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LCF x LCW: Pushing the boundaries of traditional craft with BA (Hons) Cordwainers Footwear

illustration of the footwear design process
  • Written byJ Tilley and J Igiri
  • Published date25 May 2022
illustration of the footwear design process
LCF x LCW | Cordwainers artwork by Francesco Poiana
Craft to me means working with your creative imaginative mind. It is not exclusive but inclusive, as Craft can be born out of hand making skills based around traditional methods and also more modern skills evidenced through technological means. This fusion of old and new is what excites me about craft and its endless possibilities.

— Gee Lai - Specialist Technician

London College of Fashion, UAL is hosting LCF x LCW, an exhibition of footwear, accessories, jewellery, tailoring and fashion artefacts, in Fashion Space Gallery as part of London Craft Week’s 2022 programme of events. LCF x LCW is taking place at Fashion Space Gallery between 9-31 May.

Next in our series we're speaking with BA (Hons) Cordwainers Footwear: Product Design and Innovation Course Leader, Sarah Day, alongside LCF Technicians, Bo Lo King and Gee Lai, highlighting the world-class facilities available to students, and how the course encourages innovative creativity through 3D experimentation and pushing the boundaries of traditional craft skills.

[Craft Week] celebrates craftsmanship and creativity and raises awareness of not just an end product but the processes, skills, and the rationale behind them.

— Bo Lo King - Specialist Technician
illustration of the footwear design process
LCF x LCW | Cordwainers artwork by Francesco Poiana

Sarah Day - BA (Hons) Cordwainers Footwear: Product Design and Innovation Course Leader

How does the Cordwainer heritage influence the design principles taught on the course? 

It is a major influence. Shoemaking is a traditional craft skill but over the years with the advancement of technology it has modernised and become more automated. Within Cordwainers at LCF we never forget our roots and the traditional pattern cutting and shoemaking skills that were always used are still taught today.  This is because the foundation of shoemaking principals remains the same whether machine made of hand crafted. You must have a good knowledge of traditional skills to enable you to originate, functional and purposeful designs.

In what ways does the course enable students to find their distinctive, creative voice and individualistic expression?

We encourage individual innovative creativity through 3D experimentation and pushing the boundaries of traditional craft skills.  We enable freedom of expression through creative thinking and challenging the "norm."

How would you summarise the variety of work on display?

The work on display is a great testament to these values and it illustrates the skill and precision that goes into the craft of shoemaking.

What does ‘craft’ mean to you?

Craft to me means working with your creative imaginative mind. It is not exclusive but inclusive, as Craft can be born out of hand making skills based around traditional methods and also more modern skills evidenced through technological means. This fusion of old and new is what excites me about Craft and its endless possibilities.

illustration of design tools on a desk
LCF x LCW | Cordwainers artwork by Francesco Poiana

Bo Lo King and Gee Lai - Specialist Technicians

What are some of the essential facilities students have access to on the course, and how do you support students in their day to day designing / making process?

BO: Our footwear students have access to a myriad of facilities here at UAL. Being a hands-on course, they have access to all the machinery they might need to make their footwear designs. This includes specialist machinery including closing (sewing) and making machinery which allow the students to achieve a high-end professional finish. Should they have a particular interest in another discipline which is relevant to their project, they can also be put in touch with a specialist in that department such as jewellery or textiles and be able to access the facilities they may offer. Laser cutting and 3-D printing are popular equipment available with training provided in its software. There is also access to an excellent online portal, LCF Technical Resources which provides a wealth of information including demonstration videos across all disciplines.

At any time, students can come into our supervised studios to use the machinery or for technical support.  Most of my work entails giving advice on pattern cutting and supporting the students on our machinery, but I may also advise on many aspects of footwear including material choice, closing and the sequence of shoemaking.  Sometimes a student’s design is difficult to realise so it may be necessary to re-think and adapt the design to something more practical or technically possible to make without compromising the student’s creative design.

GEE: All facilities, i.e., machines, tools, materials, etc are available for students to use. We are fortunate to have, in the footwear department, technicians who have extensive work experience in industry. So, students get the benefit of that knowledge alongside their taught inductions and lessons.

What led you to become a technician?

BO: When entering the footwear industry many years ago as a graduate I was grateful for the knowledge passed onto me by various wonderful colleagues and thought that one day I would like to reciprocate and give something back.  So, when an opportunity arose at UAL I thought I could offer the skills that the students needed and give it a try.

GEE: I have been in the industry for most of my career, who balks at the idea of having to teach the subject in a collegiate setting! Luckily, all my misconceptions have been proven wrong about working with young people here at the London College of Fashion. It has been, I hope, as beneficial to students as it has been helpful to me in so many ways.

Why is Craft Week important?

BO: Craft Week is important because it showcases all the amazing industries and talent all around us.  It celebrates craftsmanship and creativity and raises awareness of not just an end product but the processes, skills, and the rationale behind them.

GEE: Craft Week is important when it allows the displays of craft "excellence" from our past experiences, to the present and some insights into the future of the industry and from a traditional perspective to new technologies.

What are some misconceptions about the technical aspects of the design process?

BO: I think the main misconception is that the technical aspect is not an integral part of the design process.  However, having technical knowledge will help to realise your ideas and then follow through to a successful making process and a considered design.

GEE: The design process in shoemaking, in my humble opinion, stands apart from many other leather accessory trades. There are so many moving parts to a pair of shoes, that an old-fashioned term for a 'shoe man' (it's a sexist term today but back in the days it was all males doing this job), is a person who have a combination of skills as a craftsman, designer, engineer, a material expert, skilled costing, and pricing negotiator, salesman and manufacturer. There are so many facets to making a pair of shoes and the huge misconception is about just being able to draw a nice collection.

What does 'craft' mean to you?

BO: For me ‘craft’ is evocative of skill, creativity and beauty.  I think it is a labour of love.

GEE: The meaning of 'craft' to me in this context is to inculcate students with a deeper passion for their chosen field. To celebrate the outstanding achievements of past British masters and for our new batch of 'shoe man/woman' to continue in the same vein for the future.