Then, after about two weeks, Richards travels to the factory near Hong Kong, and the process accelerates. "Questions get answered faster, you get ideas. Some of the best shoes at market were the ones designed in China," she said. "You go over all the specs -- color, material, the zipper finish."
It takes the factory about six weeks to make the sales samples that will be displayed in the showroom during market. Buyers from the big department stores like Bloomingdale's and Macy's as well as many independent stores will visit the showrooms of many brands of shoes.
"I go to as many meetings as I can with buyers. Their feedback is vital because I need to know what customers need," she said. "There are a lot of other brands; it's very competitive."
Richards was in China in early December preparing the prototypes for next month's market, where store buyers will place their orders. Then it's up to the factory to make anywhere from 500 to 2,000 pairs per style, and get them delivered to stores by August or September.
"The final achievement is what does the public think of it. Sometimes, you're too fast, too cool with your designs. But it's fun to hit on something cool."
She believes she has done that with the sneakers for Boutique 9. Convinced the sports shoe is a big fashion trend, she said she had to sell that concept to the brand's sales team, backing up her ideas with market research.
"I have a soft spot for sport fashion. It's graphic design in 3-D. I really had to push for it."
Richards said when she was in college she didn't know what she does now even existed. She studied interior design for two years at Ohio's Miami University, before she realized she was more interested in designing products for the house than in decorating it. She transferred to the University of Cincinnati, completing a degree in industrial design in 2003. While there, she had an internship with a footwear company in New York City.
"It was a perfect fit for me, a blend of industrial design and fashion," she said.
Her favorite things are footwear, jewelry and handbags -- in that order.
In the Brooklyn apartment she shares with Kevin Richards, her husband of four years, Richards admitted to having three 9-foot-tall bookcases full of shoes plus many other pairs tucked in various corners.
"Shoes, I think, are like little mini architecture," she said. "They're fun to draw ... but they're more of a sculpture. ... I have so much fun with materials and color and color combinations."
She said she does try to take comfort into account. That's where the money is because women can't really walk around in high heels, and they have to buy wearable shoes. Then women require a great pair of boots, and then party shoes. "But you don't need five party shoes -- or do you?"
Of her high heels, "My husband says, 'You don't even wear those shoes.' But they're so pretty, you want to just look at them; they make nice wall art," Richards said.
To see more of Rachel Richards' designs, visit www.cooldesigncouple.com.
Reach Rosalie Earle at ea...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.