Monthly Parenting Magazine

Interview: Ali McAleavy, founder of Zig + Star

Interview: Ali McAleavy, founder of Zig + Star

Zig Star

Absolutely Mama meets Ali McAleavy, the North-London based mama-of-three and founder of cool and sustainable children’s footwear brand Zig + Star…


How did you start Zig + Star and what’s the story behind the brand? 

I worked in fashion for over 20 years and I absolutely loved my job (I was Head of Buying at Topshop). But over time, I became more disillusioned at how priorities had begun to shift. My job had been about creating beautiful products but as more value retailers began to enter the market, suddenly it became about speed, lower pricing, and higher quantities of product, none of which was sustainable. 

Then in 2017, while on maternity leave with my third child Ziggy, I started to think more and more about this idea that had been niggling away in my head. I’d always found the prospect of shoe shopping for my kids such a drag… Everything felt so heavily gendered and it always felt like there was a compromise to be made – podiatrist approved product was boring, and cooler designed product, such as sports, was not great for kids’ developing feet. Also, sustainability was not even talked about in the kids’ footwear market. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and start developing what I wanted for my own kids: cool unisex design, great quality and fit, all tied together with a strong sustainability mission.


Where do you get your inspiration from? 

A lot of my inspiration for the brand has come from being a parent and understanding what works and what doesn’t. For example, fussy buckle straps and laces were a big no… I wanted shoes that kids could get on and off independently. In some respects, it was reacting to what I DIDN’T like in kids’ footwear, rather than what I did. I’ve never liked the way the design for some kids’ products felt a bit dumbed down… I definitely felt there was a big gap for cool, simple and unisex design in kids’ footwear. But, probably the biggest driver of design was trying to find a way to reduce the waste that comes from kids growing out of their shoes so quickly… hence we developed our Good-To-Grow design concept that allows our shoes to grow with the child.

What’s your design process and how are your shoes made? 

I spent nearly three years working on the product development before launch. I worked with expert last makers here in the UK to create the initial prototypes, and collaborated with a paediatric podiatrist to ensure they were perfect for a child’s developing feet. Then it was rounds of sampling to get the fit, function and aesthetic just right. If you want make sure all aspects of foot health are covered, you need to start with the shape of a child’s foot and then refine the design around that to make sure they look good. We have developed our own unique lasts which is costly and time consuming but means it’s exactly to our specification… 


How important is sustainability to the brand?

It’s the starting point for every single decision we make… from how we design the shoes to make recycling easier, how we pick materials to be durable and biodegradable, what packaging we use, who we collaborate with, even what retailers we work with. We look at everything through the lens of reducing waste and environmental impact, so if decisions don’t stand up to that scrutiny, we won’t do it.

Are there any exciting things coming up that we should watch out for this season? 

Well, we just had our first Back-to-School season, which was a complete sell out, so that was amazing. But I am most excited about the sustainable trainer project we are working on. We start with the end of life in mind, so our priority is to make it easy to break down, recycle and biodegrade. It will have cool unisex design, amazing comfort and flexibility, and of course our Good-to-Grow removable midsole which allows our shoes to grow by half a size and last even longer! I’m working on the colours and prints as we speak and I really do think they will look amazing.

How do you juggle the business with being a busy mama? 

It’s not easy! I work from home a lot of the time which is great as I can be more flexible and around for the kids when they need me (I have 3!) but equally it can mean there is no obvious start or finish. I will often pause work when they get home from school and then carry on working until the early hours after they’ve gone to bed. That’s not for everyone but it works for me…. I find my brain works better in the evening anyway!


What are the most important things parents should be mindful of when buying shoes for their little ones? 

People can feel overwhelmed choosing shoes for kids but there are three simple things to look out for… Firstly, is it actually foot shaped – does it looks like your child’s foot can comfortably sit inside the shoe and have room for their toes to spread and wiggle? Secondly, is it flexible? The bones in kids’ feet are still developing right into their teens and so a flexible sole is really important for natural movement without restriction. Lastly, adjustability is really important – the more adjustable the design, the better fit and support for your child’s feet.

And finally, what does a perfect family day look like for you? 

We live in north London so a nice day for us would be a long walk on Hampstead Heath with our dog Boo, followed by a Sunday lunch in Highgate. There are lots of great pubs there but we love the Red Lion and Sun. They also have great charity shops there and we love having a good old rummage in them! Then I’d finish off with a cosy movie night on the sofa with cheese and crackers (and then the kids would put themselves to bed!).

With thanks to Ali McAleavy, founder of

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