Shoes of NYC finds the story behind the shoes on the streets

When in doubt, listen to Forrest Gump. That seemed to work for Lexi Cross and Huston Conti when starting their social brand 'Shoes of NYC.' The fashion duo have always been intrigued by how shoes can describe and represent a person, and when debating whether to start their new venture, one quote solidified it all.

"My mama always said you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, where they going, where they been."

These are the words Cross and Conti continue to live by after starting 'Shoes of NYC.' The blog and Instagram feed follows the unique shoes they see in NYC, but it's more than just a fashion staple of completing an outfit. Cross and Conti look for the person behind the shoes -- what makes them pick this style and what's the story?

Through social media, Cross and Conti are proving Forrest Gump right. Shoes can tell a lot about a person, where they're going and where they've been, and you can see that idea come to life through Cross and Conti's vision.

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How did you first find your passion in working in fashion and beauty industry?

Lexi Cross: I was always interested in blogging, more so about people, but I moved to New York from Seattle. Huston's also from Seattle. I got my start working for Nordstrom. So I've kind of worked in the fashion world for quite awhile -- first in retail then in visual merchandising. I moved here to help them open up a pop-up store. So I was actually coming into contact with a lot of different designers, up-and-coming designers, people that I had the opportunity to chat to about their stories and where they started. So I think that's where my first excitement about fashion really came to be.

What drew you specifically to shoes?

Huston Conti: Lexi and I have always believed that shoes say the most about someone. By looking at someones shoes, we think you can kind of tell a lot about where they've been and who they are. That narrative interests us more than anything else, and we've found that if you start with shoes you can tend to get to the crux of who someone is. That's what drew us in, and that's why we focus specifically on shoes.

How did the idea first come about?

Lexi Cross: I was at a party with friends, and I was wearing a pair shoes that had a particularly interesting story to me. They're a pair of Nike Blazers, Liberty London collaboration and took a picture of those. I had been blogging for a while, but it was this aha moment of you know these have a story. I love how they look, and we should do the shoes of the city, shoes of New York. So I got the Instagram handle right away and texted him seconds later being like, 'do you want to do this with me? Would you be up for it?' And he wrote me back with the Forrest Gump quote and signed on right away. It wasn't this long thought out process of we're going to photograph shoes and stop strangers in the street. It was just this moment of, wow shoes say a lot about a person and I know they say a lot about me so let's go around and discover what people have to say about their own footwear.

What is the day to day really like? Are you going out in search of shoes?

Huston Conti: It's an evolving process. Depending on what stage you're in and how dedicated you are to it. Whether it is something you do on the weekends or whether it's something you try to make a living out of. I think for us it's evolved everyday. It started as something we did whenever we had free time to something we started to do every weekend to something we're now doing full time. So you go from making decisions on a whim and having no real plan behind it to starting to become more and more strategic. Starting to plan out your day. Monday is dedicated to A, B, and C. Tuesdays, we have meetings with AOL for example. To Wednesday, we need to get content for the rest of the week. To Thursday planning out the rest of the year. For us, it has literally gone from nothing to something. As Lexi said, we went into it with no real plan and have started to become more strategic and more thought out and more planning our days and weeks and our months and our vacations around it. So it is a job where we approach it like any other 9 to 5.

Lexi Cross: I think in terms of getting the shoes, we usually go out and do try to get as much content as we can. So we dedicate three hours, we stay out in specific places in NYC where we know people are going to have cool shoes. So we'll chill outside those places. We become friends with the doorman and security people, and it's kind of random funny thing because we're like, 'okay we're just going to stand outside place and take pictures of shoes'. But we meet really interesting people. We plan our content and try to get as much as we can and schedule it out over the course of the month.

Do you each have your own favorite story about shoes?

Lexi Cross: One of the stories that has resonated with me the most is we stopped a woman in Meatpacking, and it was a Sunday brunch day. She was wearing a cool pair of heels, and she was so excited. It was the first time she had been out with her friends after having two kids. She's just been on that parenting grind and got out of the house and was all done up and was having the best time. She was like, 'putting on these heels makes me feel sexy again after I've been so focused on being a good mom.' I think that to me was a really cool story because it really solidified what we're doing is more than just photography. Shoes are more than just this thing people put on. It actually has the ability to build your confidence level and to make you stand taller and assert yourself. That story to me was like, 'oh wow we're giving this woman a chance to talk about how she feels sexy again in a pair of heels.' And so I think that was one of my most favorite stories because it wasn't just 'oh, these complete my outfit' it was like 'these complete who I feel I am today.'

Huston Conti: I like that one a lot. I think I like that one more than the one I'm going to say. This one was a while ago, and now that I'm thinking about it, I could probably look at every single pair of shoes we've shot and remember the story, not necessarily the person, but the story, which says a lot about how powerful shoes are. We had been doing it a few months. We hadn't made a big splash at all yet, still haven't, but we stopped someone and said 'hey, we're Shoes of NYC', and they were like, 'oh my gosh, I follow you guys.', and I was like 'holy shit'. In a city of ten million plus people, we stopped someone who actually follows us and likes what we're doing. That just made me feel really, really good. That's not a story about shoes, but it's a story about how this whole thing has evolved.

What are people's normal reactions when you ask to take pictures of their shoes?

Lexi Cross: We can count on our two hands how many people have said no to us. Over two years of stopping strangers on the street, most everybody is excited to talk about their shoes. I think that's because first of all our approach is strategic. We have a strategic approach on how we start talking to people. Usually it starts with a compliment. You compliment someone's shoes and automatically they let their guard down a little bit, like 'oh thank you'. So I think it has to do with how we approach them, but also people spend a lot of money on their shoes or even if they don't, they are excited to talk about it. So we don't get turned down that often, and when people turn us down, we have thick skin at this point. It doesn't both us at all to walk up to a stranger and be like, 'excuse me, I love your shoes. Can you talk about them to us?'

Huston Conti: We definitely were nervous and a little quiet at first. I'd be like 'Lexi you go...', 'No, you go'. But now we've done it so many times that it's second nature.

What makes the cut? Does every pair of shoes and story make it on the page?

Huston Conti: No, they don't all make the cut. Even some of the content we do shoot doesn't make it onto the feed. There can be a myriad of reasons for that. Lexi and I don't always have to agree on the shoes that we post. It's healthy for us to have disagreements and have different eyes for different things. When we first started this out, I couldn't tell you the brand of any kind of heel I saw on the street, but now I can call it out from a block away. I think for the most part, our eye for shoes has aligned, and we've become more and more picky, allowing us to find shoes you may not see all the time. One of the main reasons people follow Shoes of NYC is to discover new brands that they haven't seen before.

Lexi Cross: A decision we made recently, which I think is okay to speak to, is were often posting photos that we always want to have a story that accompanies. It's something that we started doing from the very beginning, and it's something people know us for, but Huston and I are not people who just want to put things out in the world and give people another something to read unless it is actually meaningful. So we no longer include quotes on shoes that we don't think is something interesting to read about. So if it's, 'yeah these complete my outfit' and that's all we can really get out of that person but they are a cool pair of shoes, we'll post the shoes just so people can see how awesome they are, but we're not going to include a story. So if you see a story on the photos because we find it interesting ourselves, and we do think it is a value to read it. So that's a call we made recently.

How has social media helped you grow as a brand and put out what you're doing?

Huston Conti: Word of mouth has had a big impact. A lot of the reason we've grown the way we have is that we give whoever we stop, a brief moment in sun, a reason to tag their friends. People have social media to share with the ones they love and follow those they're inspired by. That has allowed us to grow organically.

What is your relationships with your fans?

Lexi Cross: We are always communicating with people who leave comments on our feed if they ask what brand it is or where they can get it. You can actually shop our feed, which is great for our users because if they see a pair of shoes they like and were able to find it online, we have a way for them to shop it easily through the link in our profile. We just make sure to be really communicative with our fans. Instagram stories - we're started to use more to ask people questions like what to do you want to see, do you want to see the faces of people we interview because you only see their shoes. So that's on the fan side, and I think our community is growing because we're starting to build contributors in different cities. So aside from just the people who follow us, we want to expand and do shoes of the world, shoes of different cities and show how shoes can say a lot about the culture or a place in the world as opposed to just the person that's wearing them. That's our community growing in a different way but also excited to start come into fruition.

What are hoping to build this into?

Huston Conti: The goal here is to create a platform of discovery for shoes. We want to be the place that you go when you need to find a shoe for any occasion -- your friend's wedding, your sister's graduation, anything. When a lot of people go shopping they don't necessarily know what they want, but they know what they like. We want to create a place where it's easier to do that.

Lexi Cross: So we're building a website now to help people be able to do that. That's going to feature content that our contributors bring to us. Maybe one day we'll do a book. That seems to be what influencers do these days.

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