SEPTEMBER 9, 2020
CONCEPTUALIZING 'WEARABLE ART' WITH DESIGNER TABITHA RINGWOOD
BY KRISTIE WILLIAMS
Photography by Ben Fourmi
Similar to commissioning an artist for their work, Ringwood’s footwear is made-to-order and her online store offers consultations for consumers to create a unique custom style. Each shoe is designed, pattern cut, and sewed by the designer to ensure quality and sustainability. Her mission is to reduce the amount of environmental carnage in fashion by using remnants from previous designs to create the next. She is a visionary whose eco-friendly shoes promote comfort together with eye-catching art pieces for your feet.
Check out our interview below with Tabitha Ringwood to learn how she immersed herself in footwear and reduces her carbon footprint as a designer.
What fascinates you about the footwear world?
Shoes are fascinating objects, in their own right, but the complexity of designing shoes that maintain their innate artistic value whilst existing as a fully wearable and functional piece is what I find most attractive. Shoes have to work hard to fulfill their purpose. As a designer and maker of footwear, I love this challenge—to me, it is a balance of science and math as well as artistic design. I love that they can be an item that isn’t just something of beauty. Everything I make is wearable as, at their core, shoes act as a foundation and a base to the human body. A grounding. They’re incredibly emotional objects; our feet embed, they show an imprint, a path, a journey. Our relationship with our footwear should allow for us to appreciate shoes in their own right as objects that can be desired, whilst ensuring that they are still able to fulfill their purpose, thus elevating their value from an art piece to “wearable art”.
Photography by Ronan Mckenzie
How did you begin designing footwear?
I began drawing shoes from around the age of nine! But the ‘real’ designing began with my BA in footwear design, which I studied at DeMontfort University. Despite the title of the degree, it’s actually a bit of an unusual route into the industry—the majority of shoe designers come from product design backgrounds or architectural backgrounds. I knew early on that it was always going to be about the shoes!
Photography by Will Cooper
You work with recycled material and textures, what is your inspiration for designing with used materials?
Following the time at a selection of well-known brands during my first few years working in footwear, I have first-hand experience within the fast-paced fashion industry and the sheer scale of the mass production that occurs. Having observed this level of environmental carnage first-hand, I was convinced that change was desperately needed. Designing and making the right way is the foundation of my practice, but on top of this I just generally cannot stand seeing waste. I was brought up to appreciate what we have, the things that we are surrounded by that may seem insignificant to others but might be personal to me. It’s been instilled within me to be a lover of objects with a history or a meaning. I’m a romantic really. I get attached to objects, from furniture to old records, tools, items that have been handcrafted, and of course shoes. When I see something with a story—that has been loved, repurposed and now potentially viewed as unimportant - that is destined for the bin, my knee-jerk reaction is to work out how it can be repaired or fixed, or taken apart to re-use the components or the materials to extend their life span. I recently made a one-off pair of shoes out of our old sofa! This way of designing creates embedded memories.
Photography by Ronan Mckenzie
I was drawn to your shoes because they look like art pieces, especially those with the knotted heel. Tell us about your conceptual design process.
My conceptual design process is an ever-evolving search for communicative, emotive, meaningful design. I explore personal narratives through tactile, ‘squeezable’ uppers and wherever I can, develop designs to allow for zero-waste pattern cutting, and keep all the unused ‘scraps’ to utilize later within another project. Merging my background in the industry with my more conceptual practice deeply influences my final products which are quite often the result of experimenting with the materials and prototyping on the ‘last’ or my own feet, as opposed to a flat sketch (which is what I spent years doing in the industry). It’s a much freer, looser, more expressive way to design. I use materials that are kind to the skin, are attractive to touch, and appeal to the eye. This is my way of creating something truly new and unique. Whilst the brand continues to grow, I personally design, pattern cut, and sew each of our products-—it’s my passion!
Photography by Sean Alexander
As a footwear designer, what challenges and obstacles do you face?
This is a fantastic question and one that I really appreciate having to answer. Shoes are a challenge! They need to be comfortable, not cause any blisters, fit to the unusual varying shapes of different feet, hold any amount of weight, be secure on any surface, wear well in any weather, look beautiful whilst also bearing the brunt of being kicked around, shoved in a cupboard and last an incredibly long time! To make them takes time, patience, very specific machinery, a skillset, and adaptability. Shoe designing is easier if you have an entire factory with a sample room at your fingertips but handmade shoes are a completely different ballgame, and whilst I continuously improve my skills, helping people to understand the difficulties in all of the above is my biggest challenge. Educating the customer is so crucial and trying to show how much goes into creating each handmade pair is a vital part of my process. If any shoe can be made (even in a factory) and is then sold for a ridiculously cheap price, something is going very, very wrong along the way.
Photography by Sean Alexander
What should we expect next for Tabitha Ringwood? Goals? New collection? Available in stores?
I’m very excited to have just launched my all-made-to-measure online store and I am working on an SS21 collection currently. I don’t really believe in seasons and aligning precisely with the expectations of the fashion calendar as I would rather invest in design pieces and, as I’ve mentioned, I never can truly anticipate when a new opportunity may arise in terms of material availability or repurposing a ‘condemned’ item. So, although there are new styles, some styles will continue in new colorways and materials as I explore new ways of tailoring my designs. I also have some more amazing collaborative projects in the works that will be launched soon!
For more information visit tabitharingwood.com