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Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
Sarah Ahn-Ianni has always adored the worlds of fashion and art, particularly its ties to design. After studying footwear design at the renowned Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion, she aimed to work for an array of footwear brands and suppliers to understand both the creative practice and marketplace. Such interest landed her roles in London, New York, and Hong Kong—at companies Faryl Robin, Puibright, and Shellys London, developing collections for clients like Free People, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and Steve Madden.
This compounded background propelled her into over a decade of experience in working with private labels and designing for footwear suppliers. Still, she aspired to create something of her own. “This would always make me question what kind of brand I wanted to build and what kind of a designer I am,” she recently told Whitewall. “So, in 2019, I finally made the leap to explore and develop ideas.”
Over the next three years, alongside her partner in life and work, Dominic Ianni, those ideas blossomed into what is now Sadi Studios—a size-inclusive footwear brand that launched late last yaer, catering to women, men, transgender, and non-binary people around the globe. Bold colors, unique silhouettes, and expressive patterns give the wearer something to complement their personalities with.
Established in Los Angeles, conceptualized in Seoul, and developed in London, the design inspiration is also a direct reflection of its co-founder, Ahn-Ianni, with some recent styles even inspired by childhood icons like Sailormoon and Polly Pocket. “I was born in Seoul and moved to the U.K. when I was nine. Then 20-odd years later, I relocated to L.A. when I got married,” she said. All my design references are very much personal, and I try to tell my story and experiences through the collection.”
Whitewall spoke with Ahn-Ianni to hear how Sadi Studios is a reflection of the cultural makeup of our society today, and what other categories it’s dreaming up next.
WHITEWALL: The brand is a size-inclusive and unisex footwear brand, which offers options for all—including short and tall people, as well as transwomen, men, and non-binary people. Why was this an important mission for the brand to lead with?
SARAH AHN-IANNI: It was important because it should be easy for everyone to access a shoe of their choice in their size. Fashion is fun because there is freedom in how we express ourselves, and I think traditional footwear sizing restricts this.
WW: How are you keeping your finger on the pulse of what these people are gravitating toward, shoe design aside, to complement their lifestyle with a new product?
SAI: I’ve been blessed to have lived in one of the biggest cultural melting pots—London. Growing up there, you naturally learn about your friends’ heritage, about culture, and you experience so many different foods, fashion, art, and music. I love to explore new places with friends or family, whether that is a new city or country. I have to try all the local food and shopping spots, and scope out the streetwear! I am also big foodie, so I definitely love trying new restaurants and revisiting favorites.
WW: For the first collection, were there any specific cultural points you pulled from for design inspiration—like travel, art, or food—for its playful shapes, mixed materials, and bold colors?
SAI: Yes absolutely. I like to think all the designs are a reflection of my heritage, personal experiences, or nostalgia. Most styles were inspired by my earlier years in Korea before moving to the U.K. We have six styles in the collection. For GOON a GABI, the outsoles on these boots take inspiration from a Korean traditional shoe. “고무신” literally translates to “rubber shoes.” For styles GABI and HARU, the ribbing pattern was inspired by the traditional sock we wear with rubber shoes—버선. Sailormoon, my favorite childhood anime, was the muse for styles BAM and JIN. The colorways of BAM came from my love for Polly Pocket.
WW: How does focusing on inclusivity impact what you create? Do you create or scrap ideas based on your wide demographic?
SAI: Initially, I focus on what my friends and I would love to wear and then consider how it would fit on different people. For example, I’ve been working on a high boot, and since fit-testing on different-sized models, I am back to the drawing board to ensure it will fit all calf widths. I also have to remember how much it costs to open and last, as well as any new heel molds and outsoles as our wide-size range racks up the cost very quickly. This just means I narrow down to my favorite constructions so it can be shared across styles.
WW: What is your design process typically like?
SAI: Through traveling or catching up with a friend, or seeing a show, movie, or gallery, random ideas pop up in my head. I try to note or sketch them down before I forget. Then, when I have time to sit and review, I will look back on the notes, do some research, develop ideas further, and work with our sample room to bring them into reality.
WW: How does design translate in other areas of your life? Do you like to play with design in your personal or professional spaces?
SAI: I think design impacts everything I see and do, and everywhere I go and live. I appreciate so many different forms of art and design and, unfortunately, this means my home ends up looking like a pick-and-mix, with various different styles and collections from art to decor pieces.
WW: What are you working on this summer?
SAI: I am working on a few styles at the moment with silhouettes that I felt were missing from the last collection. I won’t give away too much, as it’s still in the works, but there is one style I am dying to wear in summer! I also hope to expand our product range into other categories like bags and accessories in the near future, as I love a matched look!
Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.