Helen Kirkum is the characteristic touch we all need in this day and age when the unstoppable rise of sneakers continue but most brands’ collections have fallen into repetition. Having received the 2016 International Talent Support Accessories Award, founded to support young fashion designers, British designer stole the spotlight at the graduation show at her school, Royal College of Art. She rips and reattaches old sneakers in her collection Our Public Youth, which made a name for her. Positioning her work somewhere between art and fashion, Helen believes that both designers and consumers need to slow down a bit and take responsibility. Let’s get to know her better!
How would you describe your style?
It is a collage, raw and honest, a spontaneous reactive process.
How did you come up with the idea of creating footwear from recycled sneakers? Can you tell me about your creation process?
The sneaker became a symbol of commerciality, it signifies the way we value commerce and product, and the pieces become a product of themselves.
My production works in two processes: The first is to deconstruct a pile of sneakers, to work meticulously unpicking all the pieces and organize them into piles of shapes, sizes and colors. Finally I just sit at the sewing machine surrounded by pieces and start to construct the sneaker like a collage or puzzle. I never really know where the process will take me and what the end result will be. It is an organic process.
What are your thoughts on sneakers’ comeback as a fashion trend?
For me sportswear, streetwear and high end fashion are now so interchangeable. The boundaries are blurred as they influence each other simultaneously. I think the sneaker has become the ultimate signifier of trend and social status, justified by youth culture and adopted by the fashion elite.
I think sustainability is one of the most crucial motivations behind your design.
Yes definitely. I wanted to create pieces that confronted our relationship with products and our responsibilities as consumers and designers.
Why is it important to you?
When I worked with recycling centers to collect the sneakers, I realized just how much stuff we throw away and the enormity of the effects of our attitude towards the disposability of fashion and products. I don’t think we can fix everything instantly, but it is necessary that we strive to be environmentally conscious, to produce and consume sustainably.
Your graduation project was unconventional. How did people react to your works?
I came across a lot of hurdles when creating the project. I faced criticism about the commerciality and scalability of the project, because of my process and my material choices. I wanted to challenge our current vision of newness, and of the norms of footwear in general. Since graduating the reaction has been overwhelming, I couldn’t of asked for better global recognition. I am happy that I stayed true to my concept and vision and created products that so many people could connect with.
Your works looked like a collage to me and I read you described it as the same. Why are you interested in collages and are there any other art forms interest you?
I am interested in all types of art, but I always find inspiration in the Dada movement. The free spirited expression and personal and social commentary really resonates with my way of working. I also love sculpture and installation, something unfinished or jarring that creates dynamic shapes and textures always captures me.
Are you planning to create your own clothing line?
I am planning to create my own product line as well as continue with bespoke products and commissions.
Can you name the designers inspire you and you want to have a collaboration in the future?
I am keen to collaborate with many people. I love the remade work of Christopher Raeburn, and honest and direct work of Rombaut. I would also love to work with Raf Simmons one day!
Do you have a pair of sneakers you have been wearing for years?
Yes, I am a massive fan of loving and wearing sneakers as opposed to leaving them on the shelf. I like to wear them out, and then I’ll add them to the shelf, imbedded with more character, memories and charm. When I was younger my friends and I used to write all over my converse. It was my first experience of personalizing garments and owning something that no one else could, completely personal and full of stories.