Firstly, a huge congratulations on winning at Graduate Fashion Week 2019! What award did you win?
Thank you, it’s honestly been an incredible experience! I won the Footwear Design Award, Sponsored by Clarks.
How did it feel when your name was read out during the show?
I was actually in shock! I definitely paused, as although I put in a lot of effort to responding to the brief and my presentation to the judges went well, I was also well-aware of some incredible talent from the others shortlisted.
Which university did you attend and what course did you study?
I attended De Montfort University in Leicester, where I studied BA Footwear Design. The course is niche and one of only three footwear-dedicated BA programmes in the country. The first year is largely practical and you learn everything from patterns and construction – providing the skills and equipment to turn your ideas into fully realised prototypes. Second year is more about the design process and we collaborated with a number of very exciting brands such as New Balance, Kate Spade and Sophia Webster. In the third year we take part in competition briefs - Moda (UK’s leading fashion trade event) and Cordwainers Student of the Year Award, as well as develop our final collection and showcase at Graduate Fashion Week.
All the footwear course staff at DMU have industry experience, whether that’s from a factory/production side, or from within a design studio and each tutor was more than willing to look over our CVs, portfolio’s and answer any of our queries on how to take our first steps in the industry.
….What is the most valuable thing that you learnt there?
Wow, I learned so much during the past three years it’s hard to say what was most valuable… aside from all of the practical skills and considering the requirements of the real-world market, I think the most important take-away was once you have an idea - something you get excited about - really explore that! Talk to peers and tutors, students on other courses, make samples, do whatever it takes and collaborate with whoever you need to help visualise what you have in mind. Sometimes it’s hard to explain or even feel confident in it yourself until you have something tangible.
Tell us about your story. What lead you to fashion and choosing that course?
A slightly unusual one… I was previously a project manager at a graphic design agency in London. I loved my job, but I felt the need to be more creative. I thought long and hard about my existing skills, interests and what made me happy… footwear design stood out to me, not so much from a fashion aspect, but from more of a product design/colour and material perspective. When attending open days, the course, open-access facilities and the energy of the staff and students at De Montfort was incredible and I knew I had found what I was looking for.
What themes do you explore with your final year project? And what do they mean to you?
The outcome of my Final Major Project was a trio of Women's lifestyle/fashion trainers capturing the energy of American rapper Tierra Whack, her personal style and brand image, including cues from her 15-minute visual album 'Whack World'. The line-up includes a whimsically embellished chunky-sole runner, a futuristic patchwork boot and a hybrid sports sandal with interchangeable Velcro straps. When it came to writing the brief for my FMP, I approached it from the angle of how I’d best like to position myself as a designer. My dream is to be part of a ‘special projects’ team; designing limited edition / collaboration footwear – with a big push on colour, material and trims. I shared my prototypes on Instagram and it generated attention from both her fans and the footwear community – Tierra herself liked, commented and reposted which made me feel like I’d successfully translated her visual language and artistry into footwear both she and her fans appreciated.
“A month after GFW, her stylist (Shirley Kurata) got in touch to arrange custom pairs for Tierra, which I hope to make in due course.”
Talk us through your final project presented at GFW. How did that come about?
I didn’t have long…! I knew about the brief but was focussed on nailing my FMP as well as putting my portfolio together for some early interviews. The brief remained in the back of my mind and I had some loose themes to begin with, but it wasn’t until a week before the GFW deadline I was looking at a big IKEA bag in the corner of my room overflowing with leather offcuts and fabric samples when my big idea came to mind. Taking cues from emerging trends, yet honouring the Clarks design code, I was inspired to design a hybrid sports sandal which utilises production off-cuts and material waste to create a striking, fashion-forward and expressive shoe with sustainable sensibilities.
What sort of work did you undertake and how did you decide to work this way?
First of all, it was imperative I emerged myself in the Clarks brand – I was already familiar but to begin the process, I needed to really align myself with their values and understand, almost try to predictwhere they would like to go in terms of innovation and sustainability. I researched past product and collaborations, developed a customer profile and created a concept mood board, consistently referring to WGSN to ensure I was tapping into the right trends and consumer mindsets. From there I started playing with the leftover materials I had collected and developed the stacked leather footbed idea. From here I sketched styles implementing the footbed, which I went on to CAD and render up the final design.
Describe the inspiration and concept behind your work.
My project rationale was focused on production leftovers and imperfect skins which have been rejected during quality control; I looked to re-purpose this material waste into more sustainable products. I considered how I might use these discarded materials in a new way; either discreetly or as part of a raw aesthetic that highlights these newly re-purposed elements.
My design theme ‘Block Steady’ provided bold shapes, block colour and subtle texture enabling a strong foundation for interesting shapes and patchwork finishes. Modern and robust, the design theme lent itself to creating bold and durable footwear designs. The end product is a unisex hybrid trek sandal that would be marketed as a special limited run, with the aim that these pieces will be both collectable and a pleasure to wear. The stacked reclaimed leather footbed is the main feature - each footbed will be completely unique due to the stacking and off-cut combinations, but all will deliver the exact same comfort and foot-moulding capabilities, contoured comfort and arch-support.
Do you explore any political, social or historical notions through your work? If so, what messages do you hope to convey?
Sustainability was of course the key focus of my GFW submission, and in turn it has encouraged me to keep exploring and pushing for more sustainable applications in my future work.
Many say that the industry is undergoing a huge change, with sustainability, diversity and responsibility becoming huge themes. Do you have any opinions on these movements?
It is… and that’s a great thing! Change is certainly needed and it’s something we need to keep working on; however, I am positive that the wheels are in motion and we are moving in the right direction. We face many challenges regarding sustainability and responsibility within our industry; every step of the process from design to distribution must be considered and adapted to help minimise the damage we are doing to the planet. The ideal scenario is to ‘design out waste’ and I’ve been reading about circular design, with companies like Nike and H&M developing solutions for ‘closed loop’ system where textiles and components have the ability to be recycled into new. A need for change encourages innovation, which in turn will spur new and exciting possibilities.
How would you describe your personal style? What influences you the most?
I love colour. Colour is so important — it conveys so much — aside from making me totally happy! A big part of my style is via thoughtfully underpinning my designs with some kind of concept; my work is never embellished just for embellishment’s sake… there will always be some type of narrative or function behind my choices. I’m always influenced by the scenario my footwear will be worn, whether it’s an active trainer geared for performance or a beautifully crafted mule for city strolling. I’m always considering the wearer and how I can ensure my work is fit for purpose.
How are you hoping your work will evolve in the future?
I certainly want to continue learning about sustainability and how I can include more responsible materials and processes into my practice. Otherwise, I am really enjoying improving my craft, skills and knowledge working with some really wonderful design teams and brands.
Do you have any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
I’m currently working on some really fun and playful concepts for Clarks kids, looking ahead to SS21, which also includes some exciting collaborations!
Where do you hope to be in five year’s time?
I hope to be part of a focussed, ambitious (and friendly!) team, working for a brand that values innovation and possesses good ethical standards while producing highly covetable goods!
Graduate Fashion Week provides a platform for fashion graduates to showcase their work regardless of the specific discipline. Which area of the industry are you hoping to pursue, and what informed this choice?
I’m footwear focused, so that’s the dream! But I am also open to exploring accessories as a whole, whether that’s small leather goods or costume jewellery. As explained earlier, I saw footwear design as the perfect opportunity to combine and develop my passions, existing skills and interests.
What one thing would you recommend our visitors do whilst at GFW?
Check the timetable of scheduled events and plan around those must-see speakers! I felt spoilt, attending footwear-focussed talks from Size?, New Balance and Asics, as well as WGSN and Givenchy.
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself in first year at university, what would it be?
I’m a designer – not an artist. I used to be concerned about my sketching abilities, as I’d look at designers with super beautiful, signature illustration styles and be disappointed that I couldn’t draw like that. I’ve since learned that as long as you can convey your idea clearly – whether through CAD or quick mock-ups, that’s what’s necessary for getting your work into production. My drawings are fine… I was just being a perfectionist!
What top five tips would you give to final year students?
1. Talk, don’t be shy! For example: I used to think I was bugging technicians, but they’re there to assist you and if you explain your ideas to them, they have some great suggestions! This goes for most people; talking can be such a great way to get instant feedback or gain a new perspective.
2. Listen.Absorb as much information as possible on the subjects you care about! Even if you don’t agree, it’s great to understand different POV’s and will likely help you in interview and networking situations!
3. Take notes.Because I forget most things. It’s good to have things written so you can easily refer back and double-check you interpreted things correctly.
4. Practise.Sometimes we forget things don’t just happen overnight and we need to keep exercising our skills in order to get better.
5. Reach out.You’ll perhaps be met with a number of non-replies. It’s very likely nothing personal, especially if you’ve written a considered, concise email directly addressing the recipient – people are incredibly busy. Know what you want to learn/gain from that person and see what skills or time you are able to offer them in return.