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The Gap Between Trendy and Sustainable Footwear

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As part of our Introduction to the Fashion Business class, we began researching Nicole Prudence, Design Director at Dr. Scholl's and Caleres, and the award-winning Hunter sustainable sneaker in September. We learned so much about Ms. Prudence, the brand, and the product, and we couldn't wait to speak to her about her journey.

This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by LIM students with winners of the Accessories Council's 2021 Design Excellence Awards (DEA). Students are enrolled in the College's Introduction to the Fashion Business classes.

Dr. Scholl's won the Best Footwear under $250 category at this year's Accessories Council Design Excellence Awards with their Hunter sustainable sneaker. Nicole Prudence directed the design of this shoe. Caleres, Inc. is the parent company of Dr. Scholl's and other shoe brands that are transitioning to more eco-conscious choices.

Pictured is the award-winning Hunter Sustainable Sneaker.
Pictured above is the award-winning Hunter Sustainable Sneaker.

We began our interview after introducing ourselves to Ms. Prudence:

We learned that you majored in Graphic Design at the University of Central Missouri. What made you go from graphic design to footwear design?

Prudence said she had always loved art and design growing up and wanted to apply her design skills towards a fashion-based career. She explained, “I connected to some people in footwear and really liked it; it’s been my career ever since!”

What is it like working at such a large company like Dr. Scholl’s?

Prudence explained although it is a large brand, it is important to have the mindset that you're running your own mini-company. She explained, “we're trying to focus on these collections and our consumers’ needs.” She revealed it helps to work at a large company because she has so much support in what she is doing.

What was your inspiration behind the Hunter Sustainable Sneaker?

Prudence explained the Hunter sustainable sneaker was the company’s second Accessories Council award winner, their first being the Herzog sneaker. Dr. Scholl's took what they learned from the Herzog and improved it with the Hunter. Prudence then went on to state, “Our brand is focused on sustainability, so it felt like it was a great opportunity to take that concept and focus it into one item.”

Were there any challenges in designing such a sustainable shoe??

Prudence shared, "Our main challenges were traceability and cost." It was quite challenging to discover the correct materials and reliable vendors. Working within Dr. Scholl's pricing restrictions was problematic because employing sustainable materials and practices is more expensive, ​​but Dr. Scholl’s was able to overcome this with the finished Hunter.

Is it rewarding to develop shoes that are becoming more sustainable? What motivates you and the company to continue being more environmentally responsible?

Prudence gave us an excited, "Yes! We are so proud of our brand’s progress.” Prudence then went on to discuss how the Dr. Scholl’s team is educating other brands at Caleres on sustainable practices. Prudence continued, “It's about sharing and collaborating on how to do better." We also learned Dr. Scholl's has created a new logo for the brand to highlight sustainability since that mission has become the main focus.

What is next for you and Dr. Scholl’s? Are you working on any exciting projects that we can expect in the future?

Ms. Prudence explained that they're exploring the Gen Z consumer and working on connecting with them using bolder prints and higher platforms. "We're diving deeper into better materials and traceability!” Prudence said she is “always thinking three steps ahead to deliver fresh styles.”

What advice do you have for college students who are trying to figure out their futures?

Prudence responded to our last question by enthusiastically stating, “I think this is awesome, just for you guys to be able to connect with people you’ve never met and ask open questions.” She encouraged us to explore every avenue and not put any limitations on ourselves.

We are grateful for the opportunity to speak with Ms. Prudence, and we are excited to see their "Gen Z" perspective on sustainable footwear. We can now make more environmentally friendly footwear selections thanks to our understanding of the Dr. Scholl's brand. We learned from Prudence that there doesn't always have to be a gap between trendy and sustainable footwear!

Top Row: Carly Pomerantz and Lauren Molnar Bottom Row: Nicole Prudence
Top Row: Carly Pomerantz and Lauren Molnar
Bottom Row: Nicole Prudence