Issue No 17

Neoprene Queen

BY Caroline Aylward

Sophia Weston's inspired personal collection has been directly influenced by her childhood, spent on the coast of Jersey. Wet suits, sharks, scuba gear—all central influences of Sophia's art. Her passion for men's footwear developed into a line of nautical yet feminine women's shoes. I met Sophia in college, at the Savannah College of Art and Design – class of 2012. Getting to know her and watching her personal collection develop has been a great inspiration to me as an artist and filmmaker. Making shoes is such a unique niche to dive into, no pun intended. Sophia's collection of women's shoes danced along the lines of sportswear all through college and landed her a job at Nike in Portland.

Caroline Aylward: How did you know that footwear design was your calling?

Sophia Weston: There are an abnormal amount of pictures of me wearing heels as a baby. My shoe collection has always been huge. Learning how to make them has been a blessing and a curse because now their craftsmanship is extremely important to me.

CA: And so you decided to study footwear and accessory design in college?

SW: I was originally applying to school for painting and illustration, leaning more towards fashion. So I looked into taking fashion classes and then discovered that Savannah College of Art and Design offered footwear and handbag design. I went into the footwear room and couldn't stop asking questions...and I never ask questions.

CA: Do you ever wear your own shoes?

SW: Oh yeah. I have to. I wear my own shoes to understand them better—so I can feel how they need to be adjusted. I always want to learn as much as possible and wearing them is a great way to do that.

CA: Where did you find inspiration for your personal collection?
SW: The first pair of shoes I ever lasted were the “Tassle Tips”. I have always been fascinated by men’s footwear. There are so many different techniques used in creating men’s footwear, which you wouldn't expect. I use a lot of these techniques on my collection for women. But when I make a shoe I have to wear it to work out the kinks, which is why I design for women. For my platform “Tennis Brogues” I looked to proper sports for color inspiration. The nautical lifestyle has always been an inspiration of mine. In school we were encouraged to keep up with trends so I remember keeping a close eye on that, not necessarily following trends but potentially going away from them.
CA: So sportswear has always been an interest of yours. This explains your Beautiful Illusion point shoe.
SW: Yes, I was working on it while developing my senior collection. Which was really inspired by water sports. My mother and uncle used to scuba dive. I was looking a lot at their old diving gear. It's just something that's been in my family for a really long time.

CA: Where else do you think you pull inspiration from your childhood?

SW: I read Jacques Cousteau encyclopedias growing up. Not really focusing on what's in the ocean, but the things that would be found on a boat. I looked at a lot of wet suits and wetsuit booties. A lot of my shoes are made using wetsuit repair technology, which I learned how to do while surfing as a child.

CA: Where did you grow up?

SW: I grew up in Manasquan, New Jersey on the beach. My family has always lived on the coast so I can discover a lot by just looking at their old photographs. As much as I have been trying to branch out from my hometown, I've realized it is such a big part of who I am. A lot of the pieces are named after islands off of Jersey. And sharks, lots of sharks.

CA: After college you found yourself in Portland, working for Nike—how does your footwear design come in to play there?

SW: Yes! I do color design for footwear--specifically for N7, Running and Nike Sportswear. We get to go out and do things for inspiration. The other day we played lacrosse for the day, which was really fun. They never stop the inspiration. Once you start to feel your creativity slowing down they send you to do something new. Kind of like in school. It is nice to be constantly learning.

CA: What other things do you at Nike to trigger inspiration?

SW: We have “Design Days," created by our own apparel and footwear designers. The other day we made t-shirts, which proved to be a lot harder than I thought. We are constantly learning and exploring other practices for inspiration.

CA: Where do you find inspiration for color?

SW: I try to steer clear of the internet and go straight the consumer. It has a lot to do with trends and the most popular colors. I also look to the fashion world as well, which directly affects the sportswear world. The color of a shoe can really determine its look so it's good to experiment. The placement of the color can look really weird on the foot, and just because you prefer one color over another doesn't mean it will work best, it really depends on the form of the shoe.

CA: What kind of feedback did Nike give you on your personal collection?

SW: When I applied they saw everything that I have done. They really liked my work because it wasn't necessarily driven towards sportswear and more towards high fashion so it stood out, which was great. They really liked my Pointe shoe and saw it as a resource for technology, which motivated me to push it further. I am usually aesthetic and structure driven but Nike goes that step further and they have minds that push it a step further in discovering how it can be made into something else. I want to think like that.

CA: How do you get to and from work in Portland?

SW: I take the MAX to Nike campus every morning. It's such an easy walk from the train to campus. It's so strange though—everyone takes their bike on the train to bring with them to campus. Portland has a big bike culture. I think I am the only one that lives here that doesn't have a bike. I am still the outcast of Portland. I don't understand the bike culture or beer culture. I am told I am going to get it once the summer hits... Maybe after the summer I will be a Portlander.

CA: How does Portland compare to small town living in your hometown?

SW: It's so different. It's like night and day. I've met a lot of people from the east coast which is nice. Adjusting to the spread out nature of the west coast was hard. It's a very different vibe out here, it's hard to explain. People are really friendly even if they don't know you. It's a lot more laid back, which is a lot like Savannah so it's been a natural transition.

CA: How has Portland affected your work?

SW: I have been so inspired here. I started mixing perfume. I bought all of these canvases and got out all of my paints. I am so ready to start another project. My sketchbooks are full of ideas—to create anything, not necessarily footwear. I just knitted two huge scarves for my mom and sister with a few co-workers. We get together once a week for “Stich and Bitch”--we just drink wine, talk and knit. It's a lot of fun.

CA: What do you see for yourself in the future? Any new shoes in the works?

SW: I have been so encouraged to keep working on my personal collection. I am looking to expand on the Pointe shoe to see where that technology tool can lead me. I have all of my tools here in Portland so I have been experimenting with different materials and playing around with new ideas—keeping the creative juices flowing.



Video by Caroline Aylward

Black & white photos by Kelsey Heinze.