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UK striding ahead in footwear innovation

Richard Kottler

Every season the footwear industry pleases and startles with the freshness and creativity of new designs.

This reputation is founded on the output of brilliantly trained and motivated creative talent from the UK’s world-class footwear colleges. Each year, bright young designers experiment with construction, texture, colour and appearance and push back the boundaries of the look, wearability and functionality of the shoe.

What is less appreciated is the growing reputation this country has for genuinely new concepts - many of which have come from designers/entrepreneurs who do not have a formal footwear design background.

Think FitFlops, United Nude and the soon-to-be-launched Mojito by Julian Hakes and you have mould-breaking products “discovered” by architects, brand inventors and others. Add to this the number of footwear designers who began in industrial design (such as the auto­motive and aviation industries) or the biomedical sector (think bandages and body supports) and you will see a whole new group of non-traditional innovators. The sports shoe sector in particular has embraced graduates with a general 3D design background, from colleges such as Coventry, Huddersfield and Northumbria.

The message here is to encourage footwear firms intent on operating at the cutting edge of design to cast the net wide when recruiting product developers.

The one caveat is that smaller companies may have difficulty absorbing a non-footwear trained individual into a compact design team, where knowledge of lasts, construction and practical shoe-making is essential.

Every so often a visionary emerges who creates an entirely new concept and this is what makes the UK the world leader in the design field.

  • Richard Kottler is chief executive of the British Footwear Association

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