Life of Alumni: Benjamin Hall is now Associate Lecturer
We are often lucky enough to meet our students and alumni again, and sometimes, they even join our amazing team of talented academics in teaching the next generation of fashion experts. Benjamin John Hall, LCF alumni and renowned footwear guru, is now sharing his expertise as Associate Lecturer on the BA (Hons) Cordwainers Footwear: Product Design and Innovation course. We caught up with him to find out more about life on the job, the craft of footwear and the art of giving back.
Tell us about your role – what does your day to day entail?
I work on the BA (Hons) Cordwainers: Footwear course and have done for a number of years. I teach design to the final year students, so the focus is on helping students develop and realise their final major project. Generally my day to day, (if I’m not doing admin or marking!), would be checking in on students and reviewing their work. I support them through the process of creating their own brand and then designing a collection for that brand. These units are called 'concept vision' and 'concept realisation'. Starting a new brand isn’t easy so we try to encourage students to instil a set of values in their brand - values which are either relevant to the zeitgeist, or perhaps a more original approach which uses a unique selling point or identifies a niche in the market to exploit. After this, it gets less strategic and more fun because you get to start designing for your brand. Here it’s about creativity and execution whilst maintaining the high standard of work Cordwainers is known for. All of this helps students to become accustomed to designing within the parameters of brands, be it their own or be it for others.
What do you find the most rewarding part of your job?
There are two things I find rewarding about my job. For me footwear is a passion and also a language, so having a strong connection with students where we can discuss ideas, feelings, thoughts, moods around footwear means I can connect with others about a subject I’m passionate about on a regular basis. The second thing is to witness growth, to see a student grow in skill, design sensibility, communication and confidence is equally rewarding. If I can see significant growth in a student then I know I’ve done my job.
Let’s go back to life before teaching – have you always been interested in footwear? Why did you decide to go into the world of footwear to study and then, onto teaching the craft?
I think my interest in the design of shoes stemmed from skateboarding, it was the first time I became aware that the shoe was designed specifically to resist the abrasion from the grip tape. You could tell if someone really skated through observing their shoes and the severity of the abrasion. More abrasion equalled more authenticity. Shoes are such an important part of almost any subculture and authenticity is always paramount. After my A-levels at age 19, I began a four year course of study at Cordwainers winning a different award during each year, including the National Student of the Year award. Since then I have worked for large international brands, started various small brands, run a design consultancy and won further awards for my experimental practice – for which I’m mostly known for.
I got into teaching when there was the global recession in 2008. All my design contracts dried up and teaching was a means by which to continue to subsidise my studio practice. Around this time, I won an international design award; the ITS YKK award, a €10,000 prize which again helped fund my studio. I was then invited to teach at Central Saint Martins and from there the Royal College of Art and then onto London College of Fashion. Teaching has become something that continues to help subsidise my studio and allows me to continue to explore freely my own work. Although it wasn’t simply the case that I fell in to teaching, it’s something I enjoy and my own work in footwear is often ideas based which lends itself to working in research and academia - I tend to think quite a lot.
What kind of prospective students does the course suit and what kinds of activities or studies could they have done previously, to help them succeed in studying Footwear at LCF?
The course primarily suits people that have a flair for creativity. Imagination and a capacity to think three dimensionally is important, as is the ability to work hands on. Second to that passion and enthusiasm certainly helps. Studying courses such as art or design technology would help, or extracurricular creative activities such as life drawing or ceramics. Anything that starts a thought process where you are actively considering the design or creation of 3D objects would be a great starting point.
Can you tell us a fact about footwear that many people may not know?
The footwear industry has quite different ways to size shoes depending on the brand and also the country a brand originates from. So whenever I buy trainers I always go by the JPN size, this is the Japanese size which can usually be found under the tongue with the sizing info. Different countries use different sizing scales which often don’t convert to UK sizing accurately. JPN sizing is measured in Centimetres so if you can work out your size in CM, I find this to be the most consistent measurement across different countries and different brands. I’m a UK 9.5 and if the shoe says 28CM JPN I know it’s going to fit 99% of the time. So if you buy online my advice is to work out your JPN!
- Find out more about BA (Hons) Cordwainers Footwear: Product Design and Innovation at LCF.
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