Interview with ESSKA Shoes Designer from the UK
- We've had the pleasure of carrying ESSKA shoes at BUS STOP for many years. Souraya Karami is the Lebanese-English founder & designer of ESSKA shoes with a vibrant story behind the brand. Souraya trained & worked as an architect before studying footwear design at the London College of Fashion. Her passion for shoes & lack of footwear aimed at women who place equal value on comfort & style led her to a career change.
Souraya makes feminine shoes that are stylish & comfortable.
Her moto: "I believe in inner beauty & the concept of feeling good. It’s the harmony with oneself that makes one look good."
Esska’s design aesthetic is refined & modern, seamlessly blending clean lines, layered materials & bold colours. The brand speaks to women who want original, comfortable & timeless footwear, taking them from season to season, enhancing their individual style, without compromising on comfort. The shoes are designed in London & made in a small artisan factory in Portugal where craftsmen lovingly create the brand’s vision & incorporate the key product elements - breathable leather uppers & linings, padded insoles & a non-slip flexible rubber outsole. Esska strives to create shoes that are as wearable as they are beautiful, offering women the ultimate fusion in style & comfort. Since launching in 2006, Esska’s distinctive footwear has gained a loyal following & today the brand is sold all over the world.
We had the pleasure of meeting Souraya IRL & seeing her studio & showroom during our trip to London in 2014 and at MICAM in Milan this February, 2020. We've reconnected again for an exclusive Q&A with the designer.
Read more about the creative mind behind the brand (who's latest AW20 collection has us swooning) below...
- How did your journey as a shoe designer begin? Who inspired you to design, when did you begin designing and what was your first shoe design? I studied architecture, and worked as an architect for a few years before being asked by my boyfriend at the time to join him in his water business. Fast forward few years, we got divorced so I was out of job! I did not want to go back to architecture, and was very lost. Chatting to an inspirational lady I met at a dinner party about my urge to learn a new skill and touch materials, she asked me if I ever considered shoe design. I did not even know it existed as a course. I started Googling. Few months later, I was on a plane to London. I never looked back...Ever. As for my first designs, they were very geometric, totally inspired by my architecture years…. Mix of materials and colours, but very geometric.
- Where/how do you find inspiration for new shoe styles? I don’t know. From everywhere… from London, from the streets, from people. I get inspired a lot by the materials I find. Sometimes the materials take over the design.
- How would you describe ESSKA’s brand/mission? I want to empower women to wear comfortable shoes and feel amazing in them. No compromise. Whether they are heels or flats, the shoes should reflect their identity and make them feel great about themselves. They are not throw away fashion, they are timeless, stylish, and very comfortable. I want my women to be able to wear them with different outfits.
- When you think of your target/ideal customer, what would she look like? How old is she? Where does she work? What are her hobbies? She could be any age between 35 and 65. She is stylish, she is confident, she is aware of the world around her, she is making conscious purchasing decisions, and is trying to be sustainable. She works hard, she travels, she could be working in the arts, education, design, tech, anywhere...She knows exactly who she is, and is not trying to fit into a box or please society. She is a city girl, goes to museums, plays, movies, and loves a party!! (Am I describing myself here???)
- How do you attempt to stand out in the industry? Stylish, minimal, well designed shoes, that are very comfortable. The formula works. Add to it the mix of materials and colours that make the shoes stand out, without being ‘too much’. Plus, an exceptional customer service.
- What has been the most rewarding thing about being a designer? The most difficult? The most rewarding, without a doubt, is when my customers write to me to tell me how happy they are to wear ESSKA. For their wedding, for a special event, or just every day… They actually take the time to email me to say that. Nothing beats the feeling I get when I read these emails. The most difficult as a designer, when I ordered a shoe without seeing the sample, chose different materials for different parts, and when I receievd the actual production, they were hideous!! I learned a lesson…. Sometimes an idea in my head might sound amazing, but in relaity would not work. Always see a sample!! As for the most diffcult as a business owner, well when you realize that not everyone is as truthful and kind as you…
- What trends do you see emerging for footwear in the Autumn/Winter of 2020? Big chunky boots. I am all over them myself. But I don’t really follow trends that much. My classic shapes and designs are always my best sellers. I intrudcue new colours and materials every season, but I won't change them.
- What is your favorite color shoe to wear? Oooooo…. It depends when you are asking. If I am missing the sun or not!! In all cases, I would say GOLD!
- Which shoe brands do you feel are the most exciting at the moment? Not sure, I don’t really know. But now that you asked, I will research. Everyone is wearing Veja here in London, so it gets a bit boring….
- What's your favorite style of shoe you've ever created and why? Fink. It’s so so so flattering, comfortbale and works with everything.
- How would you describe your relationship with your vendors and customers? Has Instagram made it easier to connect? Oh Instagram has been amazing. It got me so much closer to my customers. I want to tell them about me and about the process of designing and making shoes… About running a small business and being a mum. And they want to know it! So it’s great…. And I work very closely with my vendors and always refer customers to them.
In owning a brick + mortar store, how do you try and create an unforgettable experience, since a lot of brick + mortar stores seem to be dying out and online shopping is becoming superior? We know you have great success with online customers. Opening a brick and mortar shop has been amazing. My first ever experience in actually being able to show the design aesthetic and experience. My shop is a bit of a studio, as I work from there. When clients come in, they step into my world. The interior, the lighting, the music, the smell…. All add up to the experience. Plus I love meeting them and chatting to them. I have learned so much from my clients in the last year. What they tell you face to face is priceless. They won’t tell you in an email. Getting to know them better and what they are looking for….
- If you could have anyone model your shoes, who would you choose? Elena Brennan and Aubrie Costello. Women like you and me. Queens in our own kingdoms.
- Do you ever plan to design shoes in other categories e.g. children or men’s? I have. I have a small range of men’s shoes and kids shoes. Not sure it worked to be honest. I love the designs, but it’s a whole different ball game. Needs marketing, selling to different shops, photos, models, etc etc…. and there is only one of me. So I decided to just focus on what I do best, ladies shoes.
- Which is your favourite restaurant/shop/street/art gallery in London? It’s nearly impossible to say… but I love Peruvian food, small cosy restaurants, and Ceviche in Soho is high on my list. I used to live in East London, and loved every street, shop, art gallery there. Moved to West London 10 years ago but my heart is still partly there. I try to visit galleries and museums as much as possible, and there are many!!!
- Which is your favourite city in the world? Also a hard question. I miss the sun, so I am tempted to say Barcelona! But also New York. I guess it’s the memories you buid in these cities…. My heart is and will always be in Beirut, where I am from. But it’s a complicated love hate relationship, so not sure I can say my favorite city in the world. I need to visit Philly!!