Since graduating from BA Cordwainers Footwear: Product Design and Innovation in 2013, Camilla Elphick has built a footwear brand recognised for its playful details and quality leather. We visited her studio to find out what she thought of the course and what advice she had for aspiring shoe designers.
You studied BA Cordwainers Footwear. How did you find the course overall?
It was a great course because it was very specialised but it was also quite broad in the sense that we had making classes as well as the business side of it; I always remember going to lectures and listening to speakers. And then there was also enough time to be able to intern (placements). The combination worked really nicely. And the teaching was amazing and the facilities fantastic. The classes were small enough that you could really get the attention you needed. And the projects were exciting.
Where did you intern?
I started at Burberry in New York and then Nicholas Kirkwood in London. And that's when Sophia Webster was also working there so that was really useful, because she’d done the course. So she put me in touch with people making wooden heels and interesting things like that. She was really quite inspiring.
I went on placement for my third year so I went to New York and interned at Donna Karan, which was very intense but very good. Paul Andrew was my boss there and was setting up his own company and doing freelance jobs, which I was able to help with. So I did some of the renderings and colourings, and coming up with designs. When I came back to London I interned for Charlotte Olympia. She was really sweet and was helpful when i was producing my graduate collection and my Pez shoe.
How did you go about securing placements or internships?
Having a good portfolio and CV is really important. But also trying to do something a bit different to try and get to the right person. I went up to Charlotte Olympia in a coffee shop and said 'I’d really love to intern and I love your shoes'. So she gave me her card and got me in for an interview.
And do as much as you can that's on offer - I noticed there was an MA show for RCA and that Sophia Webster was on the line up so I went into the accessories and design area and started talking to her about the shoes and the course. Following that I sent her an email.
Always remember that the course has a lot more to offer - you're part of this network that's not open to everyone.
What things did you really take away from your time at LCF?
I definitely didn’t know much about the making or designing of shoes before studying at LCF. So that was really helpful. Also the business side of it. I found the lectures really interesting. Georgina Goodman and BJ Cunningham came and spoke. He was really inspiring. He’s an entrepreneur and had a broader outlook. His wife Georgina came in and looked at our portfolios before our final projects. She’s done so much great work and has been really helpful since then.
After graduating how did you go about developing your brand?
After the graduate collection a few people said to me why don't you try and find a factory and do this. It had been an idea for ten years time say, but not straight off. I was working for Topshop at the time (covering a role) so when the Topshop job finished I thought ‘well OK why don’t I go to Italy’. So I went to the British Council in Milan and they have a fashion department directly related to UK. And so I showed the lady the shoes and designs I had in mind for a new collection and she put me in touch with agents and factories that she thought would be appropriate. Once I found the right factory I just went with it rather than thinking too much before about how this might work. So we produced the Spring/Summer collection and it was all to do with luck, so there was a lucky seven heel and horse shoes. Then the British Fashion Council got in touch and I think that was from being featured on the LCF site. They asked me to show at Somerset House and that's how the stockists came to us.
How would you define your brand at this point?
Fun, feminine but modern. The shoes definitely have a feminine twist to them. And they're the sort of shoes that make you smile. That's something I bare in mind. Everything we make has to have that element. And we look at our customers Instagrams and how they’re wearing them and enjoying them. They’re not too novelty and they're wearable.
Who do you see your target market being?
We have a broad range of customers. I use my mum as an example. She wears the flat shoes in silver and black. And I wear the same ones in other colours. We’ve got younger customers buying the Pez shoes. But with the silver boots we've had a huge age range of people wearing them.
What would your advice be to people thinking of studying on the Cordwainers course?
Internships were really helpful alongside doing the projects because then you can see how it works in the real world. And go to the leather trade shows.
We've recently won the Future British Award with Boden and BFC. Which is great because we've had lots of support and were able to show at LFW. And they're (BFC) going to help with business advice and with the factories - contracts etc. So for next season we’re already planning to maybe do a presentation. Its nice to create a scene and context around the shoes.