Casey Dworkin

Photo: Mava Foto

Photo: Mava Foto

Age || 27

Company Name || Sylven New York

Job Title || Founder, Creative Director

Company Start Date || September 2017

Years Living In New York || 6 1/2

Social Handles || @sylvennewyork, @bettershopbk

Company Website || Sylven New York

What did you want to be as a child?

As a really young kid I wanted to be a singer. I grew up singing and I still play music and sing currently, but never pursued music professionally. I always loved to express myself creatively, and fell into fashion at a young age. I started to really fall in love with shoes in my teens as I was learning about the industry, and decided I wanted to be a shoe designer — I’ve been designing and working with shoes ever since.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given when you were starting Sylven New York?

The best pieces of advice I’ve received have all involved forging your own path. It’s always hard not to compare your trajectory to that of others but, ultimately, when you do things in your own way, that’s when you see results — and they are so much more meaningful and substantial. Another piece of advice that came directly from a designer I’ve admired for over a decade was to just keep going.

How do you define success?

To me, success is just about creating something that you can stand behind and be proud of. Of course, being self-sustaining, and hitting certain milestones are all rolled into what I’ll define as ‘successful’ for my brand, but I often have to step away from goals, and remind myself that being successful is just about doing the damn thing.

Photo: Franey Miller

Photo: Franey Miller

What is the most important thing you’ve learned since starting out?

It’s definitely a constant learning experience, but I’ve learned a lot about being patient, staying true to my vision, and the importance of streamlining and simplifying.

What is your go-to motivational quote?

I’m not a super ‘quote’ driven person, but I turn a lot to mindfulness and gratitude to refocus and recenter myself.

What made you interested in starting your own shoe collection?

I spent my entire professional career working in shoes and wanting my own collection, but it was really a combination of a few heavy personal life experiences that pushed me to realize just how short life can be. If you want something to happen, you just have to go for it.

Do you have a personal motto?

I operate a lot under the line ‘you catch more flies with honey than vinegar’ and really value building close positive relationships with the people I work with in any capacity.

How do you keep sustainability at the core of your business?

It starts with the design for my shoes, so I really consider my materials and what is going to work best for each style. I work hard to source recycled, recyclable, and/or biodegradable materials. I try to think not only in terms of using and producing less, but also what happens at the end of a shoe’s life and how it breaks down. I also think a lot about my production in general, so I produce fewer styles and only release a few items at a time. For me, it’s important to introduce sustainability in all aspects of my business.

Photo: Franey Miller

Photo: Franey Miller

Which women inspire you?

Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah of Studio 189 are two women whom I am totally fangirling over. They are taking the sustainable fashion world by storm, and they are creating a substantive brand with an incredible mission and backstory. They also add such an element of fun to what they do and it’s such a great reminder that fashion is meant to be a connector.

What is your workspace like?

My current workspace is my retail shop in Williamsburg. I bounce back and forth between working with customers, and sitting behind the register or on the couch sketching or answering emails. It can be a bit hectic, but it’s an inspiring space, and I’m happy to be building out my in-store team to help out if I have to tend to other things.

How do you overcome moments of self-doubt?

Remembering that most things are temporary is always helpful for times when I feel stuck. And, just as quickly as something feels negative or stagnant, so too can it turn around. Good things can be just around the corner.

What is the hardest part about being your own boss?

At the moment, it’s remembering to take care of myself and not work around the clock. I also have a tendency to work on a million projects at the same time, and figuring out how to prioritize my tasks and my time is something I’m still learning how to balance.

How do you handle situations where you feel overwhelmed?

Anytime I start to feel really overwhelmed I try to do something relaxing to get myself feeling rested and recharged. I usually try to get a massage, or play some music, or just do something that uses an entirely different part of my brain so that I can give myself a mental break.

Photo: Franey Miller

Photo: Franey Miller

What is your design process?

I do a lot of research in my sketching process. I usually start with either a specific style I want to develop, or even think about a detail or material I want to use, and then I just sketch. I sketch all sorts of versions and start with small thumbnails just to get my ideas out of my head and onto paper. I recently started using an iPad and stylus to draw, and it has totally revolutionized my sketching process.

How has your background helped you with Sylven?

My educational background was largely in Product Design, so thinking about an end user and being really practically minded set my foundation for design. It’s super helpful when making a consumer facing product like footwear. As far as work experience, I spent the better part of five years working for other small shoe brands, and it was super helpful to see how other companies operate and grow. Also, equally as helpful was learning a lot about how brands were doing things that I felt could be done differently.

What are some of your goals moving forward for Sylven New York?

I have so many! Some of the things I’m hoping to see this year include some celebrity clientele. I’d really love a dedicated press write up in a popular fashion publication. And I’m building out my wholesale division and would love to pick up a few great retailers this year.

What advice would you give to other women looking to create their own company?

If you’re working on something that you can give your whole heart, body, and soul to, then absolutely do it. Know that it’s going to be extremely taxing, and it might feel isolating at times, but it’s incredibly rewarding to watch your vision come to life, and it has the potential to be a huge source of motivation and happiness.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Sarah Fielding