Exclusive Interview: Designer Helen Kirkum Crafts 30 Bespoke ASICS GEL-1090s for CharityRelease: 25 February 2022
British designer Helen Kirkum is known for her bespoke creations, deconstructions of familiar sneaker silhouettes that are then rebuilt with a wabi-sabi touch, and, often, sustainable materials. For her latest project, Kirkum has brought her technical know-how and eye for the abstract to an ASICS runner, namely the GEL-1090 – of which she's reworked 30 pairs in support of Right to Play, a charitable organisation that empowers children to rise above adversity through the power of play and was chosen to receive support through ASICS' 'Crafts for Mind' programme.
Kirkum's 30-pack of ASICS have been transformed with the use of post-consumer waste, which is used to create a partial shroud around the lateral side of the upper while the medial side is left exposed. She's also hand-embroidered famous UK running routes onto the toe, a unique lacing system that soars and swoops around the upper and a little extra reinforcement around the tongue! No two pairs are the exact same – each in the set of 30 is entirely unique.
Ahead of the release, we spoke to Kirkum about the project, her process, and upcoming news.
Tell us about this project and how it came about?
I've always loved ASICS’ Japanese heritage and how the brand celebrates the beauty and importance of craftsmanship, which aligns perfectly with our brand values – so it felt like a real natural fit when we began the conversation around doing a collaboration. In fact, when I first met the ASICS team, one of the things I mentioned was that their shoes are really hard to deconstruct, which is credit to their craft and process, and it was something that I really wanted to explore.
Tell us about Right to Play...
Right To Play is a global organisation that protects, educates and empowers children to rise above adversity using the power of sports and play. They do this by harnessing sport and play to teach children the critical skills they need to dismantle barriers and embrace opportunities, in learning and in life.
Most people would call this a deconstructive process, but it’s really more reconstructive. How do you like to describe your work on this project?
It’s a bit of both really, we always look to celebrate the process of wearing and making, so emphasising the handmade but also allowing the sneakers to take on a new journey once they are on your feet. The process is inspired by the materials that are used to make it, so for this project, it was the deadstock GEL-1090 as the main inspiration.
I analyse the product, how it’s made and constructed, understanding what I can deconstruct that would benefit the design and also what needs to remain constructed so as not to lose the original form. After that we can begin to push the silhouette and the collaboration to see how we can go further and create something unexpected.
Are you freestyling in the moment or was there a plan and a sketch for each shoe?
My design process is always through making and prototyping rather than sketching. I find working on the physical form allows you to analyse the sneakers from all angles and it always helps to put it on your foot and see how it looks from the perspective of the wearer.
For this scale of collaboration, working with waste and deadstock you have to utilise the materials you find so there does need to be significant planning! Especially when all the sizes and colour ways are unique, it takes a little design Tetris to make sure each colour way works in harmony.
With 30 unique shoes on offer is it possible there is one that’s a favourite?
It’s so hard to choose! I always fluctuate between colourways. There are a few colourways like the yellow/orange or green/blue/pink that really stand out, but equally the subtle colourways like the all white and green/black have such a great textural story! It’s hard to choose! The embroidered running route combinations also make them all unique. One route, ‘the block’, is my dad's running route, so the pairs with that on them also have a special place in my heart.
And finally, what’s next?
We really hit the ground running this year, and have so much coming up! We just showed at LFW where we showcased our Made To Order. We launched our new sneaker jewellery collaboration with RÄTHEL & WOLF, which will be available for all our Made To Order clients, as well as on our website very soon.
Stay tuned for more ASICS projects as well ;)
If you're looking to score a pair of Kirkum's ASICS, they'll be available exclusively through NAKED on February 25. From February 18, each pair was loaded onto the NAKED site so you can have a gander at them – you'll want to make your mind up quickly come drop day, as there's only a single pair of each available!