Q&A with Core77 design winner: Euphemia, cradle-to-cradle fashion footwear

Ben Kaufman’s company, Quirky, is all about finding great ideas from regular people and turning them into real, marketable products, and Core77 is all about covering the best and latest in design and technology. Throughout the Quirky series, we’ll be bringing you stories from designers, inventors and entrepreneurs who’ve either already brought their product from concept to completion or are right in the middle of that process – and all without the help of a company like Ben’s.

Today we bring you the story of Euphemia, winner of the Core77 Design Award for Soft Goods/Apparel. Designed by Helen Furber.

Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited, and why?

Inspired by the seminal text “Cradle-to-Cradle,” and as a response to the issue of throwaway fashion and disposable consumer-culture, Euphemia is a proposal for a sustainable fashion footwear solution. A quiet environmentalist, I’m passionate about the role I believe designers play in determining how the Earth’s resources are used in products.

I proposed that that to be more sustainable, the life-cycle of footwear must be re-examined. A shoe typically utilizes materials that are environmentally damaging to create (e.g. leather, plastics) and challenging to recycle or dispose of. I reevaluated each stage of development, from material creation to end-product disposal, and then design a better alternative.

What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?

I wanted to propose a viable, commercial and appealing solution to the lack of sustainability in footwear. I also wanted to create as many opportunities for employment and direct opportunities for the project as possible. I approached it as a genuine business proposal, considering that on the basis of industry feedback I could potentially launch a brand. I also felt sustainable materials in a footwear context could be explored more thoroughly, and that the project could lead into a life-cycle/material investigation.
Sourcing a more ethical alternative to conventional leather was the final goal. Many “ethical/sustainable” footwear brands substitute plastic-based materials for leather, but having researched leather creation and the unethical treatment of many animals as well as environmentally damaging tanning processes, I felt organic leather (from organically raised animals) was a viable alternative. I gained sponsorship from Natureally, then the only certified Soil Association Organic leather tannery in the world. Their animals are traceably raised and slaughtered according to strict British Soil Association Organic Standards, and their hides are tanned using a vegetable tanning process, as opposed to chrome tanning). Though restricted to six colors, and at significantly higher cost, I felt this was an important step.

When designing this project, whose interested did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audience, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc.)

I wanted to show I was forward-thinking and aware of the wider industrial design community and I also approached the project as a business proposal for an eponymous luxury brand, considering the luxury fashion industry as the target market.

Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, mat

1. Materials, manufacturing and product-life research

2. Footwear, luxury, fashion, organic, sustainable trend, consumer and market research

3. Business strategy and brand creation research.

4. Visual design erials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc.)

What is the social value of your design?

The modular construction of the Icica prototype allows different materials to be combined in one shoe and then separated for recycling/biodegrading. Testing is required for each new material adopted, aiming for maximum reuse, including bio-based plastics as opposed to petroleum-based. Strict sourcing is imperative, as is a high level of skilled craftsmanship using organic leather. The tannery is run on hydroelectricity and naturally heated, geothermal water. Organic cotton organza is used in one upper. Trims are off-cuts. Materials in packaging are recycled and unbleached and shoe bags are made from organic, brushed cotton.

If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?

Asked for help from my sponsor, Adidas, sooner, which might have allowed for further development of the pin-bed mechanism. We had one week to complete the CAD and RP of the pin-bed and wedge which meant there was no room for significant design development.

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