An Insight Into Shoe Design With Holly White

As we wave goodbye to Fashion Week, we’re also looking forward to the coming autumn season. Buy British Day is on the 1st October and to celebrate we’re catching up with London based shoe designer Hollie White. The mastermind behind Ellis White, Hollie designs contemporary women’s footwear using innovative materials and “-adhoc principles”.

How did you get into shoe design and making?

I originally studied a B. Design in Sydney (where I grew up) which was a multidisciplinary degree in which I covered graphics, textiles and object design. At some point I realised that I was really interested in fashion accessories. I had always made clothes for myself and footwear seemed to sit somewhere in between fashion and object design, which suited me. I started to look into footwear as a vocation and realised I could study footwear design and making here in London and that’s partly what brought me here.

Shoemaking is detailed work – what’s your making ‘hack’?

Prototype! Never go into the final piece without a few mockups. Even a really loose 3D model of an idea can tell you so much more that a sketch. Shoes are completely asymmetrical and quite sculptural so there are a lot of angles left unconsidered in drawings. 

What’s the best ‘mistake’ you’ve made in the design process?

Every shoe I’ve ever made has been the result of a mistake. I tend to work outside of standard shoe constructions, so generally – to go back to the previous point – I have miscalculated how one element can connects to another until I start making a prototype and realise there would be a better way. The best example of that was at college. I set out to make a kind of leather version of cork by amalgamating leather scraps and make some heels. The first attempt used wood glue and the result was a very crumbly biscuit looking material, but trial and error lead me experiment with different bonding agents and in the end, the creation of a leather composite became the focus of my Masters degree. I think design is 80% problem solving, so the ability to learn from mistakes is key.

Is there anything you think has changed in the industry since you started?

I think social media and it’s impact on retailing and customer engagement is the biggest shift. 7-8 years ago, most people couldn’t see past the traditional wholesale model, but today with brands able to connect directly with customers on Instagram, they’re able to offer better quality products at a much better price.

Favourite material to work with?

I like wet moulding vegetable tanned leather. It’s thick and sturdy, natural leather, but can form into incredible shapes once it’s soaked in water and stretched over a last. It dries really solid and holds it’s new shape. In the past I’ve made moulded uppers that don’t require any seems or stitching.

What are your most favourite shoes in your wardrobe?

Hmmmm, I think my current favourites are one of my newest samples that I have been road testing. They’re a moccasin style on a sporty, EVA, flatform sole, in Russet suede. I’ve worn them to death over the past few months.

Where do you like to walk in London?

I do a lot of walking just simply because I’m busy running around London and I don’t drive. On weekends I sometime walk through Burgess park, down through Bermondsey, across the Thames and into Soho. It’s a fairly long walk, but a drink at the other end is all the more deserved.


What can you not live without?

Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) and lime.

What did you wish you’d bought two of?

I wish I had bought two pairs Issey Miyake, Pleats Please, flat zip-up boots. They are the most interesting and wearable shoes I’ve ever owned, which is a hard combination to find.