London College of Fashion alum and previously footwear designer at Yeezy Kitty Shukman tests the limits of what shoes can be informed by, such as mental health care among other references.
What informs your creative process?
I’ve always felt a deep and moving connection to both the natural world and human existence that surrounds us. For my designs I find inspiration in many things; it can be sculptures, cliffs, rocks, and such other geological forms, the intricate and delicate shapes of cell structures, the folklore archetype, fairies etc. I’m fascinated by the silhouettes revealed by brain scans. I also just love watching what people wear — a builder with paint on their boots, an elderly woman with an ankle brace and a strange sandal. It comes from so many different sources, but once I’ve found a shape I resonate with such as, say, a stone sculpture of Barbara Hepworth, then I explore its texture, form and emotion it generates and use this as a starting point to design. When I start to design a shoe, I don’t think much about its wearability, but rather let it evolve into a sculptural piece, using clay, water and collaging. It’s that process that led me to create the slides for Yeezy season 8.
“Sustainability has to be at the heart of the design of footwear design or anything else, really. ” – Kitty Shukman
What do you want your impact to be as a footwear designer?
I believe that shoes provide a genuine and tangible sensation of being grounded with our planet and this, in turn, makes one feel more confident. As someone who suffers from OCD, I feel this very acutely. Yet, especially after the year we’ve been through with the pandemic, mental stress isn’t unusual for people nowadays — a great source of it comes from feeling disconnected, detached, and dissociated from reality. And so through my designs, I aspire to help people feel more confident and grounded.
Where do you think the future of footwear is heading?
We’re going into a space where the concept of shoes is being transformed. Our relationship with the planet is going through critical change. Horizons for designers are unlimited and there’s an ever-increasing blurring of the distinction between footwear apparel and accessories. Sustainability has to be at the heart of the design of footwear design or anything else, really. That means thinking about the origin of the materials used in product development: can they be reused or recycled? The ocean is already loaded with plastic debris, so there’s an opportunity there. There’s also great potential in making shoes from biodegradable materials, like algae, that would last as long as they can, but wouldn’t end up lasting thousands of years in a landfill — as they currently are. Even if it’s not possible to take such a step every time, it’s vital that designers are aware of the need for a radically new approach. We must think about the consequences of our actions, from the moment we start thinking about a design to how the consumer gets rid of their pair of shoes.