A Conversation on the 2022 Brand of the Year | Marjolijn Van Agt
May 4, 2023
Global Footwear Awards 2022 Category winner Marjolijn Van Agt discusses her vision for the SPLIT Collection.
Marjolijn completed her studies in Industrial Footwear Design at d’Academie Beeld Sint-Niklaas (formerly SASK/Academy of Fine Arts Sint-Niklaas). In 2021, she founded Vanagtshoes, a handmade shoemaking business where she designs and creates shoes for a diverse range of customers.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your professional journey? How did the design come to have such an important role in your life?
Ever since I was little I liked making things ‘pretty’. First I studied visual merchandise but missed the aspect of craftsmanship, especially working with my hands and creating things out of nothing. I’ve always loved shoes and I would go out and buy shoes that didn’t even fit just so I could display them in my home as artwork. So after I graduated from both industrial footwear design and the shoe design program at the Academy of Fine Arts Sint-Niklaas I started my own business in shoemaking.
Is there a philosophy, a vision, or a special process that influences how you approach design? Would you say that you apply it to your life as well?
Whilst designing I like to go with the flow because only then do new ideas come to me. It’s a good idea to have a design set on paper to start with, but I love that during the process of making, the materials get a life of their own, creating new shapes and styles. I try to apply this in my life as well but unfortunately ‘going with the flow’ isn’t always possible with a newborn baby.
How did you come up with the vision for the SPLIT Collection? Have you always wanted to incorporate the duality of femininity and edginess in your designs?
Absolutely! I’ve always been attracted to things that are edgy and unique. Dark but feminine. The SPLIT collection was designed with my personal style in mind. In school, I learned that whenever you design your ‘final design’ you can always take it one step further! That’s how I came up with the heel shape. You would think this is the easiest collection to design because it’s everything I love, but it’s not easy to stick to just one of the many creative ideas, create a coherent collection, and don’t deviate from this track of mind.
What kind of feedback have you received and how do you deal with it?
The people around me and my loved ones are always very supportive. Obviously, not everyone likes everything as much as I do and sometimes people don’t understand but that’s ok. Life would get very boring if we all liked the same stuff!
What did you find most challenging while working on the collection and what did you enjoy the most?
I’m impatient so molding and sanding five pairs of heels wasn’t the most fun. I had no idea how to make them since I had never done such complicated heels before and they all needed to look the same. I’ve learned so many new tricks for making these heels. The moment they were sanded, coloured, and covered in glitter I was very proud of myself.
Which designers do you admire the most? Do you take inspiration from their work when diving into a new project?
There are so many great (shoe) designers it’s hard to choose. Personally, I love the designs of Carolin Hulzhuber. Her shoes are equally beautiful and eccentric. Wearable pieces of art!
What does winning the GFA Awards mean to you in terms of validation and recognition of your work in the footwear design industry?
I’m very honoured the GFA jury chose my brand as Brand of the Year. It is wonderful to see that even though my brand is still small I get validation for the work I put into it so far.
Are you currently working on something new that you can tell us about?
Currently, I’m working on three pairs of shoes I drew when I was around 16 years old. I’ve always held onto the drawings but never had the time to bring them to life.
How do you want people to feel when wearing your designs?
Empowered, sexy, edgy. The right pair of shoes can make you feel confident and strong even if you’re in your PJ’s. I encourage people to be exactly who they are and express themselves.
Do you find sustainable design important when developing your pieces?
It’s always important to have the future in mind when creating anything but it is not something I’m actively working on when making shoes from scratch. On the other hand, my business is about creating timeless pieces, repurposing materials, and repairing goods so I guess that’s the sustainable part!
What led you to start your own handmade shoe-making business?
I like the way I can express myself creatively through my work. It calms my mind to work with my hands and create something out of nothing. It’s what I like doing most. Nowadays most fashion is fast fashion, it’s cheap and accessible. With my business, I would like to encourage people to create a timeless piece themselves or bring in their old (leather) goods and bring them back to life instead of buying new items.
How do you see your work evolving in the future, and what new sources of inspiration do you hope to explore?
I am nowhere near where I would like to be. I’m not a robot, I have flaws I need to work on like knowing when to start over instead of trying to fix something that I messed up. I try to get better with every pair of shoes I make. In the future, I would like to evolve in my craftmanship and expand my atelier. Hopefully, I’ll explore new materials and different ways to create my work.
What advice would you offer to aspiring designers who dream of creating meaningful designs such as yours?
Whenever you get stuck on your designs you need to unwind for a bit. Go outside to get some fresh air or dance to your favourite music. Whatever helps you to get your mind away from your work. When you get back you write down the first 10 things you can think of and merge those things into your designs. There are no wrong ideas! You’ll be surprised by the fresh designs you’ll get.