In partnership with New Balance, our ‘One Step Ahead’ series will explore the journeys of five creatives who have blazed their own trail within the sneaker industry.
Up-and-coming graphic designer Emily Petersen has seized every opportunity to establish herself among the sneaker scene’s new wave of style innovators. Embracing the unknown, Emily traded her hometown Melbourne for Copenhagen to take up a role with Naked, the world’s premier destination for female sneakerheads. In the interests of full disclosure, we have to mention that Emily was a Sneaker Freaker intern several years ago, and we’re really proud to see how she’s flourished! Though her career has only just begun, her story will resonate with anyone looking to get that foot in the door for the first time.
What’s your role at Naked?
I work with the creative team that produces the photography for the online store and social media. I also do the styling and plan the shoots for various brands.
Is your current position where you pictured your journey leading?,
I pictured something similar, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do or where I wanted to work. And now that I work with an amazing bunch of people, I’m only getting better at what I do. I have to pinch myself every now and then.
Tell us a little about how you got into the sneaker industry?
While I was at university studying graphic design, a friend got me a job at the sneaker store where he worked. I made a lot of friends there and ended up an assistant manager. A lot of the people I know in the industry came through a similar path at the beginning, so working retail is actually a great way to start.
While I was working at the store, I noticed that Sneaker Freaker was accepting applications for their internship program. It was the perfect opportunity to combine my interest in sneakers with my graphic design background, so I applied and was accepted shortly after!
What were some of the skills that you picked up during your internship?
I was assisting on a number of different things that kept my role varied and interesting, mostly design and photography. Nowadays everyone considers himself or herself a photographer just because they’re on Instagram, but there really is a fine art to creating beautiful, refined product photography that has an impact. One of the main things I learned was how to really make a shoe look amazing. I spent a lot of time relacing shoes, stuffing them with padding and adjusting the angles to show their most seductive profile. There were a million tips and tricks I picked up during my time there. There’s way more that goes on behind the scenes than most people think!
So how did you parlay that experience into a gig at Naked?
I was introduced to Naked when the store was featured in the magazine. I asked Woody (SF founder) if he could put me in contact with Tommas – one of the co-founders of Naked – and a few weeks later I was booking tickets to Denmark! It was that simple. What was initially a six-month internship has since turned into a permanent position.
It’s a long way to move for an internship, how did you know you were making the right move?
I had no way of knowing if anything was going to work out over here or if I would be able to find a job. I just knew I couldn’t stand still. I had never been to Europe and wasn’t actually intending to move to Denmark, but when Naked said to come over – I just said yes and got a visa. I didn’t realise how compact Denmark is, but even in a small city there are plenty of networking opportunities. More than a year later, I don’t think I could live anywhere else.
Why do you think Naked kept you on after that initial six-month period?
I think my boss Stine saw a lot of potential in me and she was really good at setting challenges that I had to aim for. The Naked aesthetic was already similar to my style, so I just created imagery that I wanted to see during my internship and it all just fitted together. I was very enthusiastic about being here and I just fit right into Copenhagen life. I also owe a huge amount to Ed, who was in my role beforehand. He’s since left, but during my internship he helped me ease into the role and taught me a lot.
How has the move opened you up to fresh perspectives and new opportunities?
I love how the women in Scandinavia – or Europe, for that matter – don’t just wear sneakers for comfort. Instead, sneakers are part of a lively street fashion scene, one that’s completely different to the ‘activewear’ trend – or whatever you want to call it – back home. I’ve been very fortunate to be included on a wide range of projects with Naked, which has allowed me to meet so many different people, not just in the sneaker community but in the wider creative industry in Europe.
What inspires you creatively, both inside the sneaker world and out?
I look at a lot of magazines and fashion editorials – the weirder the better. But mostly I love going to galleries. When you work so much with product photography focusing on the brand, it’s nice to have a break and see something beautiful that isn’t trying to sell anything.
Is it difficult to combine creativity with a passion like sneakers over the long term?
I enjoy the challenge of coming up with new ways to showcase a sneaker. There’s so much involved when it comes to our fashion editorials; there’s a lot of room for creativity. I usually have to source a wardrobe or come up with a style for a shoot – colours, locations, models and makeup concepts etc. It’s much more involved than people might think.
The sneaker scene is traditionally a bit of a boys club. Why is it important for a female-focused store like Naked to exist?
I just think it’s great that a small store in Denmark can become the world leader of sneakers for ladies. We create and style imagery to suit a more feminine consumer and we showcase different ways to wear the sneakers. Besides, there’s more than enough masculine imagery around sneakers already! It is definitely harder for girls to feel like they belong in the industry, but I actually think women have an advantage they might not be aware of. Women have a knack for building brands quickly on social media, which is really valuable in an industry that’s so dependent on hype.
Good point. If you were the boss of the universe for a day, what’s the first thing you’d change about the sneaker world?
No more camp-outs for Yeezys! It’s getting sad.
Where do you see your journey taking you over the next five years?
I’d like to collaborate with more brands and eventually branch out into designing sneakers and clothing. We’ll see. There’s so many amazing opportunities and I want to make the most of each and every one.
Emily wears the New Balance 574 Sport Suede ‘Grey’, available now from select stockists, as well as through New Balance’s online store.