A lot goes into making a product. Take a pair of sneakers, for example. There are the designers who dream up the shoe in the first place. Then, there are the materials, and the people that make or source those materials. With a shoe, you’ve got the upper to think about, and the midsole, the outsole, the laces, the insole, and the list goes on. Then, when you’ve got all those materials, you need someone (or something) to put it all together. Not to mention all the people in between who transport and provide logistics to make the whole thing work.
So, if a lot goes into a regular pair of shoes, even more goes into Helen Kirkum’s first ready-to-wear sneaker, the Palimpsest. Debuted at London Fashion Week last week, the Palimpsest is “an ode to the process of making” and an exhibition of what Kirkum calls “radical transparency”. Every step of the process is made clear for all to see on the product page.
The output at Kirkum’s London studio is usually bespoke footwear, made-to-order for specific customers who can send in their pre-loved kicks to be disassembled and transformed into something new. This is Kirkum’s first foray into ready-to-wear – an everyday sneaker but with all the layered meaning that we love about her creations.
Where to start. The dictionary definition of a palimpsest is “something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.” That’s certainly true of this one.
Kirkum’s Palimpsest is a version of a luxury white low-top sneaker that looks simple from first glance but reveals more details as you discover the layers of collaged materials. The upper is made from repurposed sneaker leather. You’ll catch glimpses of a Reebok or Ellesse logo, or what you might think are the eyelets from a pair of Vans. The materials are sourced by Traid Warehouse in London, and then stitched by Love Welcomes, an organization that provides work to refugee women.
Looking inside, the lining is made from corn leather, a plant-based alternative, while the insoles are made from 98 percent recycled content. The sole is made from industrial waste and produced in Portugal. Even the heel tabs are made from single multicolored laces collected during the material hunting process. In total, around 30 components go into each pair.
All the suppliers, factories and manufacturers are named in the product listing, demonstrating how integral they are to the process of making this shoe and the respect that Kirkum gives them. “For us, our goals include encouraging new ways of working in the British footwear industry and advocating for sustainable materials and practices,” Kirkum told Sneaker Freaker. “This includes elevating and supporting our factories, manufacturers, and suppliers.”
The Palimpsest comes with a hefty price tag, but that’s reflective of the number of materials, processes and people that go into making it. And you’re getting much more than a shoe. You’re getting an object full of meaning. As Kirkum said, “I love the idea that we’re re-writing stories and memories of all the recycled pairs through our creations.”
Pre-orders have ended but keep an eye on the Helen Kirkum website for more products in the future.