We get the lowdown on babies, business and the work-life balance from Louise Shill, founder of luxury children’s shoe start-up Young Soles
When and why did you get the idea to start Young Soles?
Shoes have been my passion right from an early age, when I used to make paper shoes with my mum from a few sheets of tatty paper and a reel of sticky tape. I’ve followed a career in footwear design, developing footwear around the world for various companies, but I really had my heart set on working for myself. After my daughter arrived, I became frustrated by the lack of choice on the high street for classic styles for kids. While there is a wealth of sensible school shoes, sneakers and sparkles, I wanted to be able to buy simple yet cool-looking kids’ shoes. I’m hugely influenced by British heritage brands and retro styling and could see that there was a definite gap in the market for higher-end designs for children. My business, Young Soles, was launched last year as a result.
What has the experience taught you?
I’ve quickly had to get used to being out of my usual design and development comfort zone as I embrace the many different roles involved in running a business. Working for myself has given me a great deal of flexibility, which is a luxury lots of working mums don’t have, but it’s a challenge getting the work-life balance just right – and it’s important to take time out too.
Have you thought about doing shoes for adults too? Matching pairs for kids and parents?
We recently increased our sizes up to a UK 5 (38) in our brogues, T-bars and sandals after countless requests from mums. And now that we’ve tapped into the emerging ‘mummy and me’ trend, we may increase these sizes further in the future.
Have you always been interested in heritage and retro designs?
I’ve always found that vintage and heritage styling offers the perfect treasure trove of inspiration. I love iconic British brands such as Grenson and Liberty, and admire their traditional approach to design. I like to borrow from childhood memories, music or a particular style movement for my own collections. In fact, the Young Soles signature ‘Rosie’ is inspired by a T-bar shoe my brother wore as a child.
How influenced are you by music? And does it play a big part in your kids’ lives too?
I’ve been greatly influenced by a mixture of Eighties and Nineties music for Young Soles collections in the past. For the AW15 photoshoot, we chose The Smiths This Charming Man as our theme and shot it in a beautiful flower shop in Sheffield, creating a wonderful autumnal colour palette. We have a great vinyl collection at home and since my daughter loves to dance, there’s always music on in the house.
How do you style your own child?
I like to keep it simple and will mix up contemporary clothing with vintage pieces. Young Soles shoes complement a variety of outfits, from skinny jeans to pretty floral dresses. It’s a great feeling when people stop us in the street and ask where my daughter’s shoes are from.
What’s the most important thing to remember when designing shoes for young kids or toddlers?
There are many elements to consider when designing shoes for little ones. Our designs are focused on what’s most important for growing feet: lasts that follow the shape of the foot with a wide toe and narrow heel, soft uppers and linings that mould to the contours of the foot and finally, a lightweight and flexible outsole so that kids aren’t weighed down. Keeping designs simple yet ‘on trend’ is also important, ensuring the shoes are versatile and work with many different outfit options.
Has setting up your own business made it more of a challenge to balance work and life as a mum?
It’s always tough when launching a new business. Balancing work and family life is a constant challenge, especially at the start when you have to put many hours into building your business up from scratch. I will always be a mother first and foremost, but I also feel it’s important to follow your passions in life. I hope that by building my own business I can show my daughter that if you work hard, you can achieve anything that you put your mind to. I’m of the philosophy that a happy parent equals a happy child, so getting the balance just right is essential.
What’s next for the Young Soles brand? Would you consider working with other products?
Having launched last year, we hope to go from strength to strength and continue this fantastic momentum. This year we are introducing soft baby/first walking shoes to the range in our signature T-bar and brogue styles. I’d love to collaborate with a clothing or accessory brand in the future – ideally a British brand with the same ethos as Young Soles.