How I #MadeIt: Sophia Webster
In the midst of fashion week and the conveyor belt of catwalk shows, Sophia Webster’s maximalist showcases are always something to look forward to, says Alice Casey-Hayford of Refinery29, as SW continues to grow bigger and stronger.
Whether it’s an invitation into Webster’s Winter Wonderland, replete with snow queens in killer, ice-cool boots with bubble clutch bags reading ‘Melt Me’ and ‘Ice, Ice, Baby’ or the unveiling of her darling Dolly Birds of Paradise, each joyful presentation is a pathway to a colourful and playful parallel world.
But this stylish accessories brand isn’t just fun and games. In five years, Sophia Webster has amassed an impressive list of stockists, from Selfridges to Saudi Arabia and just about everywhere in between; last March, the 32-year-old designer won the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund and just a couple of months later, in May, opened her first store on the ultimate luxury shopping destination of London’s Mount Street. Testament to the brand’s incredible success is the fact that almost one million global fans follow Sophia Webster on Instagram to keep up with her every step. For shoe lovers, SW is ultimate eye candy. Read on:
You founded your brand five years ago and already have a flagship store in the heart of Mayfair and almost a million followers on Instagram. What do you think has been the key to building a strong identity and carving out your own space in the competitive footwear market?
I think it’s important to stay true to your own vision, to stay in your own lane and not worry about what your competitors are doing. Always trust your instinct; if it doesn’t feel right don’t do it.
Knowing your customer and communicating your brand in a meaningful and authentic way is really essential. Also I think to have an understanding that balancing creativity and commerce in the fashion industry is key, to be adaptable and able to evolve the way you design.
What does your typical working day look like?
I get into the office at 9.30am and meet with the design and production teams. I have to fit new prototypes, which literally means cutting up the shoe and putting it back together with masking tape the way I want it, alongside preparation for the next show! I then meet with the PR and social teams and plan the next few weeks ahead. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for sketching so I have an Apple pen and iPad pro so I am able to sketch on the go!
How did you go about building a team?
When I first started, there were about five of us and have since grown to nearly 50. It’s always been important to have a team around me that I trust. I’m lucky to have built a team that shares my same passion and love for what they do. They are like a second family to me.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced and biggest lessons you’ve learned over the past five years?
Finding the right factory was a challenge for me at the beginning. I am such a perfectionist and am very specific with what I want, but I am fortunate enough to have found an incredible factory in Brazil and a team that understand my vision. I think we are always learning – it’s important you face challenges because overcoming them is where the most valuable lessons are learnt and where you realise how to do things better moving forwards.
You studied at Cordwainers College (UAL) and The Royal College of Art. Do you think university or college is crucial for a career in design or was working with Nicholas Kirkwood equally as valuable?
At college and university, you learn in-depth about the technical process of shoemaking. I believe that to be a shoe designer you really need to understand the construction of shoes and how a pattern is cut. I think the degree course at Cordwainers is really special, as it allows you to spend time both studying and gaining experience in the industry. The experiences I had from the three years working as Nicholas’ assistant designer was really valuable as it afforded me the opportunity to apply my knowledge in a real setting. Being part of the early years at Kirkwood from scratch taught me how to be resourceful with minimal team and budget, I really got to learn how to start a shoe business.
You have a collaboration with Puma. Do you think collaboration is important to growing in fashion and opening up your creations to a wider audience?
I only agree with collaborations if they make sense with my brand and feel like the right fit. I grew up dancing – my sister and I would compete in national dance competitions over the country and I still keep up with a couple of classes a week (for exercise) so Puma seemed right if the collection had a dance theme. Partnering with Puma has been great as they allowed me full creative control and the opportunity to reach a wider audience and showcase my aesthetic on some really exciting pieces that only a technologically advanced sportswear brand like Puma have the knowhow to make happen. I have loved working on it and I am super-proud of the collection.
How would you like to see Sophia Webster continue to grow?
I would like to continue to grow my online business and team. I keep an open mind as to what the future holds.
Sophia Webster photographs by Jonny Cochrane
Product photographs Sophia Webster