How a spark of an idea for a sneaker turned Crystal4U into a sparkling business

 

South Florida News Service

During her freshman year in high school, Megan Rodriguez, now 21, wore Converse sneakers of various colors almost every day.

Her signature style of shoes would not change, even when it came to her quinceañera celebration.

Rodriguez had a 15th birthday party that included a glamorous dress, choreographed dance routines and countless friends and family members. Every detail was traditional, except for her choice of shoes.

“Instead of the traditional ballet flat, I figured I’d be different and wear my signature Converse,” she said. “Of course, since I wore them every day, they weren’t the prettiest.”

Those sneakers are part of a series that Cynthia Rodriguez, Megan’s mother, created using Swarovski crystals to vamp up and give her daughter’s footwear a more glamorous look.

“I had to figure out a way to upscale the Converse,” said Rodriguez, 45, of Weston.

The shoes became so popular that Rodriguez started getting requests for them and soon started her business, Crystal4U.

Ashley Reyes, a salsa dancer and a customer, had her shoes and costumes crystalized for her performances.

“For our salsa shoes, we would have her dazzle the heels, so the shoes would reflect nicely off the lights on stage,” said Reyes. “It really completed the entire costume. The shoes always stood out.”

Reyes said she was impressed with how the shoes changed with the crystals. “They were just plain heels, but they were a whole new shoe with the stones on them,” she said.

Rodriguez uses a type of glue that is waterproof as well as stretchable to attach each rhinestone individually, up to 10,000 in some cases.

“It is a tedious job; it’s one rhinestone at a time and it takes a few hours,” Rodriguez said. “But at the end, it is fun for me. It’s also very therapeutic.”

The retail cost depends on how long it takes to complete the job and how many rhinestones the customer requests. Rodriguez said the price can range from $50 to $350, but she will work within the customer’s budget.

“Lets say you like a design that is out of your price range; we can do something similar using less rhinestones to keep a price that is comfortable,” she said.

The products started getting attention when Rodriguez met South Beach drag queen Elaine Lancaster, who was hosting and doing backstage interviews at Miami Fashion Week.

Lancaster said Rodriguez sent her a multicolored blue and clear crystal pair of shoes as a gift shortly after the show.

“I showed [socialite Lea Black] my shoes, and she went crazy with excitement,” Lancaster said. She introduced Rodriguez to Black, a cast member on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Miami.

Black asked Rodriguez to create custom hand mirrors as gifts for her co-stars with their initials on them. Pleased with the results, Black asked her to crystalize some handbags for personal use. Soon after, Crystal4U caught the eye of the fashion world.

Rodriguez got the opportunity to work with Beth Sobol, president/CEO of Sobol-Perry Fashion Products and founder of Miami Fashion Week. Sobol was introduced to Crystal4U when Rodriguez registered as an exhibitor during the first Miami Bridal Week show in 2011.

Rodriguez did well there, and Sobol decided to include her products in the Emerging Designer Prelude of the Miami Style Showcase the following March at Miami Fashion Week. Rodriguez was invited for a second time this year to showcase Crystal4U at Miami Fashion Week.

“Cynthia created a very fun and whimsical presentation with her models in short, puffy petticoat skirts showing off a gorgeous collection of custom-decorated shoes for all occasions,” Sobol said.

Rodriguez, who has been a make-up artist and hairdresser for more than 20 years, has been invited to fashion weeks elsewhere. And even though she has a busy life at home with three children and a husband, she says she will keep crystalizing.

“I want the best of both worlds,” she said. “I am being a little greedy. But I can sit at home, drink some wine, listen to some jazz and work on the shoes at my own pace,” said Rodriguez. To request shoes, go to crystal4u.co.

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