[Header image taken by Annie Harmeston]
Introducing Kitty Shukman, a 24 year old British shoe designer who has recently graduated from London College of Fashion Cordwainers, where she studied footwear design. Her ground-breaking work sets out to be gender-inclusive and is heavily inspired by sportswear to complete her unique, signature aesthetic. With focus on mental health and sustainability, she sets out to design and create shoes that empower the wearer, whilst making sure to use recycled materials when making her statement footwear. With the fashion industry being forced to think more consciously about the environment, this is a designer we’re very intrigued to hear more of.
We’ve got an exclusive interview with this upcoming designer, and once you’ve read what she’s had to say – whilst taking a look at some of her stunning work – she’s a name you will never want to forget…
So, what made you interested in pursuing a career in the fashion industry, and how did you go about it?
I first made a paper shoe in an art class when I was 8, and from then on, I’ve been obsessed with shoes. I did an art foundation course at Falmouth in Cornwall where I focused all my projects on shoes, even though I technically had no idea how to make them back then. I made them out of whatever I could find like shells, pasta, clay and paper, and I then got a friend to pose with them in a fishmonger. In this small Cornish town, the shoot caused quite a stir, with a crowd outside gazing at my shoes, which had gold, spray-painted mussel shells all over them. I loved that experience and my conceptual shoe sculptures was what helped me to get into the footwear design course at London College of Fashion. Also, during my holidays, I was an intern for three different shoe designers so that’s how I started to learn about the industry.
Why did you decide to concentrate on making shoes?
I always knew I wanted to be a shoe designer, and footwear is the perfect blend of product design and fashion. People’s relationship with their shoes is very different from their clothes. Shoes not only become an extension of your personality but culturally they symbolize a lot. I’m interested in how shoes can change how you feel, especially by making you more confident and powerful.
You mentioned that your work is inspired by OCD and how humans protect themselves. How did this become the centre of your work, and what importance does it have to you?
OCD is ranked in the World Health Organisation’s top 10 most debilitating illnesses of all time. It is frequently misunderstood, as some people wrongly assume it’s something like just being obsessively tidy, when actually it is about unwanted feelings of vulnerability.
Living in London and being aware of how many people suffer from mental health, including myself, I wanted to base the inspiration for my graduate collection on something very personal. Suffering from OCD also, I wanted to make shoes that people could feel strong and protected in. I went to vintage markets and bought old sportswear padding like baseball gloves and shin pads and cut them up to expose the foam and mesh. I also looked at archives of different kinds of armour like British medieval armour and Japanese Samurais. I used all these old ideas of physical protection to create shoes that encapsulated these techniques in modern shoes. I want the wearer of my shoes to feel strong, grounded and confident in themselves to help combat their daily anxiety
Your work isn’t just about creating a great looking shoe (something you’ve most definitely achieved!), it also packs a lot of meaning, social importance and depth, which we love. Do you have any advice for young, aspiring fashion designers like yourself? Especially those who struggle with OCD?
Thank you! I’m only just starting out, but my advice is to be as genuine to yourself as possible and to keep going even when it seems impossible. I think it’s a challenging time to be a designer as there is so much anxiety in the world about consumerism. But it is also a very exciting time with what we are able to do with new sustainable materials. I say this to myself as well but just to stay true to yourself and your ideas. And none of this is possible without really supportive mentors and I’ve been really lucky and privileged to be helped along the way by some incredible people.
What’s your favourite part about being in the fashion industry?
I meet so many people who amaze me with their creativity and imagination and I love the constantly changing energy and ideas.
And what has been the most difficult and scariest part about going into this industry and finding your signature style? Was there anything that shocked you?
I think the scariest thing that I’ve learnt is how the fashion industry is the 2nd largest polluter in the world, and responsible for billions of tonnes of carbon emissions through its manufacturing, supply chains and waste. For anyone of my generation this is a big and troubling deal for us. But what’s really encouraging is that so many of us are committed to acting differently, by exploring fashion without damaging the planet.
Your work is produced sustainably, which is crucial in the fashion industry right now. How have you achieved this in your designs?
I researched alternatives to leather and found a material called Ultrasuede in Japan. They offered to sponsor my graduate collection. The material is a soft, supple vegan suede made from recycled plastic.
Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years’ time?
That’s the toughest question you’ve asked me! All I can say is that I hope I’m still making shoes made in a sustainable way that give people confidence.
Kitty, thank you so much! We’re excited to see what else you have in store for us in the near future.
Here are some pictures of some of her work – if you would like to see more from her then follow her on instagram @kittyshukman