Footwear designer Cleo Barbour talks about cracking into the industry, colour-shy customers and moving into her teen idol’s flat.
How has your footwear brand, Cleo B, evolved since your first collection in autumn 09?
It has found its signature style now [as seen above right and below]. It has always been colourful but we’ve added touches like shoe clips and accessories to offer the customer something different.
As a young designer did you find it difficult to break into the industry?
It’s challenging. The footwear industry is a very competitive market, particularly as a lot of the shoe departments are controlled by the same companies. The business side of things can also be difficult to manage when you are designing and manufacturing at the same time. It’s a real balancing act.
How did you break through those barriers?
I tried to network with as many people as possible. The trade shows also helped. Last season I went to Platform and Sole Commerce in New York and Micam in Milan.
What’s your favourite show?
I loved Sole Commerce. There seemed to be a more niche buyer there compared with Platform, which is absolutely huge. The Americans are always really friendly and there is a great vibe at the show.
What has been your career highlight to date?
That’s a tough one. I guess everything has been a high point so far, just launching my own label and seeing my designs come to life has been amazing. Being highly commended at the Drapers Footwear & Accessories Awards 2014 was also up there.
What’s your favourite part of the shoemaking process?
Definitely designing. Unfortunately it can sometimes get overshadowed by the other parts of the business but I always look forward to those two months every season where I can get my ideas down on paper.
What other footwear and accessories designers do you admire?
Charlotte Olympia for her unique and refined detailing and strong brand image, and I’ve admired Pierre Hardy since I was a student.His creations are amazing and have such a distinctive style. I also adore Kate Spade, I’d like to be the British equivalent one day.
How many pairs of shoes do you own?
Around 150 pairs.
Are you a heels or a flats girl?
Both, but I can only wear comfortable heels. I’m really into my midi heels as they are comfortable but look great too.
What’s your favourite pair of shoes?
My Cleo B Ironhide boots from autumn 13 and Tribeca wedges from spring 10.
Do you wear other shoe brands?
I wear Cleo B, of course, and I’m a bit obsessed with Nike trainers. I like to find special edition trainers and customise them with Nike iD. Then I decorate them with Cleo B shoe clips.
What sets Cleo B apart from other footwear brands?
It is very wearable, it’s a designer brand but still affordable [with wholesale prices from £58 for pumps to £132 for knee-high boots]. Wearability is also key, we’re realistic about styles and heel height - it’s a woman-friendly brand. The collection is really colourful which can be a bit intimidating, but I try to inspire people to wear more colour.
How do you feel about seeing your name on the label?
It was strange at first but the brand has taken on a life of its own now.
You’re moving house at the moment, how has it been juggling that with work?
Really stressful. The refurbishment has been huge but we’re nearing the end. The best part is that the flat used to belong to Duncan James of [boyband] Blue. I was completely in love with him when I was 16.
Did that seal the deal?
Well I had already put an offer down, but that made it better.
How do you plan to store all of your shoes?
I’ve actually been working with an architectural firm, Alexander Owen, which has made me an incredible custom-built shoe wardrobe. It uses mechanical car parts, it’s amazing.
You share your name with Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile - if you could be queen for the day, what would you do?
I would create a law to make everyone wear colourful clothes and shoes, and paint buildings, streets and walls in colours and patterns.