Can you tell us something about your career? How it has evolved over time and how are you working today? Working with Iris van Herpen is a great opportunity…
I began my career some years ago in womenswear, but I had always had a passion for craft, so I found myself eventually drawn to bespoke shoemaking. About 9 years ago I found a shoemaker in London who allowed me to apprentice under him and that’s where I really got the bug for shoemaking and working with leather. Since then I have gone back to university to study footwear design and have worked at a few luxury footwear brands but always my passion has been for hand making and I have kept up my studio making shoes for celebrities, fashion runway and individual clients and now I am building that into a brand.
Iris Van Herpen was an exciting project for me as we share similarities in our approach to design which is very materials and process driven. I like to begin with a material such as veg tanned leather and really explore its unique properties and let that dictate the design.
What are your challenges and dreams for the future?
One of the biggest challenges for me and many artisans working within fashion is how to make a profitable and sustainable business in the rapidly changing world and without falling into the broken cycle of mass production and endless seasons. I want to produce a product that is much more timeless, seasonless, in much smaller quantities – but in footwear where there are so many different components and processes this can be difficult and expensive.
You discovered Tuscan Veg Tan Leather during our Craft The Leather in 2016, right? What are your memories about this experience? How has it changed your way of working?
Craft the Leather was a very formative experience for me. The leather techniques I learned opened up a world of design possibilities for me that I am still exploring today. Additionally, it gave me an understanding of the cultural significance it has to the region – how different aspects of the industry work together to build a bustling community that looks after its people and the environment. From the raw hides arriving from ethical farms to the tanneries, leather goods factories, testing facilities and even water purification plants – nothing is wasted and everything and everyone works together in a network. Everything and everyone have a purpose. That made me realize how much meaning a material can have beyond its physical form and I think that is something that should be respected in any design practice.
If you had to describe Veg Tan Leather in a few words, which ones would you choose?
Timeless. Versatile. Luxurious. Community. Artisanal. Natural beauty.
Do you find this leather to be a good match for your shoe construction and philosophy?
Absolutely. I like working with materials that have versatility and sculptural properties. The fact veg tanned leather can be formed into highly detailed decorative shapes gives it a lot of potential artistically and on top of that, is strong, robust and holds its form while still having some elasticity and is breathable – absolutely the ideal properties for footwear.
Additionally, the fact that it is produced ethically and sustainably is very important to me – the hides themselves are a by-product from the meat industry, the natural tannins from the renewable resources and when the water is purified at the other end of the tanning process the waste is used as fertilizer. And the industry is always working on improving this process – making it cleaner, using less water and making sure the workers have good lives. All these things are very important. There is no point making a beautiful product if what it is made out of causes harm – that will always be ugly.
Finally…Are there other products you are developing using Veg Tan leather?
I’m always thinking of new ways to work with veg tan and push the techniques further. I have a few projects in development which I cannot wait to share with you in the near future.