Collaborating and applying the concept to a collection…

In August 2011 Arena Page from LCF MA Fashion Technology Womanswear contacted me after the suggestion from talented and intelligent Directors Darren Coban (MA Womanswear) and Dai Rees (MA Fashion Footwear and Artefact) to collaborate on her Major project.  I was working on my Unit 2 project of my Ma Footwear which focuses on industry.  The collaboration was very good in the end but challenged me in ways I had not expected.  I assumed the Unit 2 project would be about expanding with the contacts in the footwear industry. In collaborating with a graduating student for her Collection and Catwalk show I realised the aims of a show is to create a drama, a story.  As long as the shoes could be walked down a catwalk and add to the narration of the collection the work would be deemed a success in industry terms.

There were some quite specific challenges, mainly Arena wanted a clean look to the shoes meaning no change of colour in the resin line.  She also wanted to have low heels or flats.  Luckily I had been thinking the same heel height.  But let’s start from the end and work backwards….

In February 2012 Arena Page was on of twenty-two students from MA Menswear, Womanswear and Digital Fashion to show her collection at the MA LCF show Poemtry at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The event was lovely and quality and Darren Coban, Dai Rees and staff should be proud as I image supporting and nurturing the talent and making a cohesive show for the event is a tall order.

Well Arena’s collection contained my felt shoes.

shoes backstage at V&A show

shoes backstage at V&A show

Continue reading

Going way back to look at shoes in context..

Can Indigenous Cultures Teach Tomorrow’s Footwear Designers

How to Innovate?


There are issues today surrounding how footwear designers will use new technologies to evolve tomorrow’s footwear industry. How is the footwear paradigm redefined by the use of these new technologies? By what criteria are materials chosen and what are the implications on us the users and our environment in the wider context? What is the designer’s role in the bringing together these issues in innovative ways? Essentially how can designers innovate?

Fashion has produced a generation of young designers who have honed their skills with working distantly with far eastern factories. This development model is difficult as innovation is taken out of the studios divorced from the day-to-day work of the designer. With new technologies more development and even mass production could happen in the designer’s studio. But how do designers shift their skills to meet these new opportunities?

In this essay it is important to look at the context that has shaped our current industry and particularly the footwear paradigm. The author of this essay has worked in the product, furniture and the fashion industries for over fifteen years.  With this primary gathered knowledge there was an instinct to look back at the fundamental approaches to shrouding the foot by exploring indigenous and primitive culture’s shoes to understand how new paradigms can truly be shaped by new technologies. In this investigation we explore and answer why these basic shoes could give insight to approaches for handling new technologies and address the wider social issues not just for the industry but for the community and the natural environment. As a technique we will then erase the post industrial revolution history to skip back to investigate the construction, fit, context and even emotions imbued in primitive shoes. By using this information we see what can evolve if we then apply new technologies to the innovative approach of primitive footwear. Through this system of research we explore the pure essence of footwear capturing fit, wear, feel, identity, emotion, context and technology. There are a few fashion designers working this way, breaking through the confines of the industry to truly innovate and we will explore the work they are doing showing parallels to primitive, indigenous cultures to unearth approaches to design methods and techniques, which are efficient, truly innovative and dare we add emotionally enduring.

Now and then…

To understand today’s footwear industry we need to go back to the eighteen century to understand how the machines rooted the product paradigm of footwear components whilst later the retail markets reinforced the construction systems used in the industry.

Up until the mid 1800’s shoes were made by hand with straight soles often without distinction between the right and left foot and without a universal standardization of sizing. Shoes were bespoke and often customized on the foot. The industrial revolution rapidly increased the volume of footwear produced by using machines to replace time consuming labour such as the rolling machine replacing the lap stool in 1845, followed by the McKay sewing machine in 1852 and then the Goodyear Welting machine in American in 1862, then the Edge and Hell trimming’ machines which were introduced around 1877 and the lasting machine in 1883. ( At this point footwear production was in full swing supplying particularly the forces in the American Civil War. (Design Museum et al 2009 :12) Constructions evolved to not just benefit the foot but also to accommodate machines.

Victorian England social norms delayed the exploration of non-functional footwear wear until the early 1900’s. (  Then with archeological exploration of Egyptian tombs, culture looked back and we did see society allow for the exploration of non-functional footwear.  At the same time the business model of supply and demand was producing large quantities of stock which needed to be sold and thus by the 1920’s fashion footwear as we know today was born.  Shoes could be owned for different occasions giving consumers the motive to own more than one pair of shoes.

By post war days the retail industry was up and running.  People had been educated in how to effectively shop in a supply and demand retail environment, the department store. However with this new business model were larger overheads, which needed to be added onto the unit cost of a pair of shoes.  Generally today the mark up on wholesale cost (cost to the shop) is 2.5-3.0 times, with some shops such as Urban Outfitters marking up to 6.0 times the wholesale cost of an item (author primary working primary knowledge).  The retail markets were vying in competition. In the 1950’s –1960’s advertising cost to make consumers aware of your goods had to be included into the cost margins. With all this pressure on unit cost the wholesale cost were squeezed yet again. In the past 50 years information and communication technologies, computers and process automations became widespread in the footwear industry enhancing the constructions based on post industrial revolution footwear. A “caravanning” of manufacturing bases to the lowest labor cost country effect has been happening especially with big US footwear Companies where manufacturing bases move around in an aim to get the lowest labor production cost. The authors of the book Mass Customization Myth or Reality explains this well below.

It is important to understand why and how the footwear industry has changed and evolved in the last 50 years. Labor we have learnt, is very relative to shoe production (both in terms of number of workers and of the skill they need to have to perform their task), and, consequently, labor cost is certainly a very relevant factor in determining the total manufacturing cost of a shoe…This is what has triggered the subcontracting and delocalization phenomenon of shoe production…moving the most intensive phases of production to lower waged countries…This phenomenon is typical of products whose content involves less innovation. It can be avoided through the attention to such things as the demands of the end user, with innovative materials, or modern processes; all factors that can reduce the labour intensive component of the product price.

The authors go on to explain.

Entire manufacture process was subcontracted out…transferring technologies, work methodologies, know how and skill. In few decades, in those countries where resources (both human and natural) were readily available, students become better than their teachers and start to compete with them on an international level. Or worst yet with other shoe making countries that have no direct responsibility to this transformation.

(Boer and Dulio  2007:8)

As we can see the footwear industry is mature with products build on a machine age now passed (fig 1,2). To say there was absolutely no innovation in the past 150 years would be wrong. By using established manufacturing techniques Salvatore Ferragamo focus was on design innovation through use of materials. He is arguably the pennicial of how footwear through design could become more desired. Then there was Roger Viver’s stiletto borrowing the methods of architectural structure to reshape the heel to be pencil thin, enhancing any woman’s legs! (Design Musuem 2009:22-32) These designers responded to the needs of the given community.  Many of Ferragamo’s innovations stemmed out of war-restricted materials in Italy, for example the cork platform replacing wood. Today our limitations tend to stem from a concern of natural resources. In the machine age there was a fascination with taming and controlling nature. We are now out of the machine age and into the information age where digital information can transform and innovate areas, which no longer have room to evolve. Today’s tools are technology, and the materials are up for debate…. But the constant in all of this is the human part both physically and emotionally.

Why Indigenous Footwear…

Because this is the closest group example of shoes designed in connection with the natural world.  These shoes are untainted by motives of commerce and ego. They used natural local materials and represent the moment in time where man separates from natural world by the use of tools, becoming a craftsman, but are still intimately connected through the use of the available natural resources.

The essay chooses to restrict the exploration of early footwear from civilized cultures such as Rome and Egypt, which had in place sophisticated trade and commerce. Where status played a part in the choices of things to protect one’s feet.  Where making system in place could be motivated by personal gain over a community or group.  By definition the goal of innovation is positive change, to make someone or something better. This can include economic issues but once these issues become the main drivers innovation by definition in the wider sense slows.

Based on the wear of the little toe bones of human fossils 40,000 years ago man wore shoes according to new research published in the “Journal of Archaeological Science” by Erik Trinkaus, a paleo anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri (Ravilious From the moment we walked upright we started to separate from nature and our plight of the human condition begins. Richard Sennett in his book The Craftsman discusses how the craftsman represents the special human condition of being engaged. Sennett goes on to compare early craftsman of Grecian potters to the modern day programmers of Linux based programming systems explaining the latter’s approach is modeled on the former and their open knowledge systems makes them contemporaries.

…Still the experimental rhythm of problem solving and problem finding makes the ancient potter and the modern programmer part members of the same tribe. We would do better to contrast Linux programmers to the different modern tribe, those bureaucrats unwilling to make a move until all the goals, procedures and desired results for a policy have been mapped in advance. This is a close knowledge-system. In the history if handcrafts, close knowledge systems have tended toward short life spans.”

(Sennett 2008:21-27)

He explains closed knowledge systems delays innovation. The fashion industry can be compared to the “different modern tribe those Bureaucrats”.  C. Wright Mills the mid-twentieth century sociologist defines the craftsman,

The labourer with a sense of craft becomes engaged in the work for itself: the satisfactions of working are their own reward: details of daily labour are connected in the workers mind to the end product; the worker can control his or her own actions at work; skill develops within the work process; work is connected to the freedom the experiment; finally family community and politics are measured by the standards of inner satisfaction, coherence, and experiment in craft labour.

(Mills 1951:220-223)

By examining footwear designed for use, for experience and not for desired point of sale maybe we can learn techniques to apply to new technologies. By repeating the same footwear paradigms of the last 150 years into new manufacturing technologies it is unlikely we will be able to create the best experience of footwear for ourselves to wear and for our environment.  If we look at the humble toothbrush originally made out of straight piece of wood it took us thirty years of making straight plastic sticks before we thought if we thin the material around the neck maybe this can ease the pressure on our gums.  It took us thirty years to exploit the charactoristics and properties of plastic to get a better tooth brushing experience.

Cutting Edge Indigenous Technology…

Simplicity, wholeness, elegance of use of materials, honest resolutions of constructions, structure transparent, vernacular materials, localization, community driven, breathable natural materials, customization of fit, bespoke, designed for the terrain and environment, biodegradable…some words to describe indigenous footwear.

Qualities any designer would say would be desirable. But how did this purist approach evolve and how can tomorrow’s footwear designer’s capture them.  Let’s explore a few examples.

The oldest preserved shoe was found in an Armenian cave in 2010.  It is carbon dated to be around 5,500 years old  (fig. 3,4).  It is stuffed with straw speculated to be either some type of lining to keep the foot warm or maybe some type of shoe tree to keep the shape.  It laid in a pit with Sheep dung over it and combined with the cave temperatures kept it preserved. From this shoe we can learn man had a primal need to protect their feet, used local materials in the environment and community, which were a by-product of other, consumed items, animals. The construction was efficient in components using a single piece of leather; even the threading was of the leather.  The shoe was wrapped around the foot for best fit. Closer to home we see a humble, delicate Shetland moccasin based on the pampooties (Pedersen 2005:17).  The hide was fitted raw to mold to the foot for a customized fit. There was no need for sizing as the shoe was constructed around the foot.  Again we see the use of one piece of leather with a drawstring construction closure  as on the Armenian cave shoe.  This specimen lives in the archived of the Northampton shoe museum.  When the museum’s curator Rebecca Shawcross was asked about the thickness of the sole and the durability she said the shoe was part of the community and there was not a need to make the shoe more durable as the process allowed for replacement shoes to be made easily. Because the shoe was made of natural materials it could be easily discarded to decay and return to the earth. (Shawcross to Ciokajlo 2011)

The moccasin construction seems to be the shoe construction of choice for primitive cultures. Most famous is the Native American Indian moccasin mostly made of soft elk skin, deer or buffalo skins (fig 6,7,8). The construction was one piece of leather wrapping around the foot with some top element to drawstring the construction together. (Shawcross to Ciokajlo 2011)

The Native Americans were unbelievably good at recycling and reducing waste. Skilled hunters, they would utilize every possible part of their catch – using the meat for food and the animal skins for clothing. The tough hide, which was too inflexible to make into clothing, would be used to make strong, durable moccasins… One of the reasons that Moccasins have remained so popular for so long is their ability to mold to the foot, meaning they are warm and snug. Their flat soles and soft leather make them unbelievably comfortable. They get better over time, as the leather softens and mold to your foot.

(Clifford James)

These “shoe bags” (O’Keeffe 1996:241) the American colonialist adopted were…

Extremely well crafted in supple leather with careful stitching to allow for ease of wear as much as for sensitivity to the landscape, something that would have been essential to Native Americans so skilled at traversing the land and tracking things on foot.  Those tribes to the west that lived in drier, more rugged terrain would have had shoes made of tougher leather with soles to match and would be constructed of two or more pieces of leather for sole and upper.  Tribes further east would have relied on soft-soled moccasins, typically constructed of one piece of hide and sewn with seams at the sides or at the top.


This care of the sole in relation to the experience of feeling the earth was very important to the Indians.  It shows how considered the union of material construction was in the design of the shoes. According to the Colonial Williamsburg Historical society in the US…

Moccasins were functional, natural footwear worn in early America by Indians of many nations for protection, and comfort. They are felt to be a part of what allows them to be close to the earth-literally. They are not sacred items (unless used in a special ceremony), but rather very personal items for the owner. (Burroughs

This notion of object and materials imbued with an almost ethereal quality is taken to an extreme with the Aboriginal Kurdaitcha shoes.  These “shoes” are made out of emu feathers, woven human hair and blood as an adhesive. The myth goes that the offending member is banished from the group into the wild. The medicine man then takes a fine bone shaped to a needle and enchants a curse into it. The execution team wear these shoes whist hunting the banished member. Then once found the needle is pointed with some further chants at the offender never piercing the skin. The victim mysteriously dies a certain death within days or weeks. The natives deeply believe this to be true.  The interesting part of the ritual is why the shoes are worn.  The shoes still show human tracks and direction of movement. What appears important is the menace of the footprints. So much so these footprints are left in rival territories with an aim to pose a threat. (Shawcross to Ciokajlo 2011)

The weaving of the fibres to create footwear is evident in the Russian Valenki boot. The shoe of choice for the upper classes as the shoe could withstand minus 40 degrees weather. The boots were felted from wool without seams.  A kind of early form of polymer moulding! “Reputed to be beneficial to health; the texture of the felted lambs wool stimulates blood circulation in the feet and lower legs.”(Carson 2009) The peasants in Russia wore woven birch laspts shoes. Again the shoes were made of one material a woven birch, unfortunately the shoes wore out quickly and a person could go through up to 60 pairs a year.

If we widen the research to different primitive and indigenous cultures we see patterns start to emerge in the constructions of footwear.  Colder climate tend to all have a moccasin sole construction wrapping around the foot, warmer a sandal and platform.

The opanke shoe evolved from the Bosnian and Yugoslavian regions. Again we see the materials are limited although beautifully woven together.  The construction was based on fit around the foot first, not a machine. The front turn up of the shoe demonstrates a beautiful design resolution to finishing the material and becomes an emerging stylistic identity to the group of people who wore the shoes. (Shawcross to Ciokajlo 2011)

Outliers in Footwear and Fashion…

In 2009 Malcolm Gladwell got everyone talking about his book “Outliers” which means a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system. In his book his aim was to enforce the theory we all have the potential to be geniuses if we put in the 10,000 hours practice required and are lucking enough to live in a time with a “window of opportunity”.   In footwear the window is opening. Already we have outliers challenging the industry staring to emerge. One of the earliest designers notably working this way was Issay Miyake and Dai Fujiwara with their A-poc range, which is an acronym of ‘a piece of cloth’, and a near homonym of ‘epoch’. Epoch means the beginning of a distinctive period in the history of anything.

The Real Design exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery curate by Konstantin Grcic has this to say about the work…

The A-POC method requires no sewing, thread goes into the loom, and the dress comes out. Specifically, a flattened tube of material emerges that contains the finished shirt, skirt, or pants, which need only to be cut out along the faint outline already woven or knit into the fabric. Moreover, the material can be snipped anywhere without unraveling, a feature that allows for complete customization.

The complete garment system’s advantages lie in 1) a further reduction in materials beyond even fully-fashioned production by eliminating seam allowances and 2) faster time to market by eliminating the need for sewing any components.


The curators make comparisons of A-poc to rapid manufacturing. I can see comparisons to the woven primitive footwear. The changes are just the tools.

Marloes Ten Bhomer shoe designer is pushing the boundaries applying industrial design manufacturing techniques to fashion footwear. What is so interesting about her approach is she challenges the shoe paradigm.  When playing with vegetable tan leather she lets the processes and materials dictate the forms.  When working with rotational moulding she expresses the spirit of the flow of the rotated materials in the form. Marloes was interviewed as primary research in late 2010. She said her aim was to move away from the heal, insole, upper constructions. I was fascinated to understand how she as a designer evaluates her work outside of familiar visual queues. She said, “Usually when something does not look right it means the design is not to the concept.” (Ten Bhomer to Ciokajlo 2011) This brave egoless approach to design is in keeping with the mindset of indigenous cultures. Her Beigefoldedshoe design in 2009 returns to the primitive approach of using a single piece of leather not until the approach of the moccasin.  She updates the construction by wrapping the vegetable tan leather around a stainless steel heel. I was fortunate enough in my interview to hold these beauties in my hands, the same hands that held the archive moccasins in the Northampton shoe museum.  Both are imbued with charm and a sensitivity of a true craftsman.

In September last year we were introduced to the innovation of spray on clothing. Manel Torres in connection with scientist at the Imperial college of London invented a spray made of short natural or synthetic fibres and a polymer solvent. When forced out of a high-pressure spray gun they mix, dry on contact with the skin and form a fabric. This mixing of fibres to form a solid has been around for centuries in the form of felting.  It would be interesting if the solvents used could be biodegradable and non-toxic.

The approach of applying a “wet material” directly onto to the skin to mould to a fit is evident in the Shetland moccasin, applied when raw, moulds to the foot.

The fresh cutting edge approach of Eyewear by Studio Swine recently showed at the RCA show. These frames use human hair encased in a biodegradable resin. Using human hair “glued” and bound can be observed in the Aboriginal shoes (fig.26, 27).

There are designers testing the concept of growing fabrics created by yeast, bacteria and other microbes, a kind of Kombucha skin. At current this innovation is limited as it is not water resistant but in time with a few more outliers minds applied maybe it will be a reality.  For now these mavericks remain outside the industry.


Stine Hedegaard, Danish Fashion Institute development coordinator was recently quoted…

“One of the first things I learned [in my doctoral project on corporate social responsibility and fashion] was that people don’t always do what they say. It’s not going to come from the consumers. It’s got to come from the designers themselves.”

Indigenous shoes were made in the community, by the community using vernacular materials within the fabric of their lives, within the natural world surrounding them. Today we have the opportunity to close the gap between designer and user through the aid of innovation with materials and new technologies sifting our “business model” to that of primitive cultures, a demand and supply system.

We could radically shape what we know as tomorrow’s footwear industry. Potentially every area of the chain from idea, manufacturing, and retail to the relationship with end consumer could be altered. Adjacent product industries have exploded the way we shop, the way markets are researched and developed, how information is gathered and the way designers approach new technologies.  Unfortunately fashion is lagging behind. (The Big Picture) The reason for this? Today’s fashion footwear is driven by economic imperative. Short-term profits have obscured innovation lead strategies. Caravanning has been fashion’s biggest contribution to innovation in the past decade.

The hot new technology for footwear, rapid manufacturing, has been on anchored the “horizon” since the early 1980’s.  In this utopian vision a complete shoe comes out of a machine whole or as reduced as can be with the number of compensates and parts. (fig.28) The only issue worth flagging is the material has to be polymer based. (Fig. 29) This excludes all leathers, wools, cottons, wood, cork, etc… The reward for giving up natural materials is a truly efficient shoe.

However the human side is lost as feet can be sweaty things to shroud. Not to mention the enduring emotional attachments natural materials can evoke and the 1000 year plus landfill life of most polymers based footwear. Before we steam ahead into this new technology we can learn so much still about how to innovate from indigenous cultures. In identifying the desired benefits of rapid manufacturing parallels are drawn. In these cultures function was essential and early man worked at the cutting edge of the tools and materials available. By going back to the essence of protecting our feet using the best tools and materials at hand whilst maintaining respect for ourselves and the natural world around us, maybe designers can re-educate themselves as to how best to approach new technologies and even how to imbued charm in the process.

Only by studying the past can we give actuality to the future.

Confucius 2000 BC



Baumgarten, L., 2002 What Clothes Reveal, The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America. Williamsburg, VA: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Boer, C. and Dulio, S. 2007 Mass customization Myth, Salvation or Reality. London: Springer-Verlag London Ltd.

Chapman, J. 2005  Emotionally Enduring Design. London: Earthscan

Design Museum, 2009  Fifty Shoes That Changed the World. London: Octopus Ltd

Homer, K., 2008  Things a Woman Should know about Shoes. London: Carlton Publishing Group

O’Keeffe, L., 1996  Shoes: A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers and More. New York, Workman Publishing

Pedersen, S., 2005  Shoes: The Grace the Glamour and the Glory. Newton Abbott: Davis and Charles Books.

Sennett, R., 2008  The Craftsman. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

Primary research

Interview s with author

Ten Bhomer, Marloes, November 9th 2010 London focused questions of her work aproxamiately 60 minutes Appendix 1

Lectures author attended

Ten Bhomer, Marloes – Talk at Golden Lane site London College of Fashion May 5, 2011, an overview of her work

The Big Picture Trend forecasting talk at JPS May 2011

Archive research and interview with author

Shawcross, Rebecca  (curator) and Northampton Shoe Museum and shoe archive June 14th for three hours.  Ms Shawcross gave time to explore the archives, highlighted issues of interest and answered questions.



Design Real January 2009 Serpentine Gallery curated by Konstantin Grcic.  Information is supported online at


Bowdler, N. September 17, 2010

Burroughs, F., The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation., A.,  OCTOBER 5, 2009

Ravilious,K., June 9, 2010 National Geographic News

Swine Studios 27th June 2011

Vitra Muesum on A-pock July 1, 2001


40,000 year old shoes

Fig 5 photo – Liz Ciokajlo 2011 Shetland moccasin - Northampton shoe museum archive

Fig 5 photo – Liz Ciokajlo 2011 Shetland moccasin – Northampton shoe museum archive

Fig 6.  Bata shoe museum2010 - moccasin Huron, Great Lakes, Canada. 1790

Fig 6. Bata shoe museum2010 – moccasin Huron, Great Lakes, Canada. 1

Fig 7,8 North American moccasin - Northampton shoe museum archive photo – Liz Ciokajlo

Fig 7,8 North American moccasin – Northampton shoe museum archive photo – Liz Cioka

Fig. 9 Photo Liz Ciokajlo Northampton Shoe archive 2011 Sioux Indian moccasin 1880-90

Fig. 9 Photo Liz Ciokajlo Northampton Shoe archive 2011 Sioux Indian moccasin 1880-90

Fig 10  Aboriginal Kurdaitcha shoes photo Northampton shoe Museum,

Fig 10 Aboriginal Kurdaitcha shoes

Fig 11 Museum of Russian Valenki – photo Kate A.

Fig 11 Museum of Russian Valenki – photo Kate A.

Fig 12 Russian Valenki boot photo Carson

Fig 12 Russian Valenki boot photo Carson

Fig 13 Photo – Ciokajlo Russian laipst made of woven birch worn by peasants – Northampton shoe archive

Fig 13 Photo – Ciokajlo Russian laipst made of woven birch worn by peasants – Northampton shoe archive

Fig 14,15 Opanke shoe Bosnian - Northampton shoe museum archive photo – Liz Ciokajlo

Fig 14,15 Opanke shoe Bosnian – Northampton shoe museum archive photo – Liz Ciokajlo

fig. 16 Issay Miyake A-poc

fig. 16 Issay Miyake A-poc

fig. 17 oldest shoe found in American volcanic rock 10,000 years old

fig. 17 oldest shoe found in American volcanic rock 10,000 years old

Fig 18 Ten Bhomer photo 2008

Fig 18 Ten Bhomer photo 2008

Fig 19. 19th century knowledge Indian lore one-piece moccasin pattern American Museum of Natural History 191

Fig 19. 19th century knowledge Indian lore one-piece moccasin pattern
American Museum of Natural History 191

figs 20, 21. Photo Marloes Ten Bhomer of her own Beigefoldedshoe one-piece leather construction 2009

figs 20, 21. Photo Marloes Ten Bhomer of her own Beigefoldedshoe one-piece leather construction 2009

Fig 22, 24, spray on clothes, fig 23 photo Ciokajlo moulded sole of Shetland moccasin Northampton shoe archive 2011

Fig 22, 24, spray on clothes, fig 23 photo Ciokajlo moulded sole of Shetland moccasin Northampton shoe archive 2011

Fig 26 Aboriginal shoes photo Northampton fig. 27 Studio Swine hair and bio-resin eyewear

Fig 26 Aboriginal shoes photo Northampton fig. 27 Studio Swine hair and bio-resin eyewear

Fig. 28 Beckmans & Konstfack completely made and designed or rapid prototype shoe 2010

Fig. 28 Beckmans & Konstfack completely made and designed or rapid prototype shoe 2010

Fig.29 Freedom of Creation April Fool's hoax wood 3D printer

Fig.29 Freedom of Creation April Fool’s hoax wood 3D printer

The prototype process…


Recognizing the limitations of the facilities and the funds I had to keep the prototyping low-tech with the understanding of how this could be applied to industry.  In industry a mould would be made and the process used would be resin transfer moulding, meaning a blank mould (the heel and the last shapes) would be placed in a 2 sided mould.  The steamed felt would be place in this mould formed and the insole would not need to be “sewn” in place. The under pressure the resin would be forced into the mould cavity in the required place.  At this point I am a bit “wooly” sorry about the pun, but there is a way to apply the resin to just the desired area.  This may be controlled injection of resin or possibly the application of nano solutions to prevent the “upper” from absorbing the resin.

Figuring out a system and method…

Crude but a germ of an idea worth exploring.  Now to make something more beautiful. I would need to create some moulds. At this point it is only an idea. I needed help.  Darren Murphy footwear designer and technical tutor was amazing.  He had millinnary experience.  See I didn’t even realize this is what I was doing or needed to help move on the process.  I needed steam to mould the felt around the last and the form (heel).  But that is not where it stops – Ian the technician was very hands on the help which was crucial as I am inexperienced in the key fit points of footwear.  Then there was both Elain and George in the closing room who when Mark the pattern cutting tutor suggested a stroble sewing machine and none was to be found in the college, Elain showed me an old overlocking Singer which could do the job.

leather attached to last for heel mould

cork and neoprene on last to be shaped down

cork and neoprene on last to be shaped down

heel mould

heel mould

last and heel mould

last and heel mould

So the central back seam was done with the  over locking Singer then the “cone” was steamed and moulded around the base

felt "cones" with one central back seam

felt "cones" with one central back seam

Felt "cones", last and mould, steamer

Felt "cones", last and mould, steamer

felt steamed and stapled into place

felt steamed and stapled into place

then the punched insole (which had holes planned according to pressure) was sewn in by hand with a curved needle.

insole stitched into moulded felt

masked shoes ready to be resined

masked shoes ready to be resined

What I really wish could be…making construction ideas happen

tumbling along with exploring materials can be really unnerving to me.  If you have a vision of what the thing will look like you have a goal.  Working from the inside out means you have no bloody idea how the thing will look…and this is fashion!  So armed with the knowledge of what the materials can do I know we had to sprinkle a little magic into the mix.  So the wouldn’t it be cool thoughts start to creep in….

A solid chunk of felt layered up and soaked in resin is no better than a lump of solid plastic.  There seemed to be a lot of strength in the curved felt reminding me of how steel tubes can be as strong as rods.  In addition the resin acts like a wood glue where the join can be as strong as the actual material.

So sprinkle the magic and wouldn’t it be great if the shoe was a big tube and the insole was attached inside seamlessly?????

crude initial "tube" mocks

crude initial "tube" mocks

only insole no sole

court shoe fit

first attempt at resining the tube

first attempt at resining the tube


Appropriate constructions for selected materials…

Something was bugging me about “mimicking” a footwear construction meant for one material when using another.  The construction methods used for footwear today have evolved from three areas…

1. the foot

2. the material mainly leather or a leather “sock” covered with fabric

3. the tools and machines to form the leather around the last

But if we look at the properties of the felt material it can stretch, mould and absorb. Wool absorbs unlike leather or fabric.  Wool is made up of keratins, which on a micro level are little tubes. The hollow part of these tubes are called medulla. The Medulla gives the wool it’s thermal properties.  But it also allows for  the tube to be filled with a hardening material. We chose resin, when in liquid state is absorbed into the tubes and then hardens.  But if the fibers laid in a neat orderly way the material could suffer from being brittle.  Wool fibers are “tangled” together in the creation of felt.  This tangling creates an elasticity meaning a resin soaked and dried piece of felt is hard and NOT brittle.

tangled wool fibers in felt

tangled wool fibers in felt


medullapart soft untreated felt and part resin soaked felt with sanded corner

part soft untreated felt and part resin soaked felt with sanded corner

part soft untreated felt and part resin soaked felt with sanded corner

material properties and characteristics…

Originally felt was chosen from a range of potential materials because it was…

  • natural
  • breathable
  • moulds to the foot as worn – ie. “fuzzy” mass customization through the material as opposed to high tooling/labour cost of bespoke fit of a hard sole shoe
  • biodegradable

felt moccasin construction test

One the material was received an exploration of properties and characteristics testing need to be done.  At first I was recreating shoe constructions based on leather sheet materials mainly moccasins.

sourcing the felt…

Industrial 100% wool felt was sourced from the high quality company Damier Filtz in Germany.  The quality of the felt is far superior.  The company has an understanding and  sensitivity not only to the production of the felt but also to the application of the material in innovative designs.  The colours are stunning but for my applications I needed to use smaller quantities of stock 5mm felt.

Damier Filtz shade card

Damier Filtz shade card

Structure and process as design…

I now realise what I am interested in is rapid production and equally natural materials. It may seem regressive but it is essential to explore material and what opportunities are inherinet in the material properties to allow for customization.  Natural materials are alive, mellow, wear and with them we form emotional connections.  The Fashion Footwear industry is a very mature market where  structures have evolved from specific industrial machines and these structures drive the designs.

If we move to a designs informed purely by process and we use natural materials what are we left with?  Here are some initial explorations of structure.  The last I chose from Springline followed the natural curve of the foot.

tapped top view last from Springline

last on cork heel

I wanted to wrap the footbead/insole around the arch to make it more pleasurable. I found every time I made a board insole it seemed to start to dictate the structure. Insole, heel and upper this is what Marloes spoke of as what she aims to do is to not think of structure in this way. So I started working with leather insoles.  Heather kept directing further research and suggested looking at Ferragamo. Mark suggested looking at Openka constructions.

Opanke sole Ferragamo

initial thinking on parts

wish it could be this direct

sole wraps around cork heel acting as harness

opanke insole and felt sock

Diamer Felt 5mm insole - holes punched to allow for spreading of material to mold into foot