Helen Kirkum Explains Her Upcycled, Made-to-Order ‘Palimpsest’ Sneaker
Last Friday at London Fashion Week, Helen Kirkum debuted her first original footwear design, dubbed the ‘Palimpsest’. The occasion was celebrated at Old Selfridges Hotel, which included performances from London post-punk groups Mynk and Lyena.
The Palimpsest sneaker is made in England predominantly from repurposed and recycled materials sourced from within the EU and the UK. The shoe’s sole was created in partnership with Portuguese Forever soles, while Kirkum partnered with manufacturer Goral to assemble the shoes in Sheffield, England. Every Palimpsest sneaker is unique due to the nature of the assembly and materials.
Below, Kirkum explains some of the ideas and concepts behind her new design and tells us how the design champions the notion of radical transparency.
Congratulations on the ‘Palimpsest’ silhouette! How does it feel to unveil it to the world?
Really exciting! We have been tweaking and editing it internally for so long now that it is great to finally have it revealed out into the world. Being able to showcase the sneaker alongside our short documentary by Lily Vetch really enables us to show not only the product but also the people and purpose behind it. The people who made it and the labour of love that goes into each pair.
How long has this been in the works?
It’s been germinating in my head for years now, but we started to work on it with all our partners at the end of last year. Developing the sole was one of the most time-consuming processes because we really wanted to get as much recycled content in there as we could while not compromising on the overall aesthetic of each pair.
Tackling the issue of post-consumer waste in footwear is at the core of what you do. How does creating an original silhouette amplify your mission?
We finally have a silhouette that we can call our own. This amplifies everything that we believe in and everything we want to put out into the world. It also gives us a base to work on and continue to develop, working with our suppliers, partners, and even collaborators for future projects. Previously, we have only had made-to-order services available for our clients, so now, having ready-to-wear sneakers gives our community an everyday sneaker that reflects a positive and playful message every time you wear it.
There must be so much creative freedom involved in making a new silhouette. How is the process of designing from scratch different from rebuilding an existing one?,
I actually find it a lot more difficult to design in this way because it's not what I'm used to! The importance of this silhouette was to showcase the beauty of the material and the process while still staying true to the deconstructed twists and collaged style that I am known for. I wanted the silhouette to be more than just the material, with the mismatched details or wonky features amplifying our playful spirit in the studio.
Roughly how many components does it take to put together one pair?
It’s hard to say, as each pair is completely unique, but it is usually around 30 components per pair.
What aesthetic factors were important when creating each pair?
I wanted to keep the silhouette easy and wearable with a low-top tennis look, but with a lot of complex details the closer you look at the shoe. It’s our version of a luxury white leather sneaker. I love the idea that the more you wear and study your individual pair, the more you discover about it. As well as creating a playful and unique sneaker, using recycled and local materials was one of the most important factors. We worked closely with our suppliers to provide the highest level of recycled content they could in each element and sourced everything as close to home as possible. We are proud that all our materials and suppliers come from the UK or EU, and our shoes are made in Sheffield, UK.
Talk about how the term ‘palimpsest’ resonates with you on a deeper level.
I love the word ‘palimpsest’, meaning something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form. When I was doing my master’s, I heard the term from an amazing creative researcher and academic writer, Ellen Sampson. So the word has been on my mind as an appropriate term to describe what I do. I love the idea that we’re re-writing stories and memories of all the recycled pairs through our creations.
It’s so great that you are able to be completely transparent and share material sources and points of assembly. Is this something you’d like to see from more footwear brands? And, do you think it’s something that will happen in the near future?
Yes, it’s a radical transparency I would love to see other brands adopt. For us, our goals include encouraging new ways of working in the British footwear industry and advocating for sustainable materials and practices. This includes elevating and supporting our factories, manufacturers, and suppliers.
Pre-orders for Helen Kirkum’s Palimpsest silhouette are open on their webstore until September 25, for 595 GBP.