JCA | London Fashion Academy, MA Fashion Entrepreneurship in Design and Brand Innovation graduate Sophie Park debut the first collection of her eponymous plant-based gender-neutral footwear brand during a catwalk showcase in October.
Park, the only footwear designer on the MA course, describes her footwear brand as pairing “stylistic originality with rigorous ethics”. With her debut collection offering fashion-forward individuals avant-garde styles to customise their look, made from plant-based materials including cactus leather. Highlights included flared ankle cuff heels in black organza and looks featuring add-on booties with corseted backs and detachable shoe capes.
JCA’s one-year MA Fashion Entrepreneurship in Design and Brand Innovation course focuses on enterprise creation. Students on the course establish themselves as freelancers or micro-SMEs and are encouraged to develop a commercial enterprise from the outset. The school offers practice-based education in which students are professionally ‘incubated’ as aspiring designer-entrepreneurs to develop their crafts in professional studios.
Emerging footwear designer to watch: Sophie Park
Following her showcase, FashionUnited caught up with Park over e-mail to find out what inspired her footwear collection, why she decided to continue her studies at JCA, and why she wanted to become a footwear designer.
What inspired your footwear collection?
The most prominent and personal inspiration is taken from faces. I have pareidolia which is where I see faces in everyday objects. I don’t look for them intentionally, they just appear sometimes. I’m always drawn to including anything facial in designs. All the shoes from this collection have patterns made from silhouettes of different faces.
Another inspiration and passion is astronomy. The more I learn, the more I’m obsessed. I fused these two sources together to create a collection that’s all black mimicking the night sky and shadows, with glittery organza layering to represent the stars and the depth of space.
Why do you want to design shoes?
Shoes change the way you feel. They transcend through the years and set the tone for any outfit. Shoes have always been my favourite part of fashion since I was very young. I like the challenge of pushing creativity whilst having the restriction of the shoes staying on the foot and not affecting walking.
My designs all feature studs on the bottom of the sole so you can transform a staple style into something more dramatic by attaching on a leg piece. These ‘add-ons’ are where I can push the boundaries of footwear design whilst still being commercial.
Why was it important for your label to be gender-neutral?
I’ve never understood how we, as a society, assigned certain colours, garments, and shoes to different genders. From the beginning of our lives, we wear the baby colour that matches our ‘gender’ and have clothes and toys that are especially for girls or boys. Why is pink supposed to be a girl's colour? Why are cars supposed to be a boy's toy? Why are heels supposed to be for women?
My brand is a gender-neutral brand, but the goal is to provide shoes to anyone who wants them.
Why did you choose the programme at JCA?
The JCA master's course is designed for people who have a brand idea already and want to bring it to fruition. The concept of Sophie Park has remained the same but my designs and especially the business side have greatly developed. There are a lot of entrepreneurial behind-the-scenes elements which are now much more refined and market-ready, thanks to my business supervisors.
What impact would you like to have on the fashion industry?
The main message is that we don’t need to exploit animals in the name of fashion. There are already so many amazing alternative materials on the market which are totally plant-based and cruelty-free. So many people had no idea that my shoes weren’t made from animal leather, and these are industry professionals!
The environmental impact of the cactus material I used (which was kindly supplied by Desserto) is significantly lower than any animal leather. Through measuring water usage, chemicals, energy, time, and waste, it seems a no-brainer for me! I truly believe we need to unravel traditional practices and perspectives and make the change to protect our animals, our planet, and our future.
What advice would you give aspiring fashion designers?
Firstly, follow your passion, always. Not everyone will align with your values and it’s okay to turn against someone’s advice if it doesn’t feel right. Trust your instincts and you’ll get where you need to be. Secondly, fully understand your target customer. Understand their wants and needs and what appeals to them. Everything needs to be symbiotic, and this can only happen through extensive market research. I’m lucky that my passion can fill a gap in the market and provide to people who agree. Never give up.