The shoes of the independent brand for the creatively confident are inspired by architecture and built for the urbanite on the move.
Buying a new pair of shoes is one of those personally rewarding events in life that satisfies us more than any article of clothing. A new pair of shoes is a symbol of a new beginning, new foundation, and a new direction. In Canada, ministers of finance have a generations-old tradition of purchasing a new pair of shoes on the day that the budget is delivered. When that tradition began, nobody knows, but the point is to show confidence.
When we want to get a new pair of shoes, we often go to shops that we know, but has it ever occurred to us that we may be missing out on a level of satisfaction by only purchasing mass-produced commercial footwear? Are the most comfortable shoes that you have never worn just waiting for you to find them?
Tania Ursomarzo is the founder and creative director of TRIPTYCH, an artisanal footwear brand. They specialise in “architecturally inspired footwear for bodies in motion.” Although the brand is based in New York, the shoes are manufactured in Italy.
“My shoes are complicated to make and unconventional,” explains Ursomarzo. “I am not making a commercial product that people can easily identify with that is already on the market.” Most of the shoes that we see in shops are simple to produce, use generic materials, and custom components, with constructions specific to each brand.
Ursomarzo, who teaches footwear construction at the Parsons School of Design in New York, does all of the prototyping before sending her drawings to Italy to a manufacturer that has been in operations for four generations. “My shoes are based on the Northern-Italian tradition of artisanal footwear, which is a 100 percent handmade process.” she describes. “It is an old method, and I was interested in reviving a sustainable, ethical, and beautiful craft, but making it relevant and contemporary to design. It is a new product in an old method.”
In Ursomarzo’s opinion, there is no need for the mass production of footwear, because it is destroying the environment, unlike an artisanal process which uses much less energy. “We need to re-evaluate our relationship with consumption,” opines Ursomarzo, “and I am interested in adding more value to that.” She believes that every object that is made should be sustainable in some way, able to be reused, redistributed, recycled, and even planted. Most people throw out old socks at some point, because socks are very hard to pass on to someone else, but imagine wearing biodegradable clothing that you could put in your vegetable garden.
“We are living in an unprecedented time in terms of consumption, but there is so much waste.” observes Ursomarzo. “If you are going to make something new, and you are going to birth a new product to the market, what are you doing to contribute to the advancement of the discipline?” She poses that question to all creative endeavors, not just footwear design. It is the type of environmentally conscious thinking that can even be found among architects, who believe that the solution to a design problem does not necessarily mean a new building. With buildings contributing more than a third of the CO2 emissions in the world, architects make an effort to do adaptive reuse of old buildings, as part or all of a project. In fashion, an article of clothing can be transported between multiple countries during the production process before it finally gets to the consumer. Then there is the harm that fast fashion does to the environment, as clothing is wasted to make way for the next season’s garment. For Ursomarzo and many other likeminded creative professionals, we need to rethink the approach to everything that we produce. This is why she focuses on creating unique shoes that people will want to own for life and not throw them out like generic commercial footwear.
“A lot of people tell me that they have never seen this before,” Ursomarzo says, for which she responds, “yes, because you have not. There are things that I invented and things that I advanced. I feel like that is my responsibility as a designer.” There are many brands that produce different variations of products that are already on the market, with no real advancement in product design, but still manage to find investment for their manufacturing and marketing to the public. Going against the established norms of the footwear industry does have its risks and challenges.
“My market is very niche,” says Ursomarzo. “They are creatively confident customers. Those are the people who gravitate to my brand. I have a small customer base, but people who buy my shoes will buy multiple pairs.” TRIPTYCH sells footwear directly to the consumer, bypassing the retailers that carry established brands with marketing money in the millions. Customers come in contact with TRIPTYCH through collaborations with independent shoe stores, popup shops at design trade shows, through their website, and social media platforms.
“Your feet are constantly in motion, so you are never seeing the same perspective of a shoe,” she says. “My background is in dance, and I’m an architect. I’ve always been sensitive to how people occupy and move through space.” Unlike clothing that has a structure that is made for movement, shoes need a stronger structure that still facilitates the movement and flexibility of the foot, but is solid enough to prevent against lower back pain and support for your soles.
“What’s interesting about footwear design compared to other types of fashion design is that even a very minute change, like dropping a zipper, changing the size of the opening on a shoe, or changing the leather, can change the metrics and the fit of a shoe.”
Words Phil Roberts