Dr. Taryn Rose is an orthopedic surgeon turned shoe designer, who married fashion and function in 1998 and changed the footwear industry forever. Her idea of being dressed with a sense of well-being touched a nerve with women from coast-to-coast, creating a dedicated following for her numerous collections. A formally trained surgeon, Dr. Rose witnessed the serious foot problems caused by fashionable footwear and saw a need to combine her knowledge of foot biomechanics with her passion for fashion to spread ease to women everywhere. After a decade of building Taryn Rose International to become a $40 million dollar company, she sold it, and a couple years later returned energized and inspired and began creating partnerships and collections with both the Home Shopping Network (HSN) and high-end retailer Neiman Marcus. Now, two decades later, Dr. Rose is disrupting the footwear space again with architect/engineer Enrico Cuini, using a new insole technology that creates the “perfect heel” for the Enrico Cuini luxury shoe collection.
In addition to earning her medical degree from University of California School of Medicine in Los Angeles, Dr. Rose has been recognized with numerous honors in the business and entrepreneurship arena. Her shoes were featured in the Smithsonian museum in 2007 and she was invited to meet First Lady Laura Bush at the White House. Dr. Rose has been covered on a variety of television programs, newspapers, and magazines including Oprah, CNN, Today Show, New York Times, People magazine, Entrepreneur, In Style, Elle, and countless more.
You are an orthopedic surgeon turned shoe designer. Share your background.
My family escaped from Vietnam at the end of the war in 1975 and we stayed in a refugee camp in Arkansas before being sponsored by the wonderful Koenig family. We lived in Fort Smith, Arkansas for two years while my father took his exams to get his medical license in the US. We then moved to Columbia, MO for 4 years while my father did a residency. So I had a midwest upbringing before I moved to California. I went to college at the University of California, Irvine where I majored in biology and philosophy. I worked in college for Estee Lauder so when I went to medical school I thought I would go into dermatology and start a cosmeceutical company. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak. When I met an orthopedic surgeon I became fascinated with surgery so I dropped the idea of being a dermatologist. Orthopedics is very male dominated with only 8% women so I had to work really hard to prove myself. During my training, I was running around in high heels for 12-14 hours sometimes and started to think if only fashion shoes were designed properly women wouldn’t need to suffer so much. I did a research project about how to make better looking diabetic shoes in order to improve compliance and therefore decrease rates of amputations. Through that experience I learned how to make shoes and also found the latest materials used in medical footwear and wanted to utilize this knowledge in fashion shoes. After I was finished with my training I started my company. I gave myself two years to see if it would be a success. It really took off so I never went back. I love creating something that didn’t exist before in the world. I like growing companies and innovating.
What started in a garage turned into a $40 million dollar empire, share the journey.
After I finished my orthopedic surgery residency, I decided to start a shoe company because I saw such a need for well-made, designer shoes that were also comfortable. I saw patients who needed these shoes and it was something I was also looking for working on my feet for really long hours. It was not an easy decision and I thought about it for a few years. I did research in footwear for diabetics, so I learned about shoe making and the requirements for cushioning and shock absorption in diabetic shoes. I wanted to apply the science of foot mechanics and high tech materials like Poron which I learned about in diabetic shoes to fashion shoes. I finally took the leap when I was able to embrace my fear of failure. I feared regret much more than failure.
I asked my favorite sales associate at Barney’s if she knew anyone in Italy who worked in shoes because I remembered her telling me that she had friends from Italy come visit every Summer. Luckily her friends owned a shoe factory and that’s how I got connected to a factory in Italy. With my first line of samples made I met with a buyer at Nordstrom and luckily she placed an order and my garage became my warehouse.The first shipment had a problem with the lining of the footbed arriving completely wrinkled and I sat in my garage performing “surgery” on 500 pairs of shoes replacing the wrinkled sock lining with new ones. Nordstrom said they needed a sketch of the shoes on the label so my husband at the time drew sketches on the shoe boxes.
My neighbors thought I was so odd to be toiling away in the garage but I soon grew out of the garage and opened a store in Beverly Hills. I then outgrew the little office above my store and opened corporate offices in downtown LA. We got a lot of press including Oprah which doubled my business in one year from $8M to $16M and we kept growing.
I decided to sell in 2008 because I was really burned out after a decade of running the company. I was very fortunate because the transaction closed 2 weeks before the Great Recession hit. Every successful entrepreneur has a tincture of luck mixed in with a lot of hard work.
Having learned from my first business under my name, I decided when I teamed up with Enrico Cuini, my partner, that I would do things differently. I now focus more on the bottom line rather than the top line. The retail model is really broken and too much of the risks falls on the brands. At one point with my first business it felt like I was just a banker for all the retail stores. Most of the stress was finding financing for the growth. The pleasure was seeing how happy the final customer was with my product so this time we sell direct to consumers. Our cash flow model is much less stressful because customers order made to measure shoes paying upfront and we deliver in 4-6 weeks.
Tell us about Enrico Cuini Footwear and the “wing shoe technology.”
Enrico Cuini, my partner, was the best friend of the first two Italians who got me started in shoes. He was always inspired by my mission to create the most high performance fashion footwear. He laughed when I declared “how come we can get a man on the moon but not a woman down the street in a pair of comfortable heels?”. He worked as an architect, product designer for many years and finally decided to design shoes since that’s what he dreamed about as a kid. He grew up in the Marche region of Italy full of shoe makers so it’s in his blood.
He contacted me in 2014 and asked if I wanted to collaborate and I told him if he had an idea for comfortable heels, I would be up for it. After days of thinking about it he was suddenly inspired by a butterfly that landed on his studio window and he came up with the “wing” technology. We now call it ALIA which stands for Active Lift In Alignment. It is a dynamic support system that decreases pressure while increasing stability and energy return. It is so thin that it can be incorporated into sexy stilettos without making the shoes look bulky. Women wear them all day at the office and dance for hours at parties.
Share some of the collection.
Our mules are our top seller because they are so supportive and easily go from dressy to casual. This summer women are loving our clear plexi sandals named, Sinderella (because they are a little “sinful”) that go with everything so it’s a favorite with travelers. For weddings, galas and red carpet events like Cannes, women opt for our silver Nina with ice accessories (a glorious crystal buckle that sparkles like stars) or our strappy gold Sheena sandals.
How has Enrico Cuini Footwear evolved throughout the past 6 years?
The line has really grown from basic pumps and booties to a full lifestyle range. We recently added loafer and ballerinas since we have not done flats in the past. Even with flats people want comfort.
Partnerships have been an intricate part of your success. Tell us how you partnered with the Home Shopping Network (HSN) and high-end retailer Neiman Marcus.
Neiman Marcus was the first partner who encouraged me to be a true luxury brand. They were a pleasure to work with because they really knew what their customers wanted but were also fashion leaders.
HSN and QVC were also great partners. I saw how much they cared about their quality and I have never had such tough quality control as when I worked with HSN and QVC. I loved being on television to connect directly with my customers and show them my personality.
What can we expect to see for the Fall?
We have a year round type of collection because we have so many climates to deal with being a global brand. We will have a couple of more boot styles with a chunkier heel.
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