Making Shoes with Sylven New York
Casey Dworkin, founder and creative director of Sylven New York, leads us through the step-by-step process of creating sustainable and chic shoes.
Step 1: Inspiration
When I first sit down to design a collection, I think about the woman who will be wearing my shoes. Who is she, what does she need, and what else does she have in her wardrobe? Then I almost always turn to a combination of nature and interior architecture to get inspired by new shapes and forms. Rich textures are key, and nature is full of them! I put together inspiration boards of all of these different elements and refer back to them throughout my entire design process.
Step 2: Sketching
My sketching process typically begins with rough thumbnails. I’ll fill a page or two with ideas based on my inspiration boards, mostly just to get my brain and sketching hand aligned. Then I develop some of those ideas further and start to put together more detailed drawings with lots of notes.
Step 3: Refinement
Once I finalize an idea for a new style, I start to refine details and put together more technical measurements for the artisans at my factories in Italy who will create the first prototype.
After the style is designed and refined, then I start to think about the materials and components. A ton of research goes into this phase. Whenever possible, I try to prototype my shoes in the final materials so we can see how they adapt to the design.
Step 4: Selecting and testing our sustainable materials
With so many new developments in the world of sustainable materials, I am constantly in touch with my Italian factory partners to determine what materials to use for the collection. When we first developed our vegan apple leather styles, the factory needed time to learn how to work with the material. We learned it was stiffer than our vegetable tanned leathers, and it took multiple trials to get the prototype looking smooth and refined.
In the trial phase, we make what are called "pullovers," which are the pattern of the shoe cut out of leather (or vegan leather) without the heel or sole attached. This minimizes waste by limiting full prototypes, but allows us to see how the materials will react when shaped and formed.
Step 5: Putting together the Full Collection
After our prototype and material trials, I work with my factories to make adjustments to any measurements or details that need work. Then comes my favorite part: selecting the final materials for every style across multiple colors.
It’s really important to me to offer both leather and vegan options of my styles, and sometimes I have to make adjustments to the way the shoes are made in order to achieve this. I like to gather as many components as possible for reference and start to render each shoe in different colors and materials so I can see how the collection merchandises together fully.
Step 6: Bringing Them to Life
After all of the final materials are confirmed for each style, I get a sample of each and every one and we photograph them for our website and marketing. I love being able to bring the styles to life and to see them modeled by the types of women that inspired the designs in the first place.
All photos are courtesy of Sylven New York and MBZPhotog.