Personally, I like to read about real people – especially the story behind their brand or business. So, I thought I’d share my story with you, of how I got involved in the weird and wonderful world of designing and handcrafting wedding shoes.
From cornflake box shoes at school
Shoes were always my passion, going all the way back to my childhood in Derbyshire. At the tender age of 5 or 6 years old, I was making cardboard sandals from cornflake boxes with silver foil buckles, while everyone else at school was making houses and cars.
When I was young, my favourite shopping trips into Derby or Nottingham were always for shoes – school shoes, dance shoes, best shoes – it really didn’t matter to me. It was always my mission to be wearing the latest new trend or brand before anyone else.
My mum was amazing – birthday gifts were often shoes, and she always helped me save for the next pair on my list, even though I’m sure she thought I was quite mad at times spending all my money on shoes from such an early age.
As soon as I got a Saturday job, I started saving for even more shoes. I still remember most of them. Designer shoes weren’t really a thing amongst the young then, not in the way that they are now. For me, it was more about the latest trend – Kickers, Pods, Nature Treks, moccasins, and particularly Dr Martens.
I vividly remember a pair of boots that I saved and saved for – they were a butter-soft khaki leather which was ruched down the leg, with leather soles and linings. I really loved those boots and wore them to death. I think that was when I realised that it wasn’t just about the look for me, but also the quality – they had to be beautifully made too.
To studying fashion and textiles at university
After discovering that childhood love, it wasn’t a total surprise that as I grew up my interests were fashion and textile based – I was always making or embroidering something. You’d think that living in a small village in rural Derbyshire that wellies and riding boots were more suited to my life, yet it was always fashion and shoes that rocked my world.
I have a lot to thank my textiles teacher at school for – Mrs Shields opened my eyes and made me see that it was actually possible to earn a living being a creative. I came from a family of teachers, and so I never really imagined being able to make money in fashion.
I went on to study Fashion and Textiles at University in Birmingham, and geared most of my work towards fashion accessories, and ultimately embellished shoes. I was lucky enough to spend my work placement with Emma Hope in London – a super talented shoe designer, who was one of a new breed of young creative British footwear designers emerging in and around London.
Emma Hope made the most exquisite chiselled slippers in velvet and embroidered silk, trimmed with beautiful grosgrain bows and ribbons. I still love her work today and really loved the work experience – it was so exciting for a country-loving girl from Derbyshire.
Working alongside designers Jimmy Choo and Emma Hope
During my time with Emma Hope, I took lots of trips across London to a tiny studio in the East End, where many of the samples were handmade by an amazingly creative and lovely chap called Jimmy Choo. Yes, the Jimmy Choo!
At the time, Jimmy Choo was a little-known shoe designer and maker, though he was clearly very talented and a total craftsman, handmaking and finishing shoes in a way rarely seen today. Like Emma, he was very kind to me, and so encouraging – I’ve never forgotten that.
I was lucky enough to work on shoe samples with the lovely Jimmy during the final year of my degree, and ultimately my final collection of embellished shoes were made by Jimmy Choo, with some help and advice from Emma Hope – how lucky was I?
I remember going to London to finish and collect the shoes – a very nervous student, totally terrified. Both Jimmy and Emma were so complimentary, and commented that there was nothing to stop me making my own shoes going forward. That was my lightbulb moment.
I remember travelling back from London on the train that day in total disbelief and amazement that they believed I could do it for myself. Emma Hope and Jimmy Choo gave me the self belief that I could and should pursue shoe design as a career. Without them, I really don’t think I would ever have had the confidence.
Fighting continued imposter syndrome
After leaving university, I completed a business course for graduates and moved to London to set up my business in a teeny-weeny studio in Clerkenwell. Initially I was making niche embellished fashion shoes for small designer boutiques around Carnaby Street and Newburgh Street. I handmade these shoes in coloured suedes and velvet, with long chiselled toes and shapely Louis heels – pretty radical and very trendy back in the day, honest!
During most of this time, I suffered from a serious case of imposter syndrome. I kept feeling like someone was going to call me up and say, “but you’re not really a shoe designer!”
Looking back, I think I understand why. I had trained in fashion and textile design, but not strictly speaking in footwear. I had learned my craft from Emma Hope, Jimmy Choo, and various small shoe factories and individuals that I worked with over the years, but not in an academic setting, and I think the result was that I never felt quite good enough.
Discovering the wedding press
As part of my degree collection, I had made some beautiful cream silk and ivory velvet mules, embroidered with hand beaded silk tassels. I showed them to a stylist from Wedding and Home magazine, and was called in to meet the editor who was getting married herself.
I was quite overwhelmed – I had never met anyone from the press before – but she was absolutely lovely and asked me to make her own wedding shoes. There were to be three separate features about the wedding over the coming months, and as a result I was featured in various shoots and features in other bridal and fashion magazines too.
My answerphone was full
When the first magazine featuring my wedding shoes went on sale, I arrived at my studio the following day to find my answerphone was completely full – this had never happened before! There was bride after bride asking where they could get my shoes from, and if they could arrange a consultation with me.
I simply couldn’t believe it. I suppose this was the affirmation I had been waiting for, and I was on an emotional high for days. After that, it was all about wedding shoes for me. Lots of exciting things started to happen and I became so busy I pretty much left the fashion side behind.
The wedding industry chose me
Since then, I have always felt that the wedding industry chose me, rather than the other way around. Things just happened, and I fell into it – it wasn’t planned, but I have never looked back.
I’ve been a wedding shoe designer for over 30 years now, and I still love it. I’ve worked with so many wonderfully talented people in the wedding industry (and still do), I’ve won various awards, and have loved every minute. It’s a very lovely and quite small industry, most people are very welcoming and friendly, and I am still in touch with so many of the people I met in those first few years. It seems that once you get into the wedding industry, you never leave!
So here I am still happily designing wedding shoes for brides in my own niche way – this is me! I feel it’s a privilege to be involved in someone’s wedding day in whatever capacity, and if they choose to walk down the aisle in my shoes, that’s just wonderful.