When we started our Made to Order project we knew that every detail needed to be extra special; from the leathers, the shoe making, the packaging and of course the leather sole.
Our classic leather sole with its black brushstrokes has become a signature detail on all our collection styles, the brushstrokes painted on each pair by hand as a way of celebrating the artisan nature of our shoes. Naturally our Made to Order leather sole would also need a special detail, one which would feel personal and would reflect that each pair of boots is hand crafted in England.
Tom and I brainstormed several ideas but the one which stuck was the notion of collaborating with another British craftsperson, an artist or print maker in order to feature one of their designs on our sole. A celebration of two traditional British crafts in one leather sole.
Having only recently acquired a garden of our own and wanting to fill it with flowers I started growing my own selection of echinacea, achillea, foxgloves, poppies and sunflowers to name a few (in case you're interested I'm aiming for contemporary English cottage garden). Sunflowers were the first seeds I planted and watching them grow led to me obsessively taking photos of the flower heads as they came into bloom.
Through our discussions Tom and I thought that using one of my flower photos as a starting point for our sole design could be interesting and having made a few quick trials the sunflower seemed to be the flower which worked the best.
Sunflowers are also planted in huge fields in the Marche region of Italy where our classic collection is made. In June when the flowers are in bloom the factories in the shoemaking zone are surrounded by fields and fields of joyful yellow sunflowers which I always love watching out for as we drive by.
Returning back to the sole our concept quickly developed into the idea of collaborating with an artist with one of my sunflower photos as inspiration and the maker who immediately sprung to mind was British illustrator and print maker Rosanna Morris. I've been following Rosanna on Instagram for a while now and love her illustrative style and the focus of her work on nature and growing. Her hand carved floral lino prints really spoke to our project so after chatting with Rosanna we agreed on using one of her beautiful sunflower prints and adapting it slightly so we could emboss it onto our leather sole.
Photos: Rosanna Morris.
I wouldn't normally share my cads and specs from behind the scenes but as this has been such a labour of love to get right I thought it might be interesting to show you some of the design work involved in bringing a new concept to life.
On the technical side of things the original plan was to emboss the sunflower on to the leather soles but following a really challenging conversation with our sole maker in heavy Italian dialect we agreed to trial lazering the flower motif instead. Due to the size and position of the artwork it would be difficult to keep all the details of the original flower print crisp and sharp with an emboss whilst the lazer technique would allows us to keep the level of detail we needed. To be totally honest I wasn't convinced this would be the right way forwards as in all my years as a footwear designer I'd never seen a beautiful lazered sole before but as it turns out it's the perfect technique as it almost replicates the look of the original hand carved illustration.
The first prototype was almost perfect, just a few small adjustments required but as I mentioned in a previous Journal post our Italian supplier changed the goal posts at the last minute in terms of price, making it impossible for us to proceed and suddenly in need of a new supplier. When this happened we were right back to square one and developing the sole for a second time in Portugal has taken much longer than we would have liked. But after months of working and re-working we have arrived at a beautiful leather sole with what looks like a hand carved sunflower motif on every pair.
I'm really proud of what we've created and so happy to have been able to collaborate with an amazing craftsperson in Rosanna as every pair feels so special and so personal. I think this may just be the most beautiful leather sole I have ever seen!
We're hoping to share more about Rosanna and her work as part of our INSPIRED series so watch this space...