After her divorce three years ago, Cecelia "CeCe" Bythewood needed a job. Preferably one she liked.
So the stay-at-home mom of three young daughters decided to pursue a career involving her longtime passion: shoes.
Bythewood, of Temple Terrace, had always been into footwear. As a girl, she anticipated the week before school started, when she got to shop for penny loafers and suede Buster Browns with multicolored laces. As an adult, she prefers attention-getting heels.
"I like a wow factor," said Bythewood, 44. "The females hate me; the men love me. It's all good."
When she set out to design shoes, Bythewood had zero design experience. But she knew what she liked. Besides, before having kids she'd owned a West Tampa salon, CeCe's Hair Party, for eight years. So she knew how to run a creative business.
At a party, Bythewood happened to meet students from Ringling College of Art and Design and persuaded them to sketch her first collection. She attended a shoe show in Las Vegas. Eventually, she learned of a company in China that would let her order small quantities of basic shoes that she could decorate to her liking.
Bythewood has designed about 15 styles of women's shoes under her Sole 2 Sole brand, mostly heels. Prices range from $35 for crystal-embellished flip-flops to $325 for knee-high boots made of kangaroo leather. In November 2008, Bythewood began designing jewelry, too.
Bythewood is already making a name for herself in the fashion world. Former Project Runway contestant Ben Chmura of Seminole Heights named her first when asked about his favorite local shoe designers. Bythewood has sold her shoes and jewelry at Fashion Week Tampa Bay. And her jewelry was selected for the 2009 Emmy gifting suite, winding up on celebs including The Real Housewives of Orange County's Gretchen Rossi and Jo De La Rosa.
By day, Bythewood substitute-teaches. After work, she feeds, bathes and tucks in her daughters, Mecca, 8, Nilaja, 6, and Nielle, 5. Then, Bythewood toils into the night, designing her products and now sketching, too.
Her advice to novices?
"Do a lot of research," Bythewood said. "I spent a lot of money that I didn't have to spend." Like the time she traveled to Europe to look for distributors and take a workshop in cobblering — which she quickly discovered wasn't her calling.
"That probably could've been handled with a phone call instead of a $5,000 trip to Italy," she said.
Bythewood's new career is all full of lessons for her daughters.
"I must admit, this part of my job is glamorous and fun," Bythewood said. "My daughters would have a propensity to think that it's all fun and games." To earn their allowance, they help set up and tear down displays at events.
When it comes to being independent women, the girls are already following in their mother's footsteps.