The designer behind the Mojito shoe is now exploring how 3D printing could revolutionise the footwear industry.
What’s going on with your brand at the moment?
We’ve got some new modifications to the Mojito shoe coming through for spring 14. We’ve done a boot version which debuted at Pure London and we’ve got a new process in fabrication that we’re using, which means we can change the materials we’re using throughout the frame. We can take pieces out and add them in, which is how the boot version came about. We’re also looking at new technologies and working with some people from the blogging world. I might also design a more traditional shoe at some point, but not yet.
How did the Mojito design come about?
In 2009 I was an architect and did some 3D graphics of an idea I’d been having on the side, looking at shoe structures. I posted the graphics on Dezeen [an architecture and design website] and it went crazy; suddenly I had loads of press requests and people were demanding the shoe.
So when you made the shoe, the demand was already there?
Yes. We used the same kind of technology we’ve been using in architecture: 3D printing. As the graphic became so well-known online, we were asked to produce some shoes for designers at London Fashion Week for the spring 11 season. Through that exposure we got investment to properly start the Julian Hakes brand, which launched for spring 12.
How does the 3D printing process work?
Imagine taking an object and slicing it into about 10,000 slices. That’s what a computer does to a 3D shape and then prints the slices out like a photocopier, but one on top of the next so that it puts the object back together.
How will it impact the future of production?
This isn’t just a process about a shoe, it’s a whole strategy for production, fabrication and distribution that’s part of a wider philosophy.
I wanted something that could be produced in a more efficient way and produced down the line in the regions we sell in.
So if you’re selling in the UK, they would always be made here? That’s the plan. If I fired off an email, a factory could print the shoe by the next morning but also start a process of milling a tool to mass-fabricate within four or five weeks. It’s not happening yet as we have a central base north of Hong Kong. There’s a lot of fabrication going on there and it’s at a very high level.
What are the other benefits?
From what I’ve seen, buyers tend to place smaller initial orders then much larger reorders, where they demand the product faster. You have to hold stock and take a risk on it, but now there could be the ability to produce something on demand. It works well for us because we offer such an unusual product that people want to test it.
Will 3D printing work on a domestic basis?
Within five years, we might all have our own 3D printers at home, so it will totally change the way we do things. I was trying to almost pre-empt iTunes for your feet.
How would that work?
One day you’ll go online and download a Mojito shoe and print it off to fit you exactly. If it’s not right, you put the materials back in a grinder and print off something else.
It’s great for recycling, but like the music industry, the digital licensing of products will be really important. It feels like the dawn of a new industry.
Which is your biggest market?
Europe at the moment because that’s where we first launched.
Do you sell online?
We don’t do any direct ecommerce – our website just points people to where the product is available elsewhere. Maybe we will at some point, but I think it’s best to work with really great ecommerce retailers as that’s their speciality. They have fantastic search engine optimisation, all the links, blogs, PR resources and back-end customer care. I think it’s better to work with them, rather than work against them.
Would you open your own stores?
We might well do. I think so.
Would you have to develop more styles first?
That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? I mean, could you focus on one style? I don’t think the Mojito has a limit. I don’t really like the word ‘iconic’ but maybe to me it’s like a classic chair design, something that can be identifiable to a certain time and a certain technology. A lot of people are buying more than one colour, so [a Julian Hakes store] would be like a Swatch store that does one style in different ways and at different price points. But, as a designer you’re always thinking about things and I know that there are other typologies of shoes that need challenging or re-investigating and unique products will come out of those for us.
How did you find breaking into the footwear industry?
I found much more support and welcoming than I ever did in architecture. I must say, as a brand new designer entering the industry with little background, it really was amazing. I feel very privileged to have had support from the British Footwear Association, UK Trade and Investment and the British Fashion Council in terms of helping with trade shows, mentoring schemes, everything like that.