An entrepreneur discovers interchangeability to be her biggest asset
Meet the local designer behind Cambiami.
In 2009 an idea light bulb went off for Diane Licht, founder and CEO of Manhattan Beach–based shoe company Cambiami. The idea was from a single object: her suitcase.
“I was working at NBC and was on vacation in Greece,” says Diane, a Calabasas native. “I’d overpacked and checked a bag and paid an excess baggage fee. I got to Greece and opened my suitcase to see what was so heavy [that I had paid all these fees], and it was shoes. I had basically packed 10 pairs of shoes for a 12-day trip. They were all T-strap sandals, and none of them were comfortable—so I couldn’t walk all day. They were really just in a variety of colors. I thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way to have all of my sandal looks without sacrificing comfort and function for fashion.’”
At the time, Diane— who attended University of Michigan and later transferred to University of Southern California where she majored in public relations with a minor in business—was working as a television publicist at NBCUniversal on shows including The Biggest Loser, Heroes, 30 Rock, House, Last Call With Carson Daly and Whitney.
“I love TV, and it was a total passion. But I think I always knew in my gut that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I wanted to start my own business,” says Diane. “But I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
After returning home from vacation, Diane couldn’t shake her shoe idea, but she knew in order to move from the entertainment industry to fashion she’d need to learn and master the technical side of footwear manufacturing before going into production.
“I did some research and found that Arsutoria in Milan was one of the best footwear schools in the world,” says Diane. “Students from all over the world go to Arsutoria to study Italian craftsmanship and learn how shoes are supposed to be constructed. Our professors worked for some of the top footwear brands like Chanel and Manolo Blahnik.”
Over the next year Diane worked on the idea and cut up approximately 100 pairs of sandals. She worked on a business plan before she had her “aha” moment and a dream sandal.
“I get excited when I see women wearing Cambis and hearing their stories about where they wore them.”
Her sandal design, though, wouldn’t just be any ordinary sandal. Diane’s creation (“cambiami” means “change me” in Italian) features sandal bases in six colors and stylish, interchangeable straps in patterns including tangerine-hued patent leather, metallic suede, animal prints, laser-cut patterns, geometric designs and even cork.
The sandal also needed to meet a set of crucial criteria before she would leave her longtime job and dig into her life savings to launch the company in 2015. “It had to be extremely comfortable,” says Diane of the versatile shoes now available in more than 500 combinations. “We developed a memory foam insole, creating a shoe that is wearable all day while not losing its unique style or looking like a comfort shoe. We used a rubber outsole so our shoes flex and contour as you step. Both straps and soles are made of soft leather.”
But when it came to swap out individual sandal straps, Diane knew this needed to be an easy, hassle-free process. “In seconds you can switch out the straps and create an entirely new sandal,” Diane explains. “And they had to be affordable. One Cambiami sandal sole and three straps give you the equivalent of three sandal looks at the price of one traditional sandal.”
Now Diane and her team of 10 employees have launched a line of wedge heels, a bridal collection (worn by celebrities including country singer Kelsea Ballerini) and expanded the brand to 200 stores throughout the country. “I think we are really doing something different,” says Diane, who affectionately refers to her sandal designs as “Cambis.”
“I’m always thinking about a better solution to everyday problems. I think at the heart of my passion is problem-solving, which is what makes Cambis the perfect sandal for every day and travel. I get excited when I see women wearing Cambis and hearing their stories about where they wore them. I also love creating and inventing and seeing what is next to come.”