Empowered Women of Chooka: Designers

Ever wonder about how we turn ideas into products? We're here to introduce you to some of the stellar, artistic women responsible for making Chooka a reality.

Meet Jillian and Stephanie, a team of incredibly creative women here at Chooka! These lovely ladies specialize in product design and development, creating styles that bring us all confidence with each step. They are always researching what's trending in the industry to produce our favorite styles, textures, and patterns!

In honor of Women's History Month and International Women's Day, we got together with Jillian and Stephanie for a Q&A to highlight them as the innovative, driven, empowered women they are. We're excited to share their insight about how they demonstrate confidence in the workplace and advice on how to conquer your career path.

What drew you to the footwear industry?

STEPH: I entered the footwear industry in a pretty roundabout and unconventional way. I have always been passionate about footwear and have a pretty substantial personal collection but I didn’t originally intend for it to be my career path. I went to school for industrial design, which is where I learned many of the technical and graphic design skills that I now utilize in my role as Print and Surface Designer for Chooka.

JILL: Also an industrial design major, I was drawn to the footwear industry my sophomore year of college. We had a “soft goods” project and I designed an interchangeable heel with a leather upper. My professor recognized that I had a passion for footwear and encouraged me to focus in footwear design. I started my career in footwear with internships at Rockport and BBC International. 

What does it mean to you to be a female designer/artist within this industry?

STEPH: It is incredible to be able to provide and receive encouragement from other women in the industry. I think it has become evident how much the influence of women in product design has made a positive impact across industries. I feel very privileged to work with and learn from all of the talented women in our design department here at Chooka.

JILL: Yes, the footwear design field used to be very male dominant. It is great to see that more females are pursuing an industrial design degree. Steph and I were in a class of about 25 students and we were 2 out of the 7 females in our graduating class. I hope to inspire and encourage other female designers to receive an industrial design degree for footwear design. I have found it advantageous to have such technical knowledge in the footwear industry.

What about your job empowers you?

STEPH: To me, it is empowering to be a young designer that feels respected and appreciated in their place of work and is looked to for bringing new and innovative ideas to the table. It is so humbling to have your thoughts and ideas be well-received and turned into actions. It is also empowering to see a product that you have created bringing excitement, confidence, and joy to others.

JILL: Learning, perseverance, and dealing with challenging design constraints empowers me. I enjoy pushing the limits and boundaries of design. Taking a chance is frightening, but with hard work and confidence, the results are 100% worth it.

What are your favorite ways to have fun and maintain your work/life balance?

STEPH: Chooka has an incredible company culture. I think it is so important to not only love what you do at work, but to love the people you do it with! Our team is made up of wonderful people that I am lucky to spend 40+ hours a week with.

JILL: I enjoy being creative outside of the office because it helps me with creativity inside the office. I am a free spirit and I love to meet people and listen to their journeys. Listening to others is underrated and meeting new people that challenge me and inspire me helps me with personal growth and creativity. I am also interested in photography. I own a Fuji XT10 compact camera and every now and then I like to explore and take photos of natural movements and expressions.

What gets your creativity flowing?

STEPH: Nothing gets my thoughts flowing like dynamic brainstorming sessions with friends or co-workers. I really enjoy changing up the environment to spark new ideas. I also find that traveling to new places and conversing with new people can really change your perspective and open up your mind when approaching a new design challenge.

JILL: I agree, my creativity flows best when I have the opportunity to work in different environments. Too much structure is generally fatal to the design thinking process. I’m most creative when I am not forced to be creative within a certain time frame. 

You both have great fashion sense! What inspires your style?

STEPH: Thank you! My style choices are often determined by color palette and pattern. I love rich solids with subtle and classic prints. I am very inspired by Japanese fashion, which is generally slightly more conservative but still makes a statement.

JILL: Street style, gender-less design, and articles of clothing and footwear that are juxtaposed inspire me. There has been this whole street movement in the past few years. Street style was never really admirable in couture fashion but that's changing — Versace hired a sneaker designer in 2019! Street style is finally getting its recognition. Athletic styles are now being worn with dresses and designer purses. I believe that the idea of hierarchy in fashion is becoming less significant.

Describe your dynamic as designers and coworkers. How do you best work together?

STEPH: Jillian and I have known each other for 9 years. We were roommates and classmates throughout college and are now co-workers, which is pretty amazing! Working with someone who knows you as a person and a designer adds that extra dynamic that I think results in great product design. We always challenge each other to go that one step further in the design process. We are constantly questioning each other so that we know we have both explored all avenues of the design’s potential.

JILL: Steph and I hold the same standards and values and this is why we work so well together. We are constantly challenging each other to grow professionally. We respect each other’s opinions and we are team players. We want the best for each other and we push each other to achieve our goals.

What are some of your personal career goals?

STEPH: My current career goal is to learn as much as I possibly can with each new experience and to diversify my skill set just the same. I never want to turn down a challenge because I don’t “know” how to do something. To me, that is an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

JILL: My goal is to become a master in outsole design because drawing outsole sections and reviewing blueprints challenges me. I also aspire to own my own brand or company and collaborate with my other classmates that are in the footwear design field. I have a very entrepreneurial spirit — both of my parents own their own businesses! I hope to follow in their footsteps someday.

What advice would you give your collegiate self and other women looking to follow a similar path?

STEPH: I would love to go back and tell my collegiate self to embrace the creative freedom and endless resources that you have as a student. Take advantage of this as much as you possibly can before entering the workforce! Explore all of your wildest concepts while you are in such a collaborative and creative space with so few real-world constraints. Design is a difficult and challenging professional field, but if it's what you love, then stick with it and search until you find a niche that is fulfilling for you. Be genuine every step of the way and embrace the journey!

JILL: I would tell my collegiate self to not be so focused on the little details but rather the bigger picture and to fight for what you believe in, even when others are perplexed by your vision. I would advise women in the design industry to never give up even though it is, indeed, a challenging and competitive industry. It is important to make as many connections as you can in the industry. Stay focused, design with intent, and stay true to yourself and your values. Self-reflection and authenticity are key to personal and professional growth.

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