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While most brands rely on a slow and steady buzz, it took barely a year for LA label Wal & Pai's minimalist-chic footwear to make a serious stomp in the shoe scene. Although the DTLA-produced brand has already nabbed a Young Guns nod, founders Hsuan Pai and Harel Waldman are no newbies to crafting crowd-pleasing shoes.
Born and raised in Louisiana, Pai briefly lived in her parents's native Taiwan before the clan jetsetted back to the States. "I've known from when I was eight years old that I wanted to do something in fashion [and] go to New York," she tells us, but her "traditional Chinese parents" forbade her plans. "I messed around for a few years, took a bunch of classes, and did absolutely nothing. [Eventually] my mom was like, 'I can't take this anymore.'"
Pai went on to study at FIDM in Downtown and did stints at contemporary footwear companies Charles David and Pelle Moda, where she linked up with Waldman. "He was doing the branded side and I was doing the private label," says, Pai, "and we've always liked [each other's work]."
While Pai always had her eye on fashion, Waldman's foray into footwear happened "by mistake." After his then-girlfriend tried (and failed four times) to get into prestigious Tel Aviv fashion school Shenkar, the Israel-born designer applied on a whim—and nabbed a spot. "I was into art, graphic design, and music," he admits. "I decided to go with it."
After meeting luxury designer Elie Tahari, Waldman moved to NYC to work for him four and a half years. He eventually began dreaming up shoes for an array of brands until he and Pai finally broke out on their own. The designer duo debuted Wal & Pai in August 2014 and swiftly landed on the shelves of cult-cool online and IRL shops like Need Supply, Anthom, and LA-based Lust Covet Desire.
We sat down with the cool talents (who reveal and men's footwear and handbags could happen next!) at Kreation Kafe on West Third Street, where we discovered their fave LA haunts, which long-ago era's shoe game they'd love to observe, and more.
What are you both drinking today?
Hsuan: Cinnamon! It tastes really good, I have no idea about the health effects but apparently it [involves] weight loss.
Harel: We picked it because I'm on a diet!
Silver or gold?
If you were a shoe, what would you be?
Hsuan: A flat slip-on.
Harel: A limited-edition sneaker.
If you could time travel and observe any other era's shoe game, when would it be?
Hsuan: The Victorian era.
Harel: The 1940s in Europe, or 3015.
Eastside or Westside?
Finish this sentence: Good things come to those who....
Hsuan: ...are relentless.
Harel: ...wear good shoes.
Favorite place to shop in LA?
Harel: Union on La Brea.
What's your go-to LA coffee shop?
Hsuan: Superba Food + Bread on Lincoln in Venice.
Harel: Proof in Atwater Village.
If you could walk in the shoes of another designer, who would it be?
Hsuan: Helmut Lang.
Harel: Probably [French designer] Maud Frizon or Salvatore Ferragamo.
No. 1 comfort food?
Hsuan: Creamed corn.