workplace, and what advice can you give women who aspire to gain the same type of respect and success in their own careers?
Lu: I encourage women to be passionate about what they are doing and never compromise their standards. The competition can always cut prices by cutting quality, but that’s a philosophy I don’t subscribe to.
Womenetics: Describe a typical day in the life of Anyi Lu.
Lu: Like most working moms, I am always on the run. I juggle a busy life with my 7-year-old daughter and a growing business. When I’m not on the road meeting with retailers and customers or in Italy working with our factories, I’m in my design studio working on the next collection.
Womenetics: How did your time as a ballroom dancer prepare you for your life now?
Lu: Dancing is a metaphor for life. The harder you work, the greater the reward. Competitive ballroom dancing is a joy, but it takes great discipline and focus. Competing as a ballroom dancer instilled in me a sense of determination and an understanding of precision. Both are lessons I apply to designing shoes and running a company.
Womenetics: Your shoes appeal to busy, working women who want something they can wear all day long. How did you come up with the design?
Lu: My sister’s wedding inspired me to design footwear. She needed a pair of comfortable shoes to dance in at the reception, and it occurred to me that women always need two different pairs of shoes. One is for doing and one for looking. In the end, I gave my sister a pair of ballroom dance shoes to wear and my mission was born.
Womenetics: Besides dancing and designing, what are some of your other passions?
Lu: I am passionate about women’s issues. ANYI LU is privileged to donate to Dress for Success, and their mission to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support, and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.
Womenetics: What's one thing people don't know about you?
Lu: I could eat sushi every day.
Womenetics: What are some ways you stay motivated and keep balance in your life?
Lu: I am motivated by my customers. The women who wear my shoes motivate me with the personal stories they share with me every day.
Womenetics: What's your favorite shoe from your collection?
Lu: They are my babies so I don’t have favorites! At the moment, I’m working on my first bridal collection so I am particularly excited to share it with the world.
Olivia Putnal is a writer and editor in Atlanta. She formerly wrote web articles and blogs for WomansDay.com in the areas of health, fitness, beauty, fashion, entertainment, news, and food.