Sole sister: Bridget Brown

Bridget Brown’s strappy, happy sandals are the joy of Jamaica’s fashionistas

Bridget Brown. Photograph courtesy Andrea DavisOne of Bridget’s creations. Photograph courtesy Bridget’s SandalsOne of Bridget’s creations. Photograph courtesy Bridget’s Sandals

I was prepared to give up a lot of things on moving back to Jamaica. Stilettos were not negotiable. You can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take the four-inch heels off her feet. Over my dead body. No sir. The flat-shoe, flip-flop, sandal-wearing lifestyle was not for me.

And then I saw one.

A thing of beauty so perfect it should have been hanging on a gallery wall or from a socialite’s ear lobe. A delicate twist of silver leather threaded through the toes and around the ankle. This was no sandal. This was wearable dessert. I was hooked.

“These,” smiled the wearer with a tap of her perfectly pedicured foot, “are from Bridget.” It was a smile that said, “Step into the light, sister. I know I look good.

“And my feet don’t hurt.”

And so began my indoctrination into the well-heeled Jamfemme’s guiltiest pleasure — the strappy, happy confections that can only come from Bridget’s Sandals.

My maiden pilgrimage to this shoe-lover’s mecca took me into sensory overload. The Bridget’s Sandal’s HQ is the home of shoe designer Bridget Brown. The lush, riotously coloured garden is rivalled only by the beauties on display inside — a dizzying array of styles and every shade in the Caribbean colour palette. Rows and rows of sinfully pretty sandals that seemed to say “welcome home” to my tired feet. The official footwear for the Caribbean woman and all her contradictions, the line is delicate but sturdy, stunning but practical; the perfect blend of form and function. I waffled over colours and styles until, out of nowhere, a voice like warm coffee said, “Those red ones are yours, sister.” And so they were.

Like her eponymous line, the real Bridget is equal parts strength and beauty. A tall, graceful woman with a mane of blonde dreadlocks and a warm, authoritative voice, she exudes a sense of spirituality and realness. Bridget came to sandal-making from a career that included stints as a model in a Kingston clothing boutique and a bunny at the famed Playboy Hotel in St Ann. In her spare time, she made her own clothes and jewellery, but cast about for a career that would stick, until one day, when a friend gave her an “affirmation”:

“Father, give me the divine design of my life and a definite lead now.

Reveal to me my divine talent, under grace, in a perfect way.

And so it is. And so it is to be.”

“I said it every day for six years,” she says. “And nothing happened. And then one day, when I was really on my last lap, I heard a still small voice say to me ‘Bridget, why don’t you make ladies’ leather sandals?’ Instantly I saw all these sandals in my mind’s eye. Red and gold and silver and bronze. The voice was so encouraging and so assured that I believed it and I believed in myself.

”No small feat, considering that, despite a long love for fashion, Bridget knew nothing about shoe-making. She emptied her bank account to buy her first supplies, and, over years of trial and error, taught herself the business. With only her personal taste as her guide, she set about designing a line that would ultimately evolve into a uniquely Caribbean footwear aesthetic: rich colours, simple but sophisticated designs, and a heavy dose of sex appeal. The footwear equivalent of a string bikini.

Twenty-odd years later, her unique designs have earned her a reputation as an innovator in Caribbean fashion and an insanely loyal customer base.

“People keep coming back because the sandals are unique,” says Bridget. “They’re inspired by the things I see living here. I’ll be walking down the street and see a leaf or a feather, and an idea will come to mind. Or I’ll look at a fish moving through water and get inspiration. I’ll play with a piece of leather on my foot, and if it falls in a way that looks sexy, I’ll pursue it.

”Though she now sells sandals wholesale through the Caribbean and the United States, she still manufactures and retails from her home in Kingston — a place where loyal customers drop by for conversation and connection as much as for shoe-shopping. Each pair is painstakingly handmade by Bridget and her small staff of nine, whom she credits for her success. The choice to stay handmade means that while the quality has stayed high, the margins have stayed thin.

“I’m not in this for the money,” she says. “You have to deal with the life power within you. If you’re in tune with yourself and paying attention to the present, you’ll hear that small voice speaking within you.

“When you’re being true to yourself . . . that, to me, is the definition of success.”

It’s enough to make a believer out of me.