Design & Enterprise Day: Industry Talk: Claire Russell
Head of design at Start-rite Shoes, Claire Russell will be talking at the Norwich Fashion Week Design & Enterprise Day about her journey into the fashion industry. NFW catches up with her.
You have a wealth of shoe design experience having worked at Dr Martens and Kickers (to name two roles you have had). How and why did you get into shoe design?
I studied 3D Craft & Design at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, and while on a study exchange to Finland I learned how to make shoes. It was all completely unexpected. Thoroughly set on this new direction after such a rewarding experience, I created some modern day Cinderella slippers for my final Degree Show. They lit up when walking and heralded the new light and love of my life – shoes! Art School saw me change from Furniture Design to designing furniture for the feet and I’ve never once faltered from that path.
Throughout my many experiences in the industry, I always come back to children’s footwear as by far my favourite to design. I still consider myself a bit of a child at heart, whilst still having the experience and savvy of the parent – so I hope that allows me to design from a perspective that keeps both customers happy.
What does your role at Start-rite entail?
In my new role as Head of Design at Start-rite Shoes, I will work closely with the Product and Design team and bring the brand up to speed with the current children’s footwear market. There are a lot of untapped markets out there that we could really do well in, enhancing Start-rite’s trusted reputation as a brand that cares for and understands children’s growing feet. School shoes are a strong focus and I find this area exciting because there are so many confines to what is required, from the child’s perspective as well as the parents and schools. To find a shoe that makes everyone’s lives better would be something to be proud of.
You are doing a talk at Norwich Fashion Week this year which is very exciting – can you tell us briefly what you will be talking about?
On the 15th March at Norwich Fashion Week’s Design and Enterprise Day I will be sharing the story of my journey through the fashion industry. I love working in fashion and design and want others to have the same opportunities. I’ll share what it’s really like to work in footwear fashion, giving an insight into a typical day in design. I’ll also cover how to get your career on the right path and achieve the balance between qualifications and hands-on experience. I’ll share some tips on how to progress your career in fashion too. I have previously mentored budding designers and really enjoy that part of my work, so I am excited to be meeting young new talent in Norwich.
What three tips would you give aspiring shoe designers on how they can break into this competitive industry?
My three tips would be:
- Don’t get ahead of yourself. The industry is far more competitive than it was when I started and everyone wants to bypass the first stage to get to the fame and glory! That’s not the real world and you will have to show you can work hard and take the mundane jobs in the meantime. Stay focussed and make sure your tea making skills are tops.
- Find a good mentor – someone who knows how the industry works, can share advice and possibly open doors for you. It works both ways too – a good mentor will relish a newbie’s point of view and nurture a good working relationship. Just like your favourite teacher from school. I believe learning never stops.
- Keep abreast of current markets and technologies – know your strengths and play them up. For instance, if you are also good at textiles/print, show this off. Make yourself unique and indispensable.
Do you live in Norwich/Norfolk? If so what are your favourite things about Norwich?
I’m in the process of buying a thatched cottage and I can’t wait to be able to call Norwich home. I’ve embraced the country life after 17 years in London and I want to explore every part of the area with my dog, Iris. That’s a lot of walking!
What do you like to do when you are not working?
My biggest love apart from shoes is music, particularly Mod and northern Soul, and I DJ at these specialist venues as often as I can. Original Vinyl only of course, and I’m building up quite a collection. I have also taken up dressmaking as I always like to be unique in what I wear. It’s such a proud feeling to be wearing your own creations. Hopefully I can pick up lots of tips from Fashion Designers and students at Norwich Fashion week.
Claire will be speaking at the Norwich Fashion Week Design & Enterprise Day at OPEN, Bank Plain on Wednesday March 15th at 11am. Entry is free.