Past finalist (ITS 2016) Helen Kirkum is by far one the most exciting DIY sneaker designers out there, translating the upcycling concept into an impressive signature style that is providing her with the recognition her creativity deserves.
The Reebok Advanced Concepts team approached her back in September 2018 because they were interested in her work and aesthetic and wanted to see her take on their new Sole Fury footwear that was, at the time, just launching. Needless to say, she was obviously super excited about it.
When she actually began working on the Sole Fury design... she wanted to dig deep into the shoes that inspired the design, so she worked with the team to research the archive and came up with 4 other shoes that were the main inspirations, for different reasons. The project involved making 25 pairs that would be launched to sneaker heads (sports enthusiasts/influencers) in Shanghai as a one-off release.
Helen taking ITS Accessories of the Year at ITS 2016
Helen really wanted her shoes to tell the story of the design process in her own personal way. The archive pieces found by Helen & the team, which had inspired Sole Fury, were all second hand, vintage or old samples. Helen deconstructed them all and then – that was the fun part - put them back together again. The design on the last is entirely hers, using key elements from each shoe in unusual ways.
Helen's ITS 2016 collection
The shoe turned into an actual map of the design process, mixing together lots of different elements and textures. All shoes were handmade in her studio in Hackney, London, and since everything was sourced from old stock/samples she had a great number of crazy colours to choose which made every colour way completely unique. Helen also worked on the packaging with a print studio in London and created hand screen printed boxes and tissue.
The collection was launched in the beginning of May in collaboration with DOE streetwear boutique in Shanghai, where the collection got distributed and launched with a big event & exclusive give away. In addition, Reebok also used some of the designs in their Shanghai Fashion Week show.
We had a chat with Helen about this incredible experience, here's what she told us:
We can't think of any designer like you, producing the most beautiful sneakers from scraps. Your creative process makes you the best ambassador for upcycling. How hard was it to translate your concept into a capsule collection for a major brand like Reebok?
I actually found it really enjoyable to translate my ideas onto a major brand product. The great thing about using Reebok products is you have all the heritage and branding details you can play with, usually I am disguising or adapting the brand signs, but here I could really exaggerate them and show them off. It was great that we could use second-hand products and old samples to make the shoes, even though it made it so much harder in terms of creating good colour ways, but in the end we got some super crazy ones and some very easy to wear ones, too.
You definitely have a signature style. A Helen Kirkum sneaker is immediately recognisable and makes it even more special. Designers strive to distinguish themselves, what is your advice to them? How does one find, in your opinion, a signature style.
It’s a difficult one, because I find it hard to see it myself sometimes. I think I have a strong ethos of what I want to achieve and how I want to achieve it, so when I get lost I can come back to that. I want to glorify and give life to discarded or recycled materials, I want to create a story of process through a tactile product that you need to touch, I want to create an experience of wearing. Think about the things that you want someone to feel about your product above everything else. What is it that you need to show? When you can find that, then you can keep practicing it and exploring it in different ways. That will be your style.
The ITS Arcademy will feature educational/workshop spaces where past finalists can come in and teach one-of-a-kind courses. What would you like to teach to the next generations of footwear designers?
I love teaching all different kinds of workshops, but the thing I find most satisfying is to explore the process of design and making a shoe from a different perspective. Looking at hand made prototypes, mock-ups and play to harvest original ideas that you couldn’t design on paper, and then manifesting those into real tangible products.
What's next in your career, what can we expect and what can you tell us?
This path is so flexible and unknown so I am really taking each day as it comes. I am enjoying so much working with many people, exploring and learning about this industry. I have so many amazing projects and collaborations going on at the moment, unfortunately most of them are top secret, but I cannot wait until they come out and I can share them with you. I am also working on a new collection, so keep your eyes peeled for that!