the shoe designer strong as a bear
May 14, 2017
Hi Rebecca! Tell us a bit about yourself and your shoes!
My name is Rebecca, I'm 33, I moved from Stockholm about two and a half years ago to Helsingborg. One of the reasons that I moved was because I wanted to follow my dream to start my own shoe business. Living in Stockholm is very stressful and there's not much time left for anything than just work, and having a family is really difficult as well. I actually graduated almost ten years ago from Cordwainers at London College of Fashion.
When I came back from the UK I was very interested in working with shoes, but I found out that it was really difficult because the business is so slim. Most shoe companies are based in Varberg which is a small town in the south west of Sweden and I wasn’t ready to move then. They focus more on mainstream footwear and following massive trends and I've always had a passion for history and making things a little bit more complex than what's traditional Scandinavian style. I thought that it's now or never - I have to try it and that's what happened two years ago.
What are your shoes inspired by?
Scandinavian fashion is often very minimalistic, and colours tend to be a little bit towards the dull side. - I love colours and I'm very much inspired by nature. I wanted to bring together my name and the saying "being strong as a bear", I want women to feel strong, beautiful and powerful when they wear my shoes. Because these shoes are not your typical shoes, they stand out. I think that women should be able to stand their ground and just follow their dreams, whatever they are.
Tell us about your design process when you develop a new pair of shoes!
Well, shoes are quite complex. There are two different parts of it; of course the design but it also has to connect with the technical manufacturing. To just draw shoes on a blank piece of paper never quite worked for me. You need to know how to manufacture shoes and what works and what doesn't.
You always have to bear in mind that leather is expensive and if you have a full boot with no cuts, you need to buy more leather. So there's a lot of things that goes hand in hand when making the shoes and the process is very different. I always get an idea about what I want to do and spend a lot of time just thinking about it. Most of the time I draw directly in Illustrator as I need to send the drawings to the factory, they need to be very technical.
So the first thing of course is to get the inspiration and to start drawing, then you have to think about how to actually make it. If I hadn't studied shoe design, I would not have been able to do this. It's a really important piece of knowledge. I'm not a technical engineer working with shoes in a factory every day, so everytime when I visit the factory I learn so much. The attention to detail is truly remarkable. It's pure craftsmanship.
Which part would you say is the most creative?
I love both, I love to design but I love to make new samples.The designing part is where I can find my core values and really express what I feel and what I want to develop. But it always has a connection to the craftsmanship and the manufacture. It's really important for me to be a part of everything. Knowing how to do the pattern cutting to sourcing materials and just be part of the whole journey.
So you make the designs in Illustrator and then you send them to the factory that make samples and then what?
They start making the patterns for each shoe and start making the samples and fittings, and that's REALLY important. I can't always be on site for the fitting and no matter what it’s a working progress. The first sample is more of a mockup of the design but it needs to be 98% correct as it will be shown to buyers and press during fashion week. It's a fun process to be a part of, I love it. After samples are finished we need to prepare for fashion weeks!
That's another thing, there's always a lack of time. I get the shoes delivered and the day after or even the same day they need to get to the photo studio for product photos for the look book [a presentation of the collection, Ed.] . It has to work for both buyers and press. Buyers want all the technical details of the heel height, material, prices, etc. and the press want photos. Then it's time for fashion week! During the past year I've shown at London Fashion week, Paris Fashion week, Shanghai Fashion week and Stockholm Fashion week. That’s when you feel like you're doing this for real. Because when you sit at home it's a different thing, you need to be out there and be part of the business.
Since you are doing this on your own, who do you turn to when you need advice or a second opinion?
I don't have someone specific to talk to, but i get advice from the right people in the business. Nobody tells you how to run a company, you have to find that out for yourself and follow your own path. I think you need to always take a step back and be realistic. I've made a million mistakes this year, but I've also done a lot of good things and I think you need to think about the positive things and not give up. I'm extremely competitive.
You said that you moved to Helsingborg to get more time, but what made you take the ultimate decision to pick up design again?
Well, I've been working with other companies and doing things that was really fun at times, but it ended up being too stressful. So the main reason to move was to get more time for me. I ended up working for another company here, a PR agency, and we had so much fun but it wasn't what I wanted to do. And I thought that if I'm going try this, it's now or never, I need to try it. If it doesn't work at least I can say that I made an effort. This is my passion, I love shoes and I love to be creative and this is my path. I would love to establish my business and have people around me that have the same passion. It has to be fun to go to work. Not every day, but it needs to be more fun than stressful, it's really important. You only live once.
When I got back home from my studies I realised that I couldn’t do the shoe design here so I thought, I need to get more experience. I was young, 22, when I got back home and I would never have been able to do this back then. I started working in different kinds of areas - I ended up working as an assistant at a PR agency and from there I got more experience working as a project manager and it was really helpful to get that kind of drive and to know how to plan things. And also to know what to expect and that it’s not a smooth ride, you need to know that there's going to be delays. If I hadn’t done that for six years this would have been a disaster, there were so many problems from day one. Just finding a factory took me one year. Now I produce in Italy and Italian and Swedish companies work very different. Swedes are very strict, you deliver on time and you do things in steps.
But when you come to Italy it’s a completely different lifestyle, and when you go down there you understand why, because people are happy, they are smiling in the factory, they are making jokes and they work hard, they do. But they it’s not the end of the world if they deliver one or two days late, for me it’s a disaster because of the short time frame, so that has been a struggle. Also when you’re new and have very low volumes it´s challenging, these factories are used to produce for the luxury fashion houses with massive volumes. So you need to find someone who believes in you, but that's not always going to be enough. It’s been a year since we started, but for me one year is like a ten year period of time, we finally are starting to get some results and we can develop more shoes and then the factory starts to believe in me as well. It goes hand in hand so it’s really difficult to start. It doesn't always mean you need to be talented, you have to be really stubborn and not give up.
Who is your dream customer?
My dream customer has already come true – Lady Gaga. I remember me and my mom, we were talking about it when I started and my mom asked me who I would want to see wearing my shoes. And I said, “Well, Lady Gaga or Rihanna would be amazing, but that’s not going to happen.” And then all of a sudden I got an email on a really rainy and gloomy day in December from my PR agency saying “Lady Gaga has been wearing your shoes out in London” and I was like “whaaat?” So I was just scrolling down the photos and I saw her exiting a hotel wearing a pair of red boots. So that was amazing!
Is creativity a part of you?
Yes. I’ve always been very creative. My mom and my dad have both been very creative craftsmen. Since I was small we’ve always been drawing and painting and I started making my own clothes when I was twelve. And my parents told me that when I was 22 and we had a party and they told their friends that “it’s funny with Rebecca because she’s always sitting in her room and it’s really quiet, and then she comes out and asks for some paper thing and other thingy and then she just goes straight back into her room and closes the door and continues to do whatever she’s doing.” I think that’s quite true, because when I think back, I’ve always been- I like to just close the door, listen to music and just sit and draw and make patterns and do my own clothes. I feel really at peace (when it’s not stressful).
" It doesn't always mean you need to be talented, you have to be really stubborn and not give up."
How do you cope with stress?
Today I’m working full-time teaching at a school, and I do shoes during my spare time. Every evening, I do it on weekends and it’s really difficult to get everything in place because there's not much time but it’s always there. During lunch I answer email, I always try to get things going. Of course it’s not what I want to do for a long time, but I want this so badly that it’s worth it. And I believe in this so much because from day one I’ve got positive feedback from the industry and if I didn’t have that I would have given up a long time ago. It’s hard but when I go to Italy or a fashion week it’s so much fun and it gives me so much energy.
What do you want the brand Rebecca Björnsdotter to stand for?
Power. I want it to be connected with a kind of Nordic hero or goddess. I want women to feel like they can do whatever they want and I think that the shoes have that kind of Nordic influence and the logo with the bear’s head, it’s always there and it’s being strong - strong as a bear.