Erin Lowenberg is the Creative Director of Rothy’s, the cult-favorite shoe brand where style meets sustainability. Each shoe is made from 100% recycled plastic water bottles, and Erin is responsible for all of the color, pattern, and design that ends up on every one. Beyond design, in her role, Erin says she’s, “always looking for new sustainable materials that will surprise and delight our customer.” Constant inspiration is also important. Her studio is filled with anything from her, “favorite books, to a random collection of hilarious greeting cards and The New Yorker cartoons, to artwork and love notes from my two incredible daughters.” Wondering how a person lands the job of making chic shoes from water bottles? Erin shares her journey below.

What was your first job out of college? How did you get it?

I graduated from college and moved to Chicago, Illinois to work at Edelman Public Relations. I survived several rounds of interviews with the help of two great college friends who had been working at the firm full time for a year. Once hired, I spent much of my PR career cutting articles out of newspapers and magazines, cataloguing them and quantifying placements. It was not quite the fast-paced creative environment that I would later thrive in, but I was happy to have a job and appreciated the experience. And I appreciated the support that my friends lent me.  

What was your college major? Did you feel like your major was necessary for the field you wanted to work in?

I received my bachelor’s degree in History from Denison University, a liberal arts college. While it seems an unlikely major for my career, I deeply enjoy history. I draw upon the past regularly, for creative integrity, for storytelling. From the innovation of ancient textiles, to the shifts in clothing use, meaning and design, history is as important to me as the potential that the future holds. My liberal arts education taught me to think differently and added to my already inquisitive nature. 

For example, when I see the 3-D knitting machines we use, I acknowledge that yes, they can make these beautiful shoes, but what else can they do? What other materials can I use with these machines? What other shapes can they create? This focus on learning and questioning has prepared me incredibly well for my career, especially when technology is changing everything so quickly.

What internships did you do prior to your first job? 

One summer, I worked at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. as a press intern. It was so stimulating and fast-paced. My manager was Tiki Davies, who headed PR at the Kennedy Center. She was smart, strong, chic, and in charge. I learned a great deal about PR, but more formative was the impact that Tiki left on me. She was cool, calm, and had it all together. I wanted to do that someday, in some way. I am still striving for it.

How did you land your current job?

Before coming to Rothy’s, I had over twenty years of retail experience at a number of consumer brands from Gap to Patagonia. I was a sales associate at Banana Republic on Michigan Avenue and worked my way up to assistant store manager. There is nothing more educational than working in a store, talking to customers, and selling clothes. It’s hard work, very physical, and a bit theatrical. But the retail bug had bitten, so I was off to become a merchant. 

I cut my teeth in retail at Gap Inc. for a decade, starting in the late 90s. I took some time off to have and raise my girls, consulting here and there to keep my brain engaged in business and product. During that time, one of the Rothy’s co-founders and an old friend, Roth Martin, asked me to begin consulting for Rothy’s in its early stages. I happily agreed, and jumped in to help Roth and Stephen develop the inaugural product launch! I’ve been here ever since, and made the jump to full-time as Creative Director in October 2017. Dream job.

What was the best/worst piece of advice you ever received?

Best advice: Take the long view. Bestowed upon me by my father, in an effort to teach me that the big things matter. 

Worst advice: Get a perm. My high school friends in 1988. 

Is there any part of your role that our readers would be surprised to know?

I make many prints, patterns, and color combinations when designing our product each season. There are some really weird ideas that end up looking gorgeous. And wow have I sampled some mistakes. But I have such speed in development and such little waste in my process, I experiment all the time. 

I feel like a scientist and an artist rolled into one.