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Blueprints, High Heels, and Handshakes

Posted October 25, 2013 in Classes & Presentations

Doubt is a powerful force. It can stifle our opinions, cloud our judgment, and derail our dreams. Think about the last time doubt dissuaded you from taking a chance: you probably felt an initial rush of safe relief followed by a wash of regret for having let uncertainty get the best of you.

Here’s the good news: it’s not (entirely) your fault.

Society has a tendency to box things in, especially when it comes to our interests, knowledge, and education. Are you an athlete? Better leave physics to the scientists. An engineer? Leave the creativity to the artists. Doubt preys on this tendency, making us feel that the best thing we can do is to stick to what we know. One recent visitor to KCAD, however, had some interesting insights on how to fight back.

Trained as an architect, Bryan Oknyansky (Ok-nee-yan-skee) also happens to be an internationally award-winning designer and producer of women’s footwear. And chances are he would have ignored anyone who told him to leave that to Jimmy Choo or Louis Vuitton.

“We think that if we study one discipline, then we’re excluded from another,” Oknyansky said in a presentation to KCAD students, faculty, and staff. “But I discovered that the architectural training I was getting to design buildings and cities was perfectly suitable to train me how to design other products.”

Bryan Oknyansky poses with some of his shoes.

Bryan Oknyanksy with some of his footwear designs

As a senior architecture student at Woodbury University in Burbank, CA, Oknyansky participated in a contest to design flat sandals. He was the only student from outside of the fashion program to compete, and he won. The experience sparked an interest in shoe design and opened his eyes to a world of possibility.

“That got me thinking that no matter how different or specialized a design discipline is from another, if the ultimate goal is to turn an idea into a material construct, then design disciplines have a common ground,” Oknyansky said. “To me, this is the entrepreneurial liberator.”

It’s easy to misconstrue an architect’s decision to enter the high-fashion footwear business as an act of rebellion, but Oknyansky’s company, Shoes By Bryan, isn’t so much about spurning tradition as it is about expanding the scope of individual possibility by removing doubt, fear, and other man-made variables from the equation.

“I’m not crossing boundaries, I’m simply denying them,” Oknyansky explained. “The intellectual practice and confines of a discipline or industry have never deterred me from participating beyond architecture design.”

In fact, one need only look at a rather transfixing shoe from Oknyansky’s “Heavy Metal” collection, dubbed “Caged Heel,” to see the way in which architecture informs his current business. In a manner reminiscent of a suspension bridge, the shoe is designed to allow all of the force exerted by the foot to be transferred to the entire skeleton of the shoe, eliminating the need for the spike that normally defines a high-heeled shoe.

One of Bryan Oknyanksy's shoe designs, entitled Caged heel.

One of Bryan Oknyansky's shoe designs, "Caged Heel"

Architectural training alone, though, was not enough for Oknyansky to realize his design vision. He knew that going outside of his established skill set would be a valuable chance to learn something new.

In a very short time Oknyansky had mastered 3D printing technology, producing prototypes and finished products of his design entirely with digital fabrication technology. When he decided to design a line of shoes using plywood, he taught himself how to use a CNC machine and then built a jig so that his 3-axis machine could perform the functions of a 5-axis machine.

“If I could figure out how something was made, than what was keeping me from getting it done?” Oknyansky said. “It sounds silly and obvious, but when you realize that you’re one Youtube video away from learning how rotational molding works, you perk up a little bit. You realize that there’s opportunity on deck.”

But the shoes themselves are only one half of Shoes By Bryan. For Oknyansky, becoming an entrepreneur was no different from becoming a shoe designer – he simply had a different set of skills to master before he could turn his design prototypes into a full-fledged brand.

Some of Bryan Oknyansky's shoe designs.

Shoes by Bryan on diplay as the crowd awaits Bryan Oknyansky's presentation

Money, influence, and publicity (or lack thereof) are all common entrepreneurial hurdles. All it took for Oknyansky to clear them was a sense of confidence and a whole lot of networking. He began talking to and meeting everyone from fashion designers and magazine publishers to digital fabrication technology companies and materials suppliers until he had not only built a name for himself, but for his designs as well.

“Success is not dependent on knowing everything,” Oknyansky said. “I liken being a design entrepreneur to the physics of running a race. You need gear and you need muscles.”

Which is really just another way of saying that collaboration is an entrepreneur’s best friend. Clothing designers who were interested in Bryan’s designs were more than happy to give him exposure in exchange for lending his shoes out for use in fashion shows and advertisements. Tech companies were more than happy to give him materials and his own 3D printer in exchange for the exposure he would bring to their products. Presenting himself and his goals with confidence allowed Bryan to forge the collaborative partnerships that enabled him to build his business into a self-sustaining entity.

“That’s the beauty of networking and getting yourself out there,” Oknyansky said. “You have these chance encounters with people and one day you meet someone interesting. If you have something interesting to say, then they remember you and you remember them. I can make a link between what I want to achieve and why you should take me seriously. And the reason why you should take me seriously is because I’m someone who has a strong ethos and vision, which I’ve found is a very critical thing in order to keep yourself on track and stay true to what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Bryan Oknyanksy interacts with students

Bryan Oknyansky interacts with KCAD students

Is Bryan Oknyansky exceptional? Absolutely. Is he an anomaly? Absolutely not. The difference between Bryan and someone who spends their days bemoaning what could have been all comes down to perception. When we doubt possibility, when we accept that our identity, our skills, and our abilities are fixed and our dreams are only dreams, then we have already resigned ourselves to a life of self-imposed boundaries.

But when we realize that we have something amazing to offer, that we are capable of endless permutations and constant innovation, we see that all it takes to deny any boundary is a firm step forward.

To learn more about Bryan Oknyansky and his company, Shoes By Bryan, visit www.shoesbybryan.com


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