Long before opening the first female-focused store in the male streetwear–dense enclave of Fairfax Avenue, Melody Ehsani interned on Capitol Hill. “I got there a week after Sept. 11, so it was surreal. The Pentagon had just been attacked, and I'm Middle Eastern.” While in D.C., Ehsani “explored every single type of law. And at the end, I was left unfulfilled.”
She abandoned a future as a lawyer for a career in shoe and jewelry design. But the ideas that motivated her to seek a law degree — her passion for social justice and women's issues — are still at the root of what she does. Powerful phrases such as “You are not your history” and “Stop waiting to be who you already are” adorn her shoes, jewelry and even the walls of the store that bears her name.
When Ehsani opened the boutique, she had already established a clientele of music industry sirens, including Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Rihanna and Solange. Yet Ehsani's jewelry remains accessibly priced. “I had friends that were celebrities, and I had all these friends that were struggling,” she says. “There is something special about seeing someone like Rihanna wearing a piece of jewelry and knowing you can go buy the same thing.”
Ehsani's works are both playful and strong, with inspiration coming from such varied sources as ancient Egypt, the 1980s and futuristic fashion. Looking at the pieces made of acrylic and gold-plated metals, one could imagine Sun Ra, Big Daddy Kane and the goddess Isis joining forces in Ehsani's mind. Her pieces have names such as Ruhiyyih, Cleo Horn and Zulu Warrior and come adorned with feathers, crescents, hieroglyphics and lion-head medallions.
In 2012 her initial shoe design for Reebok's Betwixt Collaboration Ambassador Program sold out overnight. The company took notice and signed her for three more years. Ehsani made it a goal to design the first Reebok Pump sneaker for women; as a child, she had watched the Celtics' Dee Brown pump up his Reeboks at the 1991 slam-dunk contest and craved those kicks for herself, but the shoes were never made for women. Now, Ehsani's intricately patterned, brightly colored Reebok Pumps cause Internet stampedes and crash websites. She has three more Reebok collaborations dropping this year before she takes on her new position as a creative director in Reebok women's division in 2016.
Ehsani's mother, who initially didn't understand her daughter's decision to leave a lawyer's path, now can be found in the jewelry workshop behind the Fairfax store, handcrafting chains and jewelry for her daughter,
“For the longest time, before I started following my passion, I felt like I was just sleeping,” Ehsani says. “My goal is to wake women up.”