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Sophia and Joelle #SizingUp

February 2020

Sophia and @joelledfontaine have been dancing together for over 5 years now, and we have often tried to find heels for him to dance in – let’s just say it’s been a squeeze! This season we are so happy and proud to say we are now offering sizes up to a UK13/EU46.
Featuring music exclusively created by artist B.AMES.

 

Sophia spoke to Gay Times about the inspiration behind the launch of  #SizingUp, as well as the importance of inclusion and diversity in fashion.

What initially inspired the aesthetic and creative DNA of
Sophia Webster?

The brand’s aesthetic and creative DNA is very much a manifestation of my own point of view. I wanted to embody ‘Crazy, Sexy, Cool’ and my life experiences infiltrated my designs – be it music, London, the rise of Girl Power, street art, films etc. I’m drawn to trailblazers, and at that time Spice Girls, Kelis and Gwen Stefani were big influences. I think in essence what I love hasn’t changed over the years, but how I embody it in product has. As I’ve matured, I’ve become increasingly measured about my offer and better at balancing what the customer needs against passion projects. I’ve always loved colour, and expressing myself as a creative was more important than fitting into industry expectations. When I started my brand, the market was full of a lot of rational, minimalist fashion, which was very different to my aesthetic but that didn’t put me off, I saw it as an opportunity. I knew I wanted to create a recognisable, striking, uplifting silhouette, hence my signature style Chiara, a sandal with butterfly wings at the back. Since then the meaning of the butterfly has come to represent so much more than that. Beyond being a recognisable icon that my customers really relate to, the motif stands for evolution and beauty, particularly after a period of struggle, and pretty much sums up what I am striving for on this journey. I also knew that I wanted to be accessible in terms of my price and messaging, which back then, was disruptive because the designer industry was even more elitist and less inclusive than it is now. I could also break free of the industry communication norms because my launch coincided with Instagram, which gave me the ideal platform to communicate directly, authentically and visually.

Did you naturally gravitate towards the accessory market? What is it about shoes and bags that pulls you in?
I went to Camberwell to do an Art Foundation course where I was taught life drawing. I was always drawn to sketching the shoes, that’s where the idea initially came from to be a shoe designer. To get myself onto the Cordwainers course I drew one shoe a day to develop my hand and portfolio of work to get onto the course. When I launched my brand I always designed and sampled bags to go with the shoes but we didn’t launch a full bag collection until 2015.

The news of a size expansion is incredibly exciting and one that brings a new level of diversity and inclusion, where did this endeavour stem from? 
There isn’t one trigger, rather a tipping of the balance. I’ve had people asking me to do larger sizes pretty much since I started designing shoes, be it friends or customers.  An old friend of mine had been complaining about the lack of shoes in her size for as long as I’d known her, particularly as she works in an industry that requires her to dress up smart.  She’d come to our sample sales scouring them for 42’s, but often there weren’t any left, or they’d still be too small. Then there’s my dance instructor, Joelle. He and I liked to do classes and branded dance events in my heels but before I extended our size range, there was only one pair that he could squeeze into. He has an amazingly high pain threshold! My frustration at not being able to provide for my friends and customers was mounting and added to that a plethora of red-carpet requests from stylists for extended sizing that we couldn’t respond to, and models that I couldn’t book because we didn’t have their size. We had a taste of the changes would be needed in the development and production process for an extended range when we made bespoke shoes for Grayson Perry a few years ago.  It was a long process because the factory had to do everything especially for his order: new lasts, milled platform units, grading up patterns. We discussed at length in the business about making this investment and triggering the systemic changes; we felt it was worth it. I have always been aware of people being sidelined by the fashion industry so this company shift was very much in line with our values, and meant a lot of people who I wanted to see in my shoes can now wear them.

Why is diversity in fashion important to you?
Diversity in fashion is hugely important as it is throughout life. At its most basic form, fashion tells a story of what is beautiful and desirable, so by only representing a narrow notion of ‘beautiful’ it automatically means that people who aren’t included in this ideology are being brought down. And it doesn’t matter how hard a parent tries to teach their child to have their own self-worth, if the narrative at large is telling them something else, it will have a negative impact on the individual and group level. Fashion is divisive through its exclusivity, and with the way the world is, now more than ever, people need to be working together as openly as possible.

Gender bending and androgyny can be quite an editorial concept, how would you encourage men wearing heels in their everyday real world?
I would encourage them how I would any other customer or follower: wear your character, be bold with your decisions and believe in yourself so you can beat to the sound of your own drum. I encourage everyone to take ownership and be themselves and trying different footwear can be a great way to experiment with this. Whatever you wear, do it with conviction and own it! The movement of gender fluidity, particularly in dressing, is becoming a more accepted norm and I’ll always do my best to keep this conversation going and encourage it where I can.

Will this size extension inspire new designs?
Establishing this new offering means we have shifted our culture towards greater inclusivity, and it’s opened up a new customer base for us to listen to and build a strong relationship with. I’m continually open to learning, growing and developing our product range to suit the needs of such a diverse fan base.

As the brand continues to develop and grow, what else can we expect in the future?
We are going to test reaction to a wider fit in some of our signature styles, as there have been call outs for that. We are continuously reviewing our impact on the planet, so we’ll be looking to further reduce our waste with capsules such as the recent upcycled collection and developing product more mindfully and efficiently. We also want to spend a lot more time in dialogue with the SW community, that’s such a fun bit of having a brand and really important to me.

Browse the #SizingUp Collection