CYDWOQ founder, Rafi Balouzian, loves to walk. He walks everywhere. In fact, long before it was considered recreation or a “green” alternative to commutes or cabs, Rafi would routinely walk 50 blocks to a business meeting—and still does.
Back to Nature
Prior to starting CYDWOQ, however, Rafi found his shoes weren’t helping his epic strolls. Space-age materials, fancy padding, and air bubbles of all shapes and sizes impeded rather than promoted a healthy, efficient stride. And in this realization, a company was born.
Rafi decided to design his own line of shoes and for inspiration, went directly to the source: nature. He studied the rounded contours of the human foot and the circular motion of a person walking and experimented endlessly with designs and materials before coming up with a line that emulated nature’s sublime achievements. And although Rafi still believes “the best way to walk is barefoot,” as he explains in the following video, his shoes are surely the next best thing.
A Separation Problem
Besides being comfortable and objects of exquisite design, CYDWOQ shoes last. They actually get better with time as the leather ages and molds to the unique shape of the owner’s foot. This characteristic speaks directly to what Rafi calls his “separation problem.”
He has an obsession with quality things and once found, he never wants to part ways with them. Perhaps this obsession is best represented by his wife, Zela, (whom Rafi found…in sixth grade), but it certainly extends to his hand-crafted shoes, bags, and belts.
Only the finest, vegetable-tanned leathers and custom-made components are used in CYDWOQ products. Designs employ the fewest number of leather pieces possible to minimize stitching, and to improve comfort, quality, and durability.
An Ongoing Passion
Making beautiful, functional products that last is our passion at CYDWOQ. We invite you to browse our selection of products on this website, but remind you to check back often. Rafi is constantly at his drafting table, always in search of his next great design to delight the most discerning customer—you!
Rafi Balouzian comes from a long line of master shoe-makers. In the early 1900s, his great-grandfather earned the reputation as a true artisan, crafting custom-made shoes to discriminating customers in Armenia. Years later, he established a factory manufacturing boots for markets throughout the Middle East. Rafi’s father, Hrair Balouzian, spent his teenage years at this factory immersing himself in every facet of shoe-making.
Half Design, Half Mechanical
Hrair’s skill and knowledge eventually led him to start his own operation making shoe components (heels, leather soles, etc.). As a child, Rafi loved to hang out at his father’s factory and developed a magic touch for fixing broken machinery. “My mind is split right down the middle: half design, half mechanical. Understanding the machine’s job and then listening to it try to do that job, I could always figure out what was wrong.”
One other benefit to having a father in the business was the frequent opportunity to travel to Italy and France to attend leather and shoe exhibitions. On these trips Rafi was exposed to materials and techniques that would later find their ways into shoes and other products of his own design.
The Birth of CYDWOQ
After college, where he earned a degree in Production and Operations Management, Rafi started a clothing business in Los Angeles with three stores filled with creative and inspired designs from all over the world. Working seven days a week with no vacations, however, was not the life he wanted.
So he went back to school (Interior Architecture and Environmental Design) and took a job with a British clothing designer. After a couple years of getting them established in the US market, Rafi asked if he could create some shoes to supplement the line. His initial five designs all sold extremely well and gave him the confidence to go out on his own.
The CYDWOQ factory was started in Burbank, California in 1996. The mission then, as now, was to create hand-crafted shoes using the best biological leathers and glues that provided the ultimate walking comfort in unique and timeless designs.
In all of our products, we are firm believers in form following function. That’s how our shoes got their distinctive looks and incredible comfort—by translating the shape and contours of the human foot into a unique sole design adapted for the 21st century lifestyle.
As CYDWOQ has evolved over time, we have extended this simple philosophy throughout all our products:
- Shoes – Rafi has designed a spectrum of hand-sculpted shoes, boots, clogs, and sandals for both women and men. The Vintage collection is slightly more formal than the CYDWOQ “classic” line, while both feature soft Italian leathers that envelop your feet and age like fine wines.
- Bags – Our bags are ultra-light and extremely comfortable as they conform to the natural shapes of shoulders, sides, and backs. They range from shoulder bags and hand-held purses to backpacks and messenger bags, and all are infused with a feminine, playful personality.
- Belts – We now feature over 150 belts created with the finest hand-tooled leather (in a rich rainbow of colors) and buckles crafted in Italy. Knowing that stitching wears out, Rafi designs his belts exclusively with rivets to enhance quality and ensure years of stylish, functional service.
In business now for over a decade, we have grown solely through the word-of-mouth endorsement of our customers around the world. We have consciously chosen not to advertise or solicit PR for our line, preferring to focus 100% of our investment into the products themselves.
Because an ecstatic customer is the best advertisement of all.
Design and Materials
CYDWOQ design is a fusion of Rafi’s diverse, international experience. His Armenian heritage, extensive travel throughout Europe, and his education and life in America all find expression in the lines, textures, and materials of CYDWOQ products.
An avid skier, mountain biker, car enthusiast, and student of architecture and archeology, Rafi believes that breathtaking beauty and efficient functionality are not mutually exclusive concepts. In fact, he marries the two in every product he creates.
All CYDWOQ shoes are designed from the bottom—the sole—up. The insole forms a perfect union with the bottom of the foot, while the outsole and uppers support the naturally circular motion of walking. And the choice of materials is integral to the design. Leather is used because it breathes and stretches, and softens while retaining its strength.
From a young age, Rafi was taught by his father to appreciate the quality and artistry of vegetable-tanned leathers. To this day, these early lessons have stuck as rolls and rolls of the best Italian hand-painted leathers line the walls of the CYDWOQ factory.
Natural choices dominate the “ingredients” of our products. In shoe construction, the uppers are hand-lasted to the leather insoles using water-based, biodegradable glues. Once inspected, the shoes are packed in our distinctive cotton bags and recycled cardboard boxes.
We take inspiration from nature, and our efforts to preserve and protect the environment are our way of returning the favor.
All CYDWOQ products are crafted by hand in our factory in Burbank, California. From the very beginning, Rafi had no interest in outsourcing manufacturing operations to China or other sources of inexpensive labor. Instead, he employs dozens of skilled artisans passionate about their work and committed to the CYDWOQ cause.
Factory = Laboratory
Aside from producing higher quality, having a local factory yields another critical benefit. Since Rafi designs in his head and not on computer, he needs his equipment close at hand to test out and refine the vision he sees in his mind. The products displayed on this website and sold in stores throughout the world would never have come into being if he had to send specs overseas and then wait weeks or months for the result.
A Unique Operation
Most shoe companies make only the uppers and get the components from third parties. At CYDWOQ, our factory manufactures the complete shoe with 90% of the components (e.g., heels, insoles, outsoles, wooden soles) constructed in-house.
On one side of the factory, the shoe-makers hand-cut the leather bottoms and shape the insoles and soles to the shape of the foot. Other craftsmen hand-cut and sand the custom wood heels. On the other side, shoe-makers sew the uppers and attach them to the lasts using water-based glues. Once completed, the soles and uppers meet in the center of the factory for final assembly, hand-painting, cleaning, and quality control.
A Common Purpose
Our factory has seen very little staff turnover since opening in 1996. This is not surprising since Rafi takes great care in selecting new employees. As Factory Manager in addition to Chief Designer, he knows the value of passionate people who believe in the common purpose of producing high-quality, long-lasting products of distinctive design.