Sophia Webster Opens Up About Nurturing Next Generation of Shoe Designers Ahead of 2024 Cordwainers Footwear Awards Keynote

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Sophia Webster understands the ups and downs young designers face when they enter the industry.

On Thursday, the British footwear designer is slated to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Cordwainers Footwear Awards on June 13 at Saddlers’ Hall in London by delivering the keynote speech at the ceremony.

Webster, a graduate of the Cordwainers course at the London College of Fashion, will also receive this year’s Sue Saunders Award for Excellence, awarded by nomination to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the footwear trade, whether through design, manufacture, retail or education.

“I was utterly honored to be asked to receive the Sue Saunders Award and to give a keynote speech at this very special 10-year anniversary event,” Webster told FN. “Arts education, access to the footwear industry and bringing up the next generation of talent is something very close to my heart, so I wholeheartedly accepted the opportunity to address the award nominees and their proud guests.”

This year, 16 student finalists from the London College of Fashion and De Montfort University will compete to win the coveted Cordwainers Footwear Award Trophy.

As well as the main award, additional categories include the Sneaker/Athleisure Award, which recognizes the innovative design work in this area; and the Sustainability Award, which promotes the incredible work emerging to produce footwear designs that are environmentally sustainable.

Cordwainers Footwear Awards, shoe designer, shoes
A design from a 2024 finalist.

Ahead of her keynote speech at the Cordwainers Footwear Awards on Thursday, Webster spoke to FN about what has changed the most in the industry since she became a designer, lessons learned along the way, what advice she has for young talent and much more.

Why do you think awards like these are needed?

“These kinds of awards are so important – besides recognizing achievements and hard work, and besides putting talent in front of the press and industry, it gives something for the next generation to strive for. Particularly in the case of the Cordwainers Awards – it is open across colleges and means that students can pitch themselves against talent they’re less familiar with.  This award is one of the country’s best footwear design prizes in terms of monetary value and can be a great incentive for anyone who has the talent and drive, but who is worried about financials, as I was – to keep pursuing their dream.”

Have any finalists caught your eye ahead of tomorrow’s awards ceremony?

“I have been blown away by the work of the finalists that I’ve seen, and I honestly don’t think I could pick any one designer out – each one shows unique flair. It’s clear they have all put a huge amount of effort and passion into their work.”

Cordwainers Footwear Awards, shoe designer, shoes
A design from a 2024 finalist.

What has changed the most in the industry since you started your business?

“SO much has changed since I started, it’s a totally different landscape. A company must be incredibly agile to evolve with it. The biggest differences are the demands on the product, and the way brands connect to consumers. People want shoes they can wear for hours with more diverse end usages – the product has to work harder than ever. Secondly, direct communication with your audience and ideally a direct sales channel is so important in this day and age to present a message and collection that’s true to the creative/designer.”

What have been some of your biggest lessons learned since you’ve launched your business?

“Feeling joy and gratitude in what I do is my top priority these days. My brand is over 10 years old now and I’ve been through many highs and lows, successes and challenges. Writing my book, ‘Oh My Gosh, I Love Your Shoes!’ gave me the chance to reflect on my journey and I gained a lot of perspective. Family, good health, happiness – these are the most important things. I want to keep spreading joy to the people that engage with my brand and have fun with the products that I create.”

Cordwainers Footwear Awards, shoe designer, shoes
A design from a 2024 finalist.

What advice do you have for young footwear designers that are just starting out in the industry?

“I always advise people starting out to stay in their own lane, by which I mean don’t worry too much about what everyone else is up to. There’s always a danger of comparing yourself to others and winding up either feeling impatient to reach milestones or offering messages and products that the market is already saturated with. Each journey into a career is unique and the most important thing is to love what you do and be your true authentic self, that way you can always look back and be proud.”

Cordwainers Footwear Awards, shoe designer, shoes
A design from a 2024 finalist.

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