Summer sale - up to 50% off. Shop now >

Meet the Designer – Emily Linnell

We talk to Start-Rite’s Footwear Designer, Emily Linnell, about her role and the adventures that give her inspiration when it comes to designing a new collection.

Emily Linnell

1. Tell us about your role at Start-Rite?
I started designing shoes for Start-Rite Shoes six years ago. I’ll never forget my first day, it was my birthday and I was really excited to join such a talented team of people. Cliché to say, I had always dreamt of working at Start-Rite. The factory had deep roots in Norwich’s historic footwear industry and my siblings and I grew up in Start-Rite shoes. Our mum would drive us to the Factory Outlet in her Vauxhall Astra seeking a bargain! At the time, my parents even worked in Norwich at the Christmas Cracker Factory!

2. Talk us through a typical day for you?
Each day my job brings something different. There’s so much more to a designer’s role than just ‘designing’. One day I’ll be researching trends and creating mood boards or writing up product specifications, other days I’ll be painting in watercolours for a new print or working with the Technical Team amending pattern pieces. I love multitasking in my role, it keeps things fun and interesting.

3. What do you find the most exciting part of your job?
I absolutely love to get out and explore, and as a designer, even the simplest thing can become an adventure. I’ll find fresh ideas at a trade show or talking to parents. I’ve even found innovative materials and methods from just walking around Norwich, where our Head Office is still based today!


Finding inspiration on a trip to Cambodia

4. Does your job take you to exciting places?
Putting our ranges together requires extensive travelling, both in the UK and internationally. I’ve been to some wonderful places. I’ve even been lucky enough to travel half-way around the world visiting factories in The Far East. One of my favourites is visiting Milan’s Leather Fair in Italy, where everyone from the industry comes together twice a year. Here we see brand new materials and trims and select what’s going into the range. It’s important we keep our fingers on the pulse with the latest silhouettes, materials and technologies. We also get to see the incredible architecture, particularly when visiting the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II right next to the Duomo di Milano. When in The Far East, I find it really rewarding when I see the shoes I’ve designed go from development prototypes in a samples room to production on the factory floors and then finally on to someone’s little feet!

5. Is there a certain process you work with when it comes to designing shoes?
People are always surprised with what’s involved in shoe design. My process usually begins with trend research, mood boards, gathering colour charts and ordering materials. From here we can proceed with the design part! We will design the range and only the strongest designs get selected to sample. This isn’t always a walk in the park - it’s likely we would have worked on several samples before we are happy with aesthetics, fit and wear - it’s important we get it right. I work extensively with our Technical Team, Product Manager and Research and Innovation Manager. Every day I learn something new and exciting!

6. Where do you get your inspiration from?
For our new range I was inspired by the places I visited this year. In the spring, my friends and I spent some time in Jersey, and in the mornings, we would beach comb as we walked the dog, collecting blue sea glass along the way, the pale lilacs in the sky would reflect on the water. The ethereal beauty of the sea inspired our SS20 range. We used shimmery materials, shiny, sparkling patents and soft pastels. In the summer, I went backpacking around Cambodia. The night markets in Phnom Penh were rich with colour and textures. In the night, on the Koh Rong Samloem Island, we swam with magical Bioluminescent Plankton. Natures luminescent occurrences, such as The Northern Lights inspired our AW20 colour stories.


Stunning views at Jersey beach

7. What skills do you need to become a Footwear Designer?
What’s fascinating about this industry is that every Footwear Designer I’ve met has a different story to tell. They all walked a different path to get to where they are today. My personal journey started with inspiration from my grandparents. My Grandma was an artist (which is where I get my drawing skills from) and my Grandfather was Master of the Worshipful Company of Curriers. Currying was the process of turning hides into leather. For numerous centuries it was one of the ancient and essential leather industries for the UK. I remember us going on lots of trips to Tanneries. I grew up learning all about leather and what interested me most is what it could be used for. To learn more, I enrolled on a Surface Pattern for leather course in 2008. For my 18th birthday my father bought me a book on shoe making. It was at this point I knew I wanted to be a Footwear Designer!

A few years later I graduated from the London College of Fashion, where my degree was in Cordwainers Footwear: Product Design and Development, we learnt about how shoes were made with the components alongside design. Throughout my time at LCF I had multiple jobs working in footwear retail learning what customers really wanted from their shoes. This helped me to get Design Internships within the children’s footwear industry. This definitely helped me get to where I am today at Start-Rite Shoes.

spring summer

Behind the scenes of spring/summer 20

8. What projects are you currently working on?
We’re in the initial stages of SS21 and finalising AW20. In design we work about 18 months ahead, so there are lots of closely guarded secrets and ideas we’re sampling and testing. Even now, I am beginning to think about things I could do with the autumn/winter 2021 range. Something I’m very excited about is the collaboration we’re working on with biomechanics experts, we’re inventing and designing some innovative concepts and technologies - so watch this space!

9. What products do you enjoy designing the most?
I really enjoy working on our spring/summer ranges. Those products are really fun to design as you can be a lot freer and creative, particularly our canvas styles. They’re great fun to design, as you can be playful with patterns and the design can be applied through digital and screen print. I really enjoy playing around with the graphics and seeing my designs come to life!

spring summer

A sneak peek of our new spring/summer 20 canvas

10. What would you say has been your greatest achievement at Start-Rite?
I still get a real rush when I spot my designs out and about. In this economic climate I am hugely grateful that customers still value Start-Rite’s durable and premium products - from Prince George to the little Emily’s of the world! We also put our customers first at Start-Rite and really care about the longevity of the brand and our products!

To shop our latest collection click HERE