Young Soles Run Free
I am always fascinated to see the paths people take - whether they are made up of twists and turns or whether they hit the high road and take a direct route with vision and focus.
A few months ago I was at Bubble London, a trade show dedicated to children’s design and products. Among the new hopefuls showing their collections was a stand-out brand - Young Soles caught my attention from across the aisles. Founder Louise Shill has a background in shoe design from DeMontfort University and it didn’t take me more than a minute to know that I had found something special. Louise was an intern from my design days - fast forward 15 years and Louise had earned her stripes as she travelled the globe designing and developing footwear for an impressive list of brands and retailers.I have worked in children’s fashion for almost a decade and to be honest I am tired of new brands and new stores that proclaim to be ”filling a gap in the market”, ”offering gender-neutral product” as though it’s a new concept and who wheel out the most over-used phrase ”to inspire and capture the imagination of children”. Really? The world needs innovation and originality. Young Soles bring just that - they have an authentic story, a wealth of experience, skill, vision and knowledge. Put those things together and you have the birth of a new brand that has the chance to stand the test of time. Needless to say I am thrilled to showcase the debut collection in my store Olive Loves Alfie.I spoke to Louise about the brand, her background and her approach.
A: Going it alone is tough but can be rewarding. Did you always have a yearning to work for yourself?
L: Yes always, but especially after I had my daughter Rosie I spent some time freelancing. I really had a taste of working for myself.
A: How long did you spend developing the idea for the brand before you launched your debut collection?
L: I had the idea for at least two years. I worked closely with my factory in Portugal for a year developing and fine tuning the product until I was 100% happy with it.
A: The branding is really strong - who worked on this with you?
L: I am really fortunate that my partner runs his own branding and PR agency. We worked really hard to get the brand story right and after that everything was easy. They have a talented team and I really love the logo and the shoe box.A: You worked with one of my favourite photographers Flannery O’Kafka. L: Yes I stumbled across Flannery’s blog when I was compiling fashion ideas and trend boards for Young Soles. Having been through this process many times in the past Flannery’s photography struck me as being edgy, gritty and atmospheric and unlike most other children’s editorial photography out there.
A: Your personal style comes though in your collection - how would you describe it?
L: A bit of a mix but like my designs I would describe it as simple, yet classic styling mixed with contemporary detailing with a hint of vintage/retro.
A: Any advice for people setting up on their own?
L: Be prepared to put in the hard graft but never give up the dream.
A: Do you have any favourite children’s fashion labels?
L: I love lots but my favourite at the moment is Bobo Choses. I love that they think outside the box, mixing unexpected styles and prints.A: What advice would you give to anyone buying footwear for children?
L: Choose shoes that are made in natural materials, leather is great for moulding to the foot and allowing it to breath.
A few of my favourite images from the AW14 shoot with Flannery O’Kafka.
Make It British
I spent two days last week at ‘Make It British’ at The Old Truman Brewery in East London. Officially it was a business to business show but that makes it sound incredibly dull and fusty. It was far more exciting than that with the aim to put together design and creativity with skill and craft. This was a dynamic networking event that created a distinct sense of possibility. I like that because without possibility there is nothing.
I have tried to find British factories in the past to develop my own line of children’s wear but it hasn’t been easy. Far from it - it has been more like looking for a needle in a haystack. Until now there hasn’t been a directory or a central body flying the ‘Make It British’ flag but things are set to change. The international shows that do exist are mobbed by factories from far flung places. What these factories make up for in delivering cost effective solutions they lose hand over fist in other ways. They have been instrumental in the demise of our home grown manufacturing industry, the loss of skills and of course we now acknowledge that they contribute towards global pollution. In the worst case scenario they are breeding grounds for unfair and unsafe working conditions.
Debut ventures always run the risk of being a flop but this initiative was different. The queue to get in could have been tedious but it was conversational and added to the excitement. Once inside the aisles were buzzing. The atmosphere was intoxicating and was more like a bazaar than any trade event I have ever been to.
I sat in on the conference and listened to awe inspiring stories from some of the rising stars of British manufacture. Just as exciting were tales from established brands that gave an insight into the history of British manufacture. The one thing they all had in common? They were all offering unique products and had a very clear vision - to produce in the UK. The open discussion was alive with questions about the value of having a made in Britain brand. It was progressive and exciting and evoked the general feeling that we are ready for the next Industrial Revolution.
I am excited about the potential of exploring British production for my own label Olive Loves Alfie. There is something wholesome and manageable about doing business with a factory in the UK. In a previous life I spent a decade travelling the globe racking up more air miles that I knew what to do with. I made the most out of every trip but could things have been different? Quite apart from working with Alfred Sargent on catwalk collections, UK factories weren’t given serious consideration. Price was always a factor but could some of the brands that I worked for have supported British manufacture? If not entirely in some small way?
Today I run my own show and despite numerous offers I won’t take production to the Far East. I want to keep it local if I can. The challenge will be in making it work. It won’t be easy but I have a focus and one more box to tick off my ‘To Do’ list. There - said it.
Simon Middleton from The Great British Banjo Company, Ian Maclean from John Smedley, Harriet Barford & Polly Wilkinson founders of Draw In Light \(my favourite new label\) and Daniel Harris founder of London Cloth Company, Eve Pollard withher own label for women of a certain age Eve Pollard Designs…and everyone else who has conquered British manufacture - I salute you all.
In The Beginning
I have always written, doodled and scrawled on scraps of paper. Bundled together they were carted around from my first bedsit to an endless procession of flats. For now they have settled with me in my converted factory in East London. Dreams listed, noted, lined up ready to be ticked off. Unfinished lyrics written with a heavy or a happy heart. Designs for shoes and shacks, sketches of people and passing clouds. I have played house and make-believe in every place I have ever lived - collected, arranged, displayed, reinvented, celebrated and shared.
I am a magpie, a reveller, an explorer, a collaborator, a renegade and a truth-seeker.
My life rolls out like a prodigious patchwork blanket. Some of the pieces are beautifully collaborative, others represent secret deep-seated desires, some are unfinished and perhaps always will be, others are symbolic of my mistakes and troubled moments. But each and every one is mine and they all anchor me.
I have an endless list of projects - the things most people call dreams.
Welcome to my world.