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Ohio State grad’s boot designs awarded best in Western style

Caitlin Beals

Durango designer and OSU graduate Caitlin Beals was part of a team at the shoe company awarded the 2013 Plus Award for design excellence in the Cowboy Boots category.
Credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Knight, Rocky Brands, Inc. senior photographer

Caitlin Beals’ footwear designs show that boots are no longer made for just walking, but also winning awards.

The Ohio State alumna was part of a design team at Durango, a division under Rocky Brands, Inc. specializing in western and fashion footwear, which was recently awarded the 2013 Plus Award for design excellence in the Cowboy Boots category.

The 15th annual Plus Awards, created by “Footwear Plus,” a fashion magazine devoted to the footwear industry, were announced in February. Durango’s designs for the award-winning boots were displayed in the publication’s January 2013 issue.

According to a Durango press release, the Plus Awards are determined by the votes of footwear industry members each year.

“I was very surprised,” Beals said of her initial reaction to winning the Plus Award. “As I continue to learn about this industry more and more, I think it is an important award. I definitely was not expecting it, but is really nice to know consumers out there are enjoying our products.”

This was the inaugural year for the Plus Awards’ Cowboy Boots category and Durango’s first win, said Amber Vanwy, Durango product manager.

“We were up against some pretty stiff competition, so it was truly an honor,” she said.

Beals graduated from OSU in May 2012 with a degree in industrial design and began her career at Rocky Brands about two months after graduating, she said.

“Like any college senior, I started applying and looking for jobs around the area,” Beals said. “I wasn’t fully set on what job I wanted and in what field. I’ve always been interested in footwear, and I came across Rocky (Brands).”

Beals currently serves as an associate designer and developer for Durango, a position that allows her to have a hand in “pretty much everything” involved in the design and manufacturing process, she said.

“It’s a collaborative effort and we really work on the whole line of Durango,” Beals said. “We do everything from concept idealization to sketching to actually going and putting the specs out. We see it all the way through until (the boot) goes to commercialization.”

Beals said coming up with new concepts is her favorite part of being a designer.

“Innovation doesn’t need to be necessarily coming up with the latest technology, it is just coming up with a unique look,” she said. “Being able to watch it grow from a sketch that you may have even started on like a napkin all the way to the final product going into the commercialization, I think that is awesome.”

Many of Beals’ creations are inspired by current trends in materials and patterns, but some aspects are drawn from natural elements, she said.

“To come up with new, creative ideas, it’s always good to look at the latest material,” Beals said. “We get to play with a lot of different, fun leathers and fabrics and also look at color trends. It’s kind of nice to look to different things … like nature can always inspire the shaft of the boot.”

The variety of Beals’ sources of inspiration and her incorporation of these elements into her designs is one aspect that set Durango’s winning boot design apart from the competition, Vanwy said.

“Caitlin does a really great job in design as far as knowing what kind of colors are on trend and taking design elements that you wouldn’t normally see in cowboy boots and incorporating that into western boots,” she said. “She has a very good eye for doing that.”

Beals said much of what she learned as a student in the OSU Department of Design has proven to have real-world applications.

“At OSU, you get a really good foundation of the steps from concept idealization all the way to considering the manufacturing processes and cost analysis,” she said. “I definitely think it gives you a good idea for what you’re going to face in a real job.”

She added that many of her classes at OSU have proved helpful in real world settings.

“All of my industrial design major courses help me with all aspects of coming up with ideas all the way to executing the final design,” she said. “Color theory was a class that I took that was pretty interesting … now I am really seeing that help me in my current job position. The beginning sketching classes I took just really help me now with coming up with ideas and getting them down on paper.”

Carolina Gill, an associate professor of industrial design, said she taught Beals in several classes and helped Beals with her senior thesis.

“Caitlin was a very dedicated, very serious student. She was always trying to do better and improve. She worked really hard,” Gill said. “She is also a very good designer, but what stands out from all the other things is she developed her skills very well.”

Beals said she is thankful for the foundation provided by the OSU design program, yet she has also learned valuable lessons through workplace experience.

“The industrial design field I went into really gave me some good preparation and the building blocks to start a career in product design and development,” she said. “You definitely learn a lot on the job for what is involved… the (aspects of design) you don’t necessarily focus on in college.”

Beals said she and the Durango team are currently working on the autumn 2015 collection.

“We’re coming up with the collections we want to move forward with,” she said. “We’re just in the beginning stages of the Fall 2015 timeline and we’ve got a lot of fun stuff in the works for the future.”

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