AARP's "Fearless at 50", Telling Inspiring Stories

A Uniquely Different Shoemaker and his Shoes

December 10, 2015 · Share via Email LinkedIn

Chris Donovan remembers exactly when and where his obsession with shoes began. He was a still teenager in high school, where he and his classmates were confined to strict uniforms and used accessories and hair styles to express themselves. One day, a girl came to school wearing the highest platform shoes he had ever seen. That was the first time he recognized shoes as how he still perceives them today, as a "piece of art on your foot."

Yet still, it took Donovan more than 25 years in another career as a phone operator and repair man before pursuing his passions. It wasn't until a scare with prostate cancer that he decided to make a change.

He says of the experience, "It taught me something — that you never know when your life's expiration date is. I've got one time here, and I've got to make the best of this."

And so, Donovan did. Over the age of 50 with no design experience and only a portfolio of sketches, he took a shot at what would be the first step towards a whole new career as a shoe designer. With no small ambitions, he applied to Italy's Polimoda Fashion Institute, one of the best fashion schools in the entire world. While happily surprised at his acceptance, he struggled at first to fit in with his much younger classmates.

"I did not look like a fashion student. I got mistaken for a janitor at one point," he laments.

Yet, once he leveraged his background in physical work with phone repair, he found his own unique style and his way. Today, you can see the influence of his life in his shoe materials: stairway railings, hip replacements, lilac wood. And, suddenly, the world began to fall in love with his work.

Today, as he approaches building his own business with his unconventional shoe designs, he carries an important lesson with him:

"Fear shouldn't paralyze you, it should make you move. You just reframe it as exciting. Being a success or failure wasn't the point of all this. If I fail at it, I'm okay with it. If I had gone through life and not tried... what would be the point? But, I did it. And, I wouldn't change a thing."

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