Footwear Design student wins prestigious national competition

An ‘outstanding body of work’ has earned Jihee Ahn a £5,000 first prize in the prestigious Footwear Awards 2021 hosted by The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers.

The final-year Footwear Design student at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) won over the judging panel of industry leaders with a six-piece collection inspired by postmodernist designs and furniture, particularly the silhouette of light fixtures.

Jihee Ahn's award-winning footwear collection

“I never expected to be a winner, I’m so honoured, thrilled and proud of myself. I will never forget the moment my name was called. This is such a opportunity as a young designer who will graduate soon,” said the 24-year-old from South Korea.

Coursemate Maartje den Boer was also recognised with a £400 commendation for her collection, which reflects the curves of the female body while exploring the possibility of arousing desire without revealing nudity.

Open to graduating designers from UK universities specialising in footwear, the awards embody the company’s core purpose of encouraging and supporting young talent. Students submit their digital portfolios anonymously so judges can remain impartial, and for 2021 due to Covid-19, the winners were announced online.

Chair of the judging panel Katie Greenyer said: “We had the enviable task of escaping our day jobs and entering into the minds of these passionate, extremely talented footwear designers. They’re a real credit to the universities and their staff, who work incredibly hard to drive, nurture and direct the students in incredibly challenging times, to become the best crop of footwear designers globally.

“Jihee Ahn’s was an outstanding body of work. All of the judges were totally blown away and we thoroughly enjoyed her thumbnail sketches, different variations, colour, and how she put her spec sheets together. An absolutely beautiful first place.”

A 3D printer was used to bring Jihee's primary design to life

Importing her initial sketches into Adobe Photoshop, Jihee was able to create colourful and unpredictable designs with complicated silhouettes, all connected by a unique light pendant feature.

Due to the pandemic Jihee was unable to physically make her prototype, but as part of DMU’s comprehensive support package for students, she was able to send her digital concepts to her course technicians who then 3D-printed one of her designs.

She said: “I’m just really thankful to my tutors and technicians for their constant care and advice.

“I’ve been interested in art and footwear design since childhood and studying abroad was like imagining working in a global company, which is the dream. My parents were supportive and studying with many international students at DMU has really improved my ability to communicate.”

Maartje den Boer was commended for her collection

Maartje impressed the judges by combining leather and sheer voile materials to manipulate the silhouette of traditional footwear. She used details like wide belt straps to ‘cinch’ in the ankle and create an hourglass shape between the toes and the calf, showing that sensuality and desire can be achieved without exposure.

“I never expected to win during a really difficult year. Not being in the creative environment at university nor receiving in-person feedback from academics made it challenging to meet the high expectations I have for myself,” said the 27-year-old from the Netherlands.

“It’s amazing to have my work recognised and awarded by such important people, as well as showcased online. I still can’t really believe I’m in the top five of all footwear students in the country.”

Close up of one of Maartje's designs

Highlights from the winners’ portfolios, including Jihee and Maartje’s, can be viewed online.

Posted on Friday 25th June 2021

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