It’s been a leap year of sorts for San Francisco-based designer Ann Duskus. Afte 12 years of working full time and fitting in her customization projects when and where she could, the San Francisco Fashion Institute of Design graduate quit her job last fall and made the jump by opening a dedicated design studio, a space she shares with friend and fellow designer, Vicky Vuong.
The studio is not only a dedicated location for her to practice her life’s work of designing footwear but it’s also the base of operations for Studio Duskus, a workshop offering master shoe making classes.
Classes thus far have included Nike Uptempo overlay customization, Nike Air Force 1 pattern making and an intro to sneaker painting with an intro. Reflecting the burgeoning popularity of adding a human touch to mass produced footwear, all of the classes have sold out.
A classic American story if ever there was one, Duskus was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and immigrated with her family to the Bay Area when she was nine and has been there ever since. Her resume following graduation includes Levi’s, Ariat and The Shoe Surgeon.
We had had an exchange with Duskus via email and talked about her love of community above all else, her views on shifting footwear trends, an underrated Nike sneaker silhouette and navigating her identity. Check it out below.
SNOBETTE: You just moved into a new studio. You had been working out of a home office for eight years. What made you feel the time was right to leap and open a dedicated space? What do you hope to achieve through the space within the next year?
ANN DUSKUS: “Prior to the pandemic, I was only making shoes lightheartedly on the weekends or when I had extra time outside of my professional full-time job designing footwear for lifestyle brands. The pandemic opened my eyes to what’s really important to me and led me to focus on creating products that reflect my own aesthetic and values.
“Going public with the work I created opened up the doors to my decision to share shoemaking knowledge through a series of masterclasses I created specifically for the sneaker customizing community, which is now a big part of my life. To that point, a dedicated space would allow me the opportunity to host in-person students, as well as private clients which would help me expand as a creator from a business perspective.”
SNOBETTE: Much of your focus over the past three years has been dedicated to sneaker and shoe customization. What drew you into the footwear space and what was the first silhouette you customized?
ANN DUSKUS: “I’m a curious person by nature and I love learning new things. Realizing I was becoming complacent as an apparel designer, I was simply ready for a new challenge when the opportunity presented itself. The first silhouette I customized was the Air Jordan 3 with some of my favorite materials including raw denim and vegetable tanned natural leather; both of which age beautifully.”
SNOBETTE: Beyond just learning how to customize a shoe, what were some of the bigger lessons you learned from your time with Dominic Chambrone better known as The Shoe Surgeon?
ANN DUSKUS: “Beyond my time at The Shoe Surgeon, what continues to be the cornerstone of every design position I’ve had the honor to spend time in, are friendship and camaraderie. Huge shoutout to all the incredible, hard-working, beautiful people behind-the-scenes who ride the highs and lowest of lows hand-in-hand, together with a smile on their face. So much love for them.”
SNOBETTE: you recently launched Studio Duskus, a platform that provides online customization instruction. When did you launch the studio and who are the classes designed for?
ANN DUSKUS: I launched Studio Duskus officially in September of 2020. I created my virtual, live masterclass curricula centered around people who are curious about getting into sneaker customizing but don’t necessarily know where to begin. My hope is to remove or at the very least, minimize the barrier to entry so what might seem intimidating would become more user friendly.
SNOBETTE: Now that the world is opening back up, are you planning to offer in-person classes and perhaps even take your show on the road?
ANN DUSKUS: “Most definitely. I’ve been blessed with many requests to host in-person classes so I’ve been developing a one-on-one private, in-person curriculum that I hope to release for booking beginning mid to late August of 2021. Sneaker creation is such a special experience and I look forward to sharing that with students in person. Let’s see if this will evolve into a show on the road.”
SNOBETTE: Your level of organization is a beautiful thing to behold, what’s something foundational to you staying organized whether use of an app, an approach to organizing/throwing out stuff?
ANN DUSKUS: “Wow, thank you so much for saying that. Some might say I’m suffering from OCD but I would argue that being obsessive compulsive in a physical manner increases my productivity. Honestly it comes down to three things:
1. I only bring things, including but not limited to materials, machines…etc., into my studio on an as-needed basis; anything I don’t need in here is a distraction from the present so I don’t even invite them in.
2. I’m constantly cleaning as I work. I consciously start every project work day with an empty trash can below my work bench. Snipped thread or leather trimmings immediately goes in the trash so my desk remains free of clutter.
3. At the end of every work day, I clear off my work bench completely. Everything is put away in its proper ‘parking space’ so when I return the next day, I’m able to pick up where I left off with a fresh, clean slate.”
SNOBETTE: As a designer, what would you define as your superpower?
ANN DUSKUS: “I’m not sure as a designer but generally I’d like to believe that my superpower is my ability to build genuine friendships and relationships.”
SNOBETTE: You’ve worked with Nike’s Air Force 1 and Air Jordan 1 quite a bit. Having deconstructed both of those shoes, what about their design do you think makes them so appealing?
ANN DUSKUS: “The reality is, I have a really hard time dissecting why the AF1 and the AJ1 designs are so appealing. The longevity of these two silhouettes have made them so iconic that it’s difficult to pinpoint why it’s so popular today because they’re just so classic.
“If I’m being honest, I only began working with these two silhouettes because the lasts were one of the few available on the market at the time. Fun fact, prior to customizing them, I’ve never owned or worn either silhouettes.”
SNOBETTE: What’s one sneaker silhouette you view as underrated given the strength of its design?
ANN DUSKUS: “I absolutely adore the Nike ZoomX Vista Grind silhouette. It’s so visually interesting and checks off all the trends.”
SNOBETTE: You’re very much in tune with shifting shoe silhouette trends. Do you see any signs of people wanting to expand their shoe wardrobes beyond sneakers?
ANN DUSKUS: “Absolutely, I do think people are ready to expand their shoe wardrobes beyond sneakers more than ever. With professional athletes leading the way and utilizing their game day arrival to the stadium as a runway to show off their OOTD paired with accessories that are not sneakers. Couple that with the inaccessibility of popular sneakers consumers want to buy but can’t in the draw on the SNKRS app, I think the desire to expand will uptrend.”
SNOBETTE: I loved the Koi Birkenstock Boston sandal you designed and how it speaks to your Taiwanese background. Identity is so complex and built on a variety of ever-morphing building blocks depending on many factors. Is it easy to parse how your ethnicity enters the chat of your work or do you not spend much time thinking about such things and simply let your ideas flow?
ANN DUSKUS: “I typically don’t place too much emphasis on my ethnicity and what role it plays in my work because the reality is, I more or less identify as an American because I’ve spent most of my life here in America. Perhaps unconsciously I avoid calling out my ethnical background because to me, that shouldn’t have any implication on what I do professionally. That being said, I do believe being who I am as an Asian American woman is truly a gift and I appreciate the empathy and compassion I’ve gained from it.”
SNOBETTE: It’s very popular these days to hate on San Francisco and more generally California. What’s one thing you adore about San Francisco that would be very hard to leave behind?
ANN DUSKUS: “Accessibility. It’s hard to think of another geographical location where you can surf, golf, and snowboard all in the same day. Having direct access to the beautiful outdoors is certainly something that’s hard to leave behind. Also the food scene in SF is *chef’s kiss.*