Representing the creative future

Footwear 101: The process, art, and business of 13 shoe designers

Ever wondered what’s running through a footwear designer's mind? Well, we found out

Rewind the clock back to, say, the 1920s, and innovation in footwear likely involved slight tweaks to what was dutifully shod by most in that time period. For men, it would have been, at best, a change in the colour of a bespoke shoe from, perhaps, a lighter to darker brown, whereas for the ladies the variations in style were plenty, but just as modest — a pair of two-inch heels topped with a decorative bow was considered a novelty amongst the fashion crowd of the time. In their defence, the technology just wasn’t there yet, nor was the will to set oneself apart from one’s contemporaries. Gender roles were very ingrained and so were gendered clothes and shoes.

Fast forward to now and these same shoemaking traditions are being called into question. Some showmakers now ditch the sketching process altogether and instead make decisions as they design. Others make the most of cutting-edge technologies, and most just dare exploring the unknown while having fun and succeeding in doing so.

A dozen footwear designers were interviewed for this article and while their creative processes may differ, they were fairly consistent on one point: innovation is not in the rulebook.

Kitty Shukman

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.

Yeezy shoe designs by Kitty Shukman

Mats Rombaut

Founder of Rombaut and co-founder of Virón, vegan footwear designer Mats Rombaut takes a different tack on ethical and sustainable fashion through fun, meme-esque designs.

Did you always have an intention to portray sustainability differently?

My idea has always been to push the envelope with, yes, designs that go beyond this idea that sustainable fashion’s got to be beige and boring. Not only do material choices play a role in whether a product will cause environmental harm, but also the desirability of an item plays a major factor. If something’s like none other, then it might not be discarded so quickly. By daring to make shoes that are bold and novel and even sexy, that look as if they have come out of a dream, then there’s no way of replacing it. So, through unique designs and limited editions, I hope that those who get a pair of Rombaut sneakers will make the most of them and keep them as long as they can. And when they’re truly worn out, we’ve got a program going that recycles the upper part and sole of a shoe and gives credit on the customer’s next purchase.

“There’s been a big push to make the industry sustainable and most, if not every, fashion brand has made mention of it in one way or another. But sometimes, really, the way some are jumping on the bandwagon without actually making any real internal changes — it just feels like greenwashing.” – Mats Rombaut

Which of your designs best convey your core messaging and why? 

I’d say the cowboy sneakers push the limits of what you’d expect a sneaker to look like and hence are pretty representative of what Rombaut’s all about. Like most footwear brands have done in recent seasons, it was our take on ugly shoes. Yet we’ve pushed that idea even further and have made a chunky sneaker that has a detachable panel that once put on, well, looks like a cowboy boot. Also, it’s got designs of flaming marijuana leaves across it. It’s just a fun shoe.

Do you think the fashion and footwear industries are doing enough to address the environmental impacts they create?

No, not at all. There’s been a big push to make the industry sustainable and most, if not every, fashion brand has made mention of it in one way or another. But sometimes, really, the way some are jumping on the bandwagon without actually making any real internal changes — it just feels like greenwashing. Because in the end there’s no way to make a fashion that’s fully sustainable; new products only add to the industry’s most serious problem: overproduction. That said, I have hope for what’s to come from fashion’s growing relationship with the technological sector from which biodegradable alternatives have emerged. And, being Viron’s design director, I see how younger people, the Gen-Zers, are way more sceptical and care not only about the end result but also about the making process.

Mats Rombaut's designs

Nicole McLaughlin

Upcycling designer Nicole McLaughlin reuses practically anything — from volleyballs to handheld fans and packed sandwiches — to create fashion items. 

How did you get into footwear, and what sparked your interest in upcycling?

My foray into upcycling coincided with my stint as a graphic designer at my previous job at Reebok. I was physically surrounded by waste and samples every day, and I wanted to do something about it. So I started an initiative internally to find ways to reuse materials, and I’ve also taken some of that waste back home to explore. My finances, too, played a large part — I was broke. So utilising any available materials helped drive my creativity and also maximise whatever I had to its limit. Sandals were a good entry point for exploring footwear. There’s a visual shape you can build upon, and I took that shape and ran with it.

“I always repurpose things that I’ve already upcycled into something else, so there is no end game. It’s less about permanence and more about evolution.” – Nicole McLaughlin

What’s your creative process usually like when it comes to repurposing and starting a new shoe etc.?

I’m not a trained designer, thus my methods for making are non-traditional. I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong way to make anything. Whenever I start something new, I let the materials and my mood dictate how it’s going to turn out. I’m not looking to force things but highlighting upcycling in the best way possible. Regardless of what I make, the core message is always the same; sustainability and upcycling. I utilise single-use or waste materials in my design concepts and try to give them a new life. I always repurpose things that I’ve already upcycled into something else, so there is no end game. It’s less about permanence and more about evolution. Knowing how much ends up in landfills, we need to create more with less.

From turning volleyballs, Haribo candy packs, and egg cartons into slippers, or golf clubs and carrot peelers into heels, it seems like there’s nothing that you cannot upcycle… Still, is there anything that makes an item easier than others to work with?

Every project is about maximising existing materials and creating something “new” out of those. Malleable pieces are easier to work with, but then again easy isn’t the goal. I like pushing myself, and that means working with items that are challenging. There is no end game with upcycling, which means I have space to put a project to the side and come back to it when the time is right. With every project I do, I learn something new, which I then apply to things I have waiting in the wings.

Which designs are you the proudest of and how did you develop them?

I’ve said this before, but the volleyball shoe is something I’m pretty proud of. It was a breakthrough moment for me from a process perspective. After I made that shoe, I could see things in a different light. Obstacles disappeared.

Nicole McLaughlin's designs

Ancuta Sarca

Fashion East alum Ancuta Sarca repurposes deadstock sneakers and upcycled fabrics into new pairs of kitten heels.

Was there a moment in particular when you knew you would go on to repurpose sneakers into heels? And how has the reception been?

My background is actually in womenswear, so shoes were more like an obsession for me. I’ve started designing shoes very organically for my personal projects some years ago and slowly people and brands began to get in touch asking if they were available for purchase — so I grabbed the opportunity. That’s also when I realised how important it is for me to have a job that allows me to express who I am. The reception has been great. Mostly, it’s been great to see people shifting their expectations, as consumers, towards sustainable fashion and upcycled products.

“Some of the materials that we work with are either too old or different colours than what we need, so we put a lot of effort into restoring them and bringing them back to life.” – Ancuta Sarca

Can you tell us more about your design process?

The first thing I start with is finding out what kind of deadstock we can work with, and then I go about draping the materials onto heels shapes. I work with an artisanal factory in Italy where we assemble all the styles that go into production so that we deliver the best quality possible. Some of the materials that we work with are either too old or different colours than what we need, so we put a lot of effort into restoring them and bringing them back to life.

Besides sneakers what else is repurposed in the heels you do? And actually, where do you source your materials? Are there any complications that come from sourcing deadstock sneakers or surplus fabric materials? 

A lot of effort goes into sourcing materials because, indeed, almost every element that’s incorporated in the shoes are from deadstock or recycled materials. Our shoes’ soles and leathers, the materials that go into the uppers, as well as the linings and bindings are all deadstock materials that we buy from several warehouses that have leftover materials in Italy or the UK. Their materials are usually surplus stock that would normally be thrown away. Of course this past year, with the pandemic, has been the most challenging time as all the suppliers on the second-hand market were closed down and we do depend on them. It’s always a bit risky as the stocks are very limited and yet, that said, we always make it work somehow. One season, for example, we couldn’t find the deadstock of the exact same leather colours that we needed, so we had to recolour the deadstock leathers to match the designs.

As your designs are entirely repurposed, how do you manage to offer the same model in different sizes? How do you go about designing a fairly wide range of shoes?

Each collection will differ depending on what we’ve got on our hands that season. The last two seasons we managed to find a local trainer supplier in London that had to close their doors due to the pandemic, therefore we helped them by buying what was left. They had a limited number of the same styles and colours, and this allowed us to create multiple sizes of the same model. Partnering with these kinds of local businesses felt like the right thing to do, especially with what happened last year — they needed the money and to clear out their spaces.

Ancuta Sacras' designs

Hernán Guardamagna

A highly versatile designer, Hernán Guardamagna holds an MA in menswear with a specialisation in footwear design from the Royal College of Fashion. During his time at RCA, he made shoes for the collections of his fellow classmates Bianca Saunders and Saul Nash. His work plays between the two poles of potential and limitation, often resulting in unexpected outcomes. 

In one of your Instagram posts you explain how your background in fashion design influences the way you actually make shoes — Can you tell us more about that?

After completing a BA in fashion from the University of Buenos Aires, and upon realising the attention I was giving to what completes an outfit, the accessories, it just felt natural to me to pursue that path when I was offered a job as a footwear designer. Yet when I got into footwear I instinctively carried on designing shoes as if they were garments, referring to the same resources. That’s because when I was designing and making garments, I really enjoyed pattern making. There are plenty of garment construction techniques and fabric manipulation resources such as pleats, gatherings, ruffles, etc. that create endless design possibilities. With shoemaking, though, it’s much more technical and specific… the patterns must always fit the foot in a certain way. But by applying the techniques of fashion design to footwear, the results were fun and unusual and I just kept exploring them as a way of developing my own aesthetic.

“Not all collaborations are the same. Sometimes they are a blank canvas where you can be very creative, and at other times you just need to help a designer or brand translate their ideas into footwear.” – Hernán Guardamagna

What else informs your creative process?

Geometry, architecture, and industrial design have always been great inspirations to me. Sportswear, and futurism too, have become characteristic elements of my work. I’m constantly seeking to create something new; originality is my ultimate goal. Then the making process plays a big role in all my creations. Through experimentation, I discover the potential or limitation of a material, a construction method, etc. Many times when working on a prototype or a mock-up I discover a technique or a gesture that becomes the signature of what I’m making. Other times some ideas come from the technical limitations I face when making a shoe.

This variety of inspirations is also apparent in the collaborative work that you get to do — for Bianca Saunders you’ve made square-toe shoes and, for Saul Nash, you’ve sort of reconstructed Nikes into new custom trainers. How do you go about doing collaborations with other designers, and how do you adapt your work to theirs?

I love versatility, and it comes very easily to me when I have to adapt my work to someone else’s vision. Obviously, not all collaborations are the same. Sometimes they are a blank canvas where you can be very creative, and at other times you just need to help a designer or brand translate their ideas into footwear. Either way, shoes get a richer meaning in the context of a fashion collection, they become essential elements of the storytelling, and that’s always a rewarding experience. It’s great when you get to work with someone you share a similar vision with as ideas flow.

Can you tell us more about your MA collection at RCA, The Transformable Collection?

The collection explored whether it’s possible to acquire more aesthetic options while buying less. I believe multi-functionality could be an option to embrace responsible consumption and slow down the fashion system. Why have two fashion items when you could have only one that is able to change its aesthetic depending on the wearer’s needs? To explore this possibility, the collection proposed designs that allow the users to attach accessories and different layers to each shoe, changing not only how they look, but how they function.

Hernán Guardamagna's designs

Zixiong Wei

Through his digital design studio SCRY Lab, Zixiong Wei explores how 3D manufacturing could not simplify the production process, but also create shoe designs that otherwise couldn’t be made. 

How did you get into footwear, and what do you want to accomplish with SCRY Lab?

At first, I simply started exploring footwear by doing conceptual designs, but then I gradually became dissatisfied with simply making digital mockups. That’s when I really started looking into engineering development and technology to design and actually bring those concepts of what footwear could look like in the future, to life. Now, what’s great about SCRY Lab’s data-driven design and manufacturing process, which we dub “digital embryo”, is that the shoes I’ve designed to this day were 3D printed at an accuracy rate of almost 95%. It is, in other words, on-demand manufacturing, or, if you’d rather, design without manufacturing restrictions.

“The more I design, the more data I accumulate. And so that becomes its own footwear ecology that’s got the ability to rapidly evolve and thus explore new design possibilities.” – Zixiong Wei

Are there things that you can accomplish with 3D printing that you otherwise couldn’t?

Definitely, yes. One of the core advantages of 3D printing is that it can be manufactured on demand, so the realisation of customised shoes becomes possible, whether in terms of appearance or foot shape customisation. Super-fast iterations and previously unimaginable designs, too, are now conceivable. The more I design, the more data I accumulate. And so that becomes its own footwear ecology that’s got the ability to rapidly evolve and thus explore new design possibilities — which is, in the long run, one of my ultimate goals.

Can you explain concretely how you came up with the design of the SCRY Shuttle? 

When it comes to appearance I usually am drawn into the frontiers of architecture and biology. Hence I like to think that shoes should be an extension of human feet, not a decoration like an accessory. That’s what I had in mind when I designed the SCRY Shuttle. One of the shoe’s design renderings portrays quite well that idea of being at one with the things we wear; the pair of shoes blends with the skin tone of the legs.

Zixiong Wei's designs

Martin Sallières 

Part of Filling Pieces’ close-knit team, French designer Martin Sallières is behind the previously sneaker, now footwear-at-large brand’s first line of formal shoes. Designing for both men and women, the shoes he creates combine laid-back chic with a touch of quirk. 

How did you get into footwear?

I’m not going to lie when the opportunity came up to join the Filling Pieces design team, I wasn’t convinced I’d be at ease in that position. When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life I first envisioned I’d design cars not shoes. Studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands, though, opened up my horizons to other types of design, and I found that footwear had a lot of potential. Still, my first focus when I started working in footwear was on the technical and performance aspects of shoes, less so about their look. So at the time, I didn’t think I would make it as a designer and actually create shoes from scratch. But now that I’m at Filling Pieces, I’ve been working for more than a year and a half with creative director Matthias Weber on the fashion-forward part of the company and his experience and knowledge of footwear definitely taught me a lot. That’s what helped me progress rapidly and discover my identity as a designer.

Working at Filling Pieces — which is a rather small company compared to other footwear giants like Nike or Adidas — do you feel like it’s easier to make things happen and get your designs approved, etc.?

Part of the perk of working for Filling Pieces is I’ve had the chance to work on different aspects of producing shoes and it’s this trust they’ve put in me that helped me learn quickly. A couple of months in and my designs were becoming prototypes already — I was amazed. Then a little more than a year later the brand’s founder, Guillaume Philibert, asked me to create a line of formal footwear which I agreed to do. With his input, I’ve designed the brand’s first derbies, heels, cowboy boots, etc. So, to answer your question, yes, there seems to be less restrictive steps to make things happen.

What informs your work? And, as you’re designing footwear for both men and women, how do you juggle between the two?

I’d say that what I make is designed with a particular attention to the line and form of a shoe. I also like to experiment in terms of proportions, materials, colours, etc. Whether I design shoes for men or women, my approach remains pretty much the same. I’ve got a little more experience in making men’s shoes so I kind of know what the end product will look like as we work on the sketches and prototypes etc. For women’s shoes, though, I feel like there’s more freedom to break rules, and so I tend to explore further, altering between elegant, classic styles or just something funny or weird for the sake of trying something new. In fact, I’ve always kept the fun, playful side most students have.

Martin Sallières' designs

Fidan Novruzova

Central Saint Martins alum Fidan Novruzova was named runner-up for the L’Oréal Professional Young Talent Award for her retro-future graduate collection that brought together many of the designer’s personal references, including her Azerbaijani and Moldovan roots. Her now sought-after heeled boots and mules were part of that collection.

Given that you aren’t trained in footwear, how did you get into it? 

When the time came to make my graduate collection at CSM, it was clear to me that I wanted to make a full look. I’ve had this very clear idea in my mind of a particular world, and in that world there was footwear. I didn’t have any experience in making shoes except for what I made in my second year of the BA program. Back then I had dipped a toe in footwear and created, the night before the end-of-year show, some boots that were chopped from two other pairs; one was formal, and the other sportier. And although I’ve received good feedback, it was very conceptual in nature. But then again, I think that’s where my strength lies. As you say I’m not trained in footwear in any way, so for my graduate collection the boots and mules I’ve designed were and to this day are still produced by a small shoe-making, family-owned business in Moldova. It’s been a great partnership as we balance each other out. I think of things completely differently than a trained designer probably would and so come up with concepts far more experimental, and then they sort of ground me.

What inspired your design? 

Throughout my graduate collection, there’s a sense of Post-soviet nostalgia and when I was thinking about the shoes people wore in that period, I’ve had a rough shoe in my mind, one that’s been worn and passed through generations. This is where the idea of creases as an aesthetic feature is derived from. As for the square toe, I’d say it was inspired by the late 70s early 80s look. Then I’ve added a futuristic twist with metallic kitten heels. And the reason why the ombre is so prevalent is that as we were testing colours on a prototype, I ended up spray painting a beige model brown just to see how it’d look like. I thought it looked better that way, with a flagrant ombre effect. Altogether, an unexpected fusion of familiar elements.

Why is it important for you to work with shoemakers from your native Moldova, and has your partnership evolved since you’ve graduated?

One of the things I remember from my grandpa is the shoes he had, and how they looked beautifully aged and were full of creases but still intact. Back then shoes were meant to last a lifetime and beyond. If they’d get damaged along the way, they’d be repaired at the local shoemaker. And that’s why I value the partnership I have — they make custom-made shoes, it’s made to order. Together we’ve achieved something of high quality; the paint is now fixed and durable, the heels are in stainless steel whereas before they were galvanised, they come in all sizes, etc. It was just an experiment, and now it’s sold in Sydney, London, Milan, I get orders through DMs from New York, Shanghai. They’ve never really worked on such an international scale, so the reception the boots received has definitely been a surprise for both of us, and a good one.

Fidan Novruzova's designs

Amy Crookes

Stretchiness has become a signature of Parsons alum Amy Crookes’ apparel and footwear that embrace different body types.

First off, where did your love for fashion begin, and perhaps more specifically, for stretchy fabrics? What does that type of fabric convey to you?

I’ve never liked making or wearing clothing that felt restrictive, so during my masters at Parsons I started playing with elasticated fabrics as a way of shaping the body in a more flexible, organic way. In such fabrics, I love the way each body stretches the garments out differently. And so each collection I make is sort of a continuation and progression of the brand’s DNA and obsession with stretchiness, and with colour and prints as well.

How did you start exploring making footwear with it?

For my graduation show, I needed to make some sort of footwear and thought this could be an interesting fabrication to use for its particular texture and elasticated properties. It took a lot of prototyping because I had never designed footwear before, but I think that’s what is so special about them — they are somewhere in-between apparel and accessories. I love developing key, staple shapes in the clothes I make which end up mirroring the prints of the shoes from the same season. The two go hand in hand.

As you mentioned, the prints of your fabrics are also a very defining feature of your work — Can you tell us more about that? Any favourite things to paint?

When I started I couldn’t afford to use digital print so I had to hand paint all my fabrics. I ended up loving the naivety and irregular nature of it all. And it actually became my favourite stage of the development process. Now, I paint and/or draw lots of individual elements to then collage and digitally manipulate them into a print. One of my favourite things to paint are the naive little floral prints, I find them the most fun to make.

Amy Crookes' designs

Mathieu Hagelaars

Footwear designer-maker and Studio Hagel founder Mathieu Hagelaars has found success with his Makers Monday, a series of experimental footwear creations, all of which blurs the boundaries of what shoes can be made of. 

How did you start the Makers Monday experiments?

One day I queued for the very first time for a pair of sneakers, the Adidas NMD, and, well, I didn’t cop them. So I thought I’d make them myself. With a sock on, I literally just put my foot on a dissected outsole and stuck two Post-its to the side, one branded, the other detailed, and posted it on Instagram. That’s about when I decided I’d do my own thing the way I want to, which I named Makers Monday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I set myself to make, concretely, a new design every week and post it online. That’s how I found my footing and when I started getting more attention and requests from other designers and brands to do something for them.

“Virgil Abloh was the first one who saw potential in what I was making. He sent me a DM saying he liked my stuff and that we should work on something together for the upcoming Off-White collection he was about to show in Pitti Uomo.” – Mathieu Hagelaars

What was your first commission, and did you take anything away from it?

Virgil Abloh was the first one who saw potential in what I was making. He sent me a DM saying he liked my stuff and that we should work on something together for the upcoming Off-White collection he was about to show in Pitti Uomo. I said sure, yes, let’s do it. I first sent him sketches but he wasn’t so receptive. And I thought, of course, he’s into the Makers Mondays, so why was I even bothering to send sketches? Then I went right back to making prototypes, updating him on the progress through Whatsapp and at one point he settled on one proposition which, looking back at it, was pretty close to what was initially made, the Off-Courts. That very commission, that shoe validated the nontraditional approach I took to making footwear, and that’s thanks to Virgil — he’s got an eye for other people’s skills.

Can you tell us more about your process of making — not sketching — shoes? 

At first, I thought that in order to be able to design something I inevitably had to draw sketches, but what I realised through the Makers Monday experiments is that I could actually make decisions as I go. By messing around with stuff I might take a different direction than what I thought I’d initially be doing. Sometimes it just clicks while I do it. I ultimately try to bring non-footwear-related elements to a shoe I work on, and that’s become our defining signature at Studio Hagel. Just recently my design assistant Imke Nijst came up with the idea of making a shoe out of pleated satin, which I’m pretty sure has never been used in footwear. That’s something that you would normally expect to see on an haute couture runway, but we’ve interpreted it differently. Monday Makers are a starting point for creating never-seen-before shoes, rather than the end result.

When you’re working on a commission, how do you find a balance between disrupting and keeping a brand’s identity?

When a brand reaches out and shows interest in what we do, they’re kind of asking us to do the same things we do but for them. As outsiders and, as you suggest, disruptors, we bring a new perspective to companies and help them freshen up. Usually, we pretty much get creative freedom. But the clearer the brand’s identity is, the better it is for us. That way we can make a shoe that is true to their core values, but one they wouldn’t have thought of, or perhaps, rather, one they wouldn’t otherwise make.

Studio Hagel's designs

Myles O’Meally

Footwear development studio Areté founder Myles O’Meally, who counts Raf Simons and MCQ as clients, aims to break down the barriers that prevent high-fashion brands from making technical-performance footwear. He worked at Nike as a footwear developer for almost six years before starting his own studio. 

What about your background has prepared you to take on the role of footwear developer at Nike?

In my youth, I reached the semi-pro ranks as a tennis player as well as playing football, and in many ways, that has both built my character and helped me acquire greater focus and certain skills that I think set me up for what was to come. When I realised I wouldn’t make it to the big leagues, I went on to study design engineering at Loughborough University, which isn’t a program about footwear design, per se, but rather about engineering hard goods. For my master’s project, I created 3D printed shin guards whose design was made from a mobile app that does scans of people’s body parts. I can’t draw very well, but I can think and create in a very structural way. After graduation, even though I didn’t do any module in footwear, I applied for the job at Nike. I was lucky enough that the recruiter who’d become my boss has himself been hired fresh out of school at 21, as he basically gave me the same opportunity he was given. I’d say my background in sports and, of course, my degree played into this as well. As a good developer, you’ve got to value both the practicality and aesthetic appeal of a product, which is exactly what I studied: design and engineering.

“We aim to break the wall between the fashion and footwear scenes and give full freedom of creativity to the brands.” – Myles O’Meally

What did the role involve?

I spent the first two years in Amsterdam basically taking shoes that already exist and re-working colours, graphics,  and materials for new releases in Europe. It was simple, but it also was a good way to learn the basics. Then I was transferred to Vietnam for three years and that’s where my learning accelerated. There in the factory, I was working between the design teams in Portland and the engineering and production teams in Vietnam, which really helped me grow as a design engineer. Being in the actual factory with the tools, the prototypes, the 3D printers, etc, I could take a design that was sent our way and start developing and tweaking it. I’ve touched on every division, really, from lifestyle and performance to football and American football, in addition to working on the collaboration with Off-White. Out of the ten sneakers that were produced for Virgil Abloh’s label, three were made in Vietnam; the Air Max 97s, Hyperdunk, and Zoom Fly, which are already well-established staples at Nike, but we’ve re-engineered these icons through the fashion lens.

How has your experience working at Nike prepared you to go independent and start your own development studio, Areté? And what does the studio aim to do?

As much as I’ve enjoyed and learned loads from working on so many aspects of the footwear industry at Nike, there came a time when I asked myself: what’s next? That’s because at Nike everyone has their role to play, and you kind of have to stay in your lane. It’s way too big to touch multiple lines of work. But now, with Areté, I get to touch everything from the engineering side to designs and also marketing and merchandising, etc. Together with our two in-house designers, Nathan Alexander Walker and Slimane Cherif Khaldi, we’ve helped brands from the high-fashion scene, such as Raf Simons and MCQ, translate their ideas into better production. Fashion brands are now really getting into sneakers, but without the infrastructure of Nike, Adidas, Converse, etc it’s very challenging for them; sports brands are far ahead in terms of performance. And that infrastructure is what I’ve recreated, on a much smaller scale of course, but still; it’s close to what they’d get if they were to collaborate with a sneaker giant. Ultimately, we aim to break the wall between the fashion and footwear scenes and give full freedom of creativity to the brands.

Myles O’Meally's and Slimane Cherif Khaldi's designs

Beate Karlsson

AVAVAV creative director and Pyer Moss designer Beate Karlsson broke the internet when she created The Bum, an exactingly detailed and wearable silicone replica of Kim Kardashian’s buttocks. Her take on footwear is just as imaginative; The Bloody Feet and The Claw are monster-like claw shoes.

What made you want to explore otherness?

Like the saying goes, I’ve learned the rules before breaking them. I started out making designs that were quite generic and it got to a point where I didn’t have an inner compass or motivation anymore. And so in an attempt to find out why and if I wanted to keep designing I realised that, to me, development is the key to everything. I want my designs to reflect a new perspective and to hopefully generate new thoughts. I don’t want to add already-existing designs to an industry that is overloaded, which is actually a failure that isn’t talked about enough. But the main thing is that otherness and exploration are what drives me — I don’t get excited about pieces I feel I’ve seen before.

“Many designers brand fruit leather and synthetic vegan leather as sustainable while these are both made up of a high percentage of plastic. There isn’t a straightforward way to sustainability, but we’ll do everything we can to be as sustainable as possible.” – Beate Karlsson

How did you come up with The Bloody Feet, and how’s the reception been?

The Bloody Feet were an extension of one of my other designs, The Claw, which is a large hand platform molded as a shoe. When I started doing creative direction for AVAVAV I wanted to design a shoe that was both avant-garde in its shape but still wearable, and that’s how the finger shoes come about. The reception has been much better than we had ever hoped for. They’ve become a big part of our business and so now we’re working on producing smaller batches that will shortly be released.

How do you approach sustainability through your designs?

With AVAVAV we started out only using deadstock and some stock fabric, but we’ve realised that it isn’t sufficient for us to only create collections from deadstock since we only get about seven to fifteen pieces per style out of the rolls we get our hands-on. Our goal is to grow to be able to put pressure on the fashion industry for its wrongdoings. That isn’t to say that only big companies can create change, but we want to find a way to remain sustainable all while being able to grow as a company. Which sounds easier than it is. I’ll give you a recent example: Many designers brand fruit leather and synthetic vegan leather as sustainable while these are both made up of a high percentage of plastic. There isn’t a straightforward way to sustainability, but we’ll do everything we can to be as sustainable as possible. For now, that includes doing all production locally, using stock, deadstock, and recycled fabric in all parts of the collection where it is possible, and using recycled packaging.

Beate Karlsson's designs