Like most big ideas, Idoni was born out of frustration. In this case, founder Amanda Carye’s exasperation at not being able to find cute, comfortable shoes that could take her through her commute and work day without having to change.
“I worked at Sotheby’s in New York City for years and I was walking about two miles each day to and from work in sneakers and switching into more stylish shoes at the office,” Carye remembered, adding, “I would spend an inordinate amount of time searching Zappos for something I could wear all day that wasn’t a sneaker or a bulky orthopedic shoe.”
But it wasn’t until she went to business school and spent a term in Milan, Italy, where she stumbled across a classic slip-on shoe called the furlane that a lightbulb went off. The soft slippers—traditionally worn by Venetian gondoliers and with soles made from old bicycle tires—could easily be upgraded to suit a modern woman’s lifestyle.
“I started doing these thought experiments, looking at this shoe and thinking about adding an inner sole, adding in a wedge so your foot isn’t completely flat…That spiraled into me starting a shoe company,” she said.
Idoni launched online last October, selling Italian-made shoes directly to consumers for prices between $135 and $175—a fraction of the price of traditional luxury brands. (For comparison’s sake, London label Le Monde Beryl sells its take on Venetian slippers for upwards of $395.) The brand’s name, Idoni, comes from the Latin “idoneus,” which means fitting or suitable, nodding to Carye’s belief that comfort and style are not mutually exclusive.
Made in a small factory in the northeast of Italy, just outside Venice, the flats feature a slightly pointed toe, a slight wedge, an outsole with tire-inspired traction and a cushioned insole. Uppers come in silk, suede, metallic and velvet.
Finding a factory in the first place, however, proved to be as frustrating as finding that elusive comfy shoe. Though ACRIB (the Shoe Association of the Riviera del Brenta) offers a handy online business directory that allows brands to search for a “Made in Italy” manufacturer and filter their results by specialty, Carye’s cold calls and emails were mostly met with silence.
“A handful said yes but when I met with them all their questions revolved around ‘What’s a startup?’ or ‘What do you mean online-only?’ We spent a lot of time googling brands that were direct-to-consumer and selling on their own websites,” she laughed.
After a lot of back and forth, Carye made it to the prototype stage with two factories and chose to partner with the one that
“I do not know how a shoe is made—I understand the construction now better than I did before—but they understood the essence and idea of the shoe I wanted to make,” she said, adding with a laugh, “I’m waiting for a roadblock to come because it hasn’t come so far.”
Admittedly, Carye’s decision to skip the department store and sell directly to consumers via her own website was a bold one, given her lack of experience in the footwear space, but so far her approach is working.
“We only ship to the U.S. right now, but we have had people express interest from other countries and some very creative online shoppers who used third-party shippers to ship from the U.S. to their countries,” she said, pointing out that people will go to great lengths to get Italian-made, quality goods at a reasonable price.
As Idoni’s website explains, there is no middleman and no distribution system. Once the shoes leave the manufacturer, they are transported to a warehouse and that’s where they stay until being shipped to the customer.
“We’ve tried to minimize passing on any unnecessary costs to the shopper so our retail prices are much closer to a traditional wholesale price than they would be in a store,” Carye said, noting that sales have been “really good,” with return customers picking up the style in different colors or buying a pair for their mother or daughter.
Another advantage of the direct-to-consumer model: access to real-time feedback. “In a way the big-box stores like Target or any of the big merchandisers, even though it’s an in-person exchange, it’s not a personalized interaction. You, as the customer, are not having a conversation with someone who’s going to listen to what you’re saying,” Carye said. “For me, working online, I’ll even take on doing our email support and it’s a personal interaction—granted, it’s over email—but we’re striving to create something new and the only way to do that is through user feedback.”
She’s also thought about adding men’s and children’s sizes to the Idoni lineup at some point in the future but for now she’s focused on making furlane-inspired flats just for women.
As she put it, “From a personal standpoint as well as having talked to so many customers about that pain point of searching for comfortable, stylish everyday shoes, our plan is to home in and make the shoes the best they possibly can be. After all, there’s enough comfortable shoes out there for men.”