The Designer Behind Sophia Webster Is As Fun And Fabulous As You’d Expect

Minimalism? We don’t know her! For the maximalists in our midst, thank God there’ll always be Sophia Webster to reach for. The namesake designer behind the first word in fantasy footwear is now inviting fans to delve into the stories behind her awe-inspiring brand, with the publication of her coffee table tome-meets-walk down memory lane Oh My Gosh, I Love Your Shoes! All illustrated by hand-drawn images of her signature wowza butterfly-adorned stilettos, pearly platforms, embellished sandals, fancy flats, and more. There’s no shortage of sweet anecdotes about building the business from the ground up, her unconventional inspirations, and heartfelt dispatches from someone who still feels like your favorite girl next door, who happens to also be an award-winning force to be reckoned with. Right this way! 

What’s a surprise fact about you or hidden talent that you have?
I was a competitive disco dancer when I was a kid, and part of that was some very jazzy back flips. If I’m warmed up properly I still can do one!

Amazing!! What’s the earliest pair of shoes you remember wearing or obsessing over?
Spice Girls ‘Buffalo’ platform trainers. I got a pair for Christmas and I was completely obsessed. I didn’t take them off. It was such a full-circle moment for me when I designed the shoes for the Spice Girls reunion tour a few years ago.

Tell us about the first pair of shoes you ever sketched? Was it clear from that moment that this is the path you’d follow?
After school, I went to Camberwell School of Arts to complete an art foundation course. There we had life drawing classes where the model would change into different outfits throughout the session. I was drawn to the shoes, zooming in on all the details. My tutor noticed this and suggested I looked into shoe design at London College of Fashion’s Cordwainers course. After that, I obsessively studied shoes and designers. I was in awe of the then-creative director of Sergio Rossi, Edmundo Castillo. His drawings were perfection for me: really confident strokes. And from that day on, I religiously practiced my shoe drawing to reach that level.

Sophia Webster (Courtesy)

2012, when you launched your brand, was such a different time in fashion! Take us back to this time—how did an emerging designer get the word out, who were the people and publications to target? What were some big moments then that put you on the map?
At that time, it felt like your options for shoes were either high street or eye-wateringly expensive luxury. Phoebe Philo was creative director of Celine at the time and her minimalist, austere aesthetic was very influential. I knew my brand would be a huge contrast: full of color and storytelling, but I didn’t mind going against the grain and I liked that I could stand out from all the noise. I feel really lucky that my brand launched pretty much at the same time as Instagram, as it meant that I wasn’t solely reliant on press to reach and build an audience. I also launched my e-comm business right at the start, again wanting to give direct access to my customers rather than relying on wholesale partners. The British Fashion Council really support new designers and every year a handful of newbies would win an award called NEWGEN, which meant that a designer would have a bit of support with presenting their collections on the London Fashion Week schedule. Rather than showing my wares on some beautiful shelves and tables in a hotel room, I wanted to create a whole world so my audience could immerse themselves in my imagination. I could create a whole set and style models in my products within the set. I think this really helped to create a buzz for me in the early days. Then the shows got bigger and more elaborate as the seasons went on! I had the most amazing experiences collaborating with creatives like Oscar-winning set designer Shona Heather and treasured make-up artists like Val Garland.

And the landscape has changed a lot since then too for emerging designers—what advice would you offer to anyone launching a brand right now?
It’s a pretty tough space for new designers at the moment. Buying decisions are largely based on sales data, not emotion and championing the lesser known. I think people starting brands today have to be amazing at whipping up a frenzy and servicing their community, as loyalty seems more valuable than reach in this noisy market.

We’re wondering….are you always in heels?
In the old days, yes! But as my life has changed, so has my product, organically evolving with my lifestyle. I picked dancing back up around the same time that I did my collab with Puma, and suddenly I was in sneakers all day long. Then I became a mum and flats truly became a staple of my wardrobe.

So what five Sophia Webster shoes do you find yourself reaching for the most often?
My SWALK sneakers, my Venus flatforms, my mid-height Chiaras, my Vanessa strappy sandal in green, and my black Vanessa mules.

You live in East London with your husband and business partner Bobby, your three daughters Bibi, Lilou, and Roses, son Nate, and your Frenchie. What’s an average day like in your house?
It’s pretty full-on having four kids. I often joke that home is where the work is, and going into my studio to do my day job is my break!

Ha! You’re about to have a milestone birthday. What are some things you’re proudest of from your 30s, and what are you most looking forward to?
Aside from giving birth to my twins and my son, the things I’m proudest of from this decade have been being awarded an honorary doctorate by De Montfort University and launching my extended size range of shoes.

Yes, in 2020, you launched collections focused on positive impact and audience diversity—including all-important extended sizes—and you have launched a capsule to support Butterfly Conservation. What additional meaningful projects would you like to work on in the future?
I’ve got something exciting in the pipeline, to do with supporting young people into the industry. Watch this space! Arts education and access to the industry are two causes very close to my heart.

Your book was born from a challenge you set yourself, to draw a shoe a day—how did this project lead to the book?
As I was drawing the shoes each day, so many memories came flooding back to me having to do with that shoe; like the process of designing it, or the London Fashion Week show they were featured in, or a drama sourcing the leather, or something that was happening to me personally at that time. It was like rummaging through a box of old photos and I wanted to get all my thoughts and life lessons down in writing. And that’s how the book came together. It’s a memoir as much as it is a coffee table book full of my sketches and images of my favorite moments. It was a huge undertaking, as not only did I write all of the copy myself, I also had to edit it as the layout and design evolved. And I was pretty specific about the layout, from the color to the fun details, like leather swatches or captions written on tape. Every page was its own design. My publisher said it was, by a mile, the most complicated book they’d ever created!

Sophia WebsterSophia WebsterCountless celebrities have Sophia Webster proudly positioned in their shoe closets—but who’s someone you’d still love to see in your shoes? And who are some of the most ‘pinch me’ placements so far?
I’d say Oprah wearing my Coco crystal pumps to deliver her #MeToo speech was the biggest ‘pinch me’ moment. But anytime Beyoncé, Rihanna, or Michelle Obama wear my shoes, my heart skips a beat. Taylor Swift wore my Chiaras in 2019 and that moment was as epic for a brand as it can get!

Are there any dream brand collaborations you have on your radar right now?
I love a collab, and often I have a couple of conversations on the go at the same time. Nothing to announce at the moment, but again, watch this space….

Sophia WebsterSophia Webster

What else is ahead in 2024?
I’m super excited about moving studios to Stratford in East London, where a lot of creative ventures are, or are in the process of establishing themselves, like BBC Music Studios, the V&A Museum, and London College of Fashion to name a few. Not to mention, it’s super close to our home! For Fall Winter ’24, I’ve been deep-diving into boots and have got some really exciting launches, as well as a brand new sneaker coming. They’ll be appearing online in the summer.

Boots? Exciting! What’s your go-to mantra or motto these days?
I made up a little motto for myself when I wrote my book, inspired by my entrepreneurial journey and, of course, my famous butterfly shoes: ‘Dare to dream, dare to fail, dare to fly.’ It pretty much sums me up!

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