Photo Credit: Petr Huser

In Conversation With: Zuzana Bahulova

May 1, 2021

Global Footwear Awards Category winner Zuzana Bahulova discussed Vi-Tech Footwear Skin, GFA 2020 winning design.

Making its debut on the international design stage, Global Footwear Awards (GFA) has begun its global search to identify the most innovative design in footwear.Hi-Tech Footwear Skin was awarded the best in medical category for pro level.

Hi-Tech Footwear Skin  is a functional and aesthetical footwear for woman. Unique upper construction react to swelling of the legs and has a long-term reversible deformability. The functionality of the footwear is supported by an innovative sole construction with breathable membrane.
The project partner is the company BAŤA, a.s.


Zuzana’s background

Zuzana Bahulova is a Czech designer, and currently working for the Footwear Research Centre at Tomas Bata University in Zlín. Doctor Bahulova has a PhD in animation and during her studies she was on several prestigious stays abroad, one of them was at the CalArts in the USA, established by Walt Disney. Her projects won prestigious design awards such as Global Footwear Awards, Red Dot and German Innovation Awards. You could see her clothes collection for the Olympic Games worn by German and Jamaican national teams. Recently, Dr. Bahulova has been selected for one of the 100 Marshall Memorial Fellowships 2021.


GFA talks with Zuzana about her winning project.

What do you see as the strengths of your winning project? 

The combination of new technologies, design, functionality and the medical support of the product.


What does this award mean to you personally?  

It is a great honor and achievement for my team from our Footwear Research Centre.  


What was most important for you when working on this project and what were the biggest challenges you faced?

Good teamwork in the process of creation and reaching all our goals. I would say that the combination of the design part and following all technology rules need to be done for realizing a successful product. 


What is your guiding design principle?

Simplicity, functionality and reaching the customer needs ideally including good esthetic aspects.  


Where do you get motivation and inspiration from for your work? 

 From the observation of other people, the environment, watching at products wherever I travel. 


How/when did you discover that you wanted to work in design?

Creativity is something natural for me and people with whom I am working. In kids’ age we were all very creative in my family. I never stopped being creative. During my childhood I started building houses from Lego now I am building products for real customers. The principles are the same. Good ideas and following my passion.


Is there something [shoes or any other product] that you wished you had designed?

It is always good to be the first in anything. Maybe when I could be like Ötzi.:) He produced one of the first winter shoes cca 5,300-year ago.


How do you think your own culture and environment has shaped your personal and professional creative vision? 

My parents always told me: “Do what you enjoy. Follow your heart.” So I try to follow that advice and combined with hard workI I had a chance to be a coworker with great colleagues, mentors or customers. All together influenced my creative vision. 


Tell us about a project which has been your greatest achievement?

One of the biggest achievements is that my team for this project “Hitech footwear skin” got an award at Global Footwear Awards. We are very glad that the jury matches all our innovations combined with modern design. The development took us two years and was supported by the University Tomas Bata in Zlin and the Czech Technology Agency.


Which designer in footwear industry do you most admire and why?

I wouldn’t say designer but manufacturer Tomas Bata. He established the company BATA. In his factories were employed several generations of my family and relatives. He built up the city where I was born and the impact you can see on every corner in Zlin. 


How do you feel footwear design has evolved over the past years and how do you see it evolving in the future? 

As my mentor Professor Saha mentions, that is great visionar mentions. In all industrial fields you could see great progress regarding innovations, unfortunately in the shoe industry not so much. I can just agree with him. People are looking for individuals so they prefer original shoes designed for them or by them. 


What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career and the industry now?

To speak globally about industry in this COVID time when nothing is predictable is very difficult. For me and my team would be great to do another project that is at least half successful as this one “Hi tech footwear skin” would be amazing.


What would be your dream design project?

My dream is to design shoes for rowing boats. I am a designer of sport collection for Olympic games for several national teams in rowing. Nevertheless shoes I haven’t designed yet. I did that sport on a professional level so I understand very well all the functionalists and innovation that needs to be done. 


What’s your creative process and what creative software do you use?

Paper and pencil are the basis of the working process for me. Next step is choose materials and make a visualization, print out a 3D model after that can be done as the first prototype. Software – Adobe suits.


What kind of questions do you ask before beginning a shoe design?  What piece of information is of utmost value?

It is necessary to set up goals and answer several questions like: for whom I am designing, what are the functions etc.   


What kind of culture or structure needs to exist to foster successful team collaboration?

Creating a “Team Passion” to achieve something new, innovative and useful. 


How do you deal with feedback?

Feedback for me as a designer is one of the most important things. It can be very painful but constructive criticism can push me to reach my limits to design something great.


What are you working on now, what is in the pipeline for you?

The Footwear Research Center belongs under Tomas Bata University. Actually we are working on applying for a grants for new projects. More information I am not authorized for.


How has the pandemic affected your work and design process?

As well as to many other people, the pandemic complicated our plans and lifes. When it started we had been in the middle of the process with designated protype “Hi tech footwear skin”. Thanks to all my colleagues, we finished all our goals more or less without losing time and this was our target.


How do you feel about the topic of sustainability in regards to footwear design in general?

I see it very positively that many people are talking about that and it is one of the priorities of many companies. When customers will ask for that, companies will be more and more pushed to produce sustainable products.


What would you tell your younger self seeing you winning the awards?

Your dream turned into reality, well done.


What is your design mantra you live by?

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning how to dance in the rain.” Vivian Greene, Author


With so many designs coming out daily, how do you keep pushing boundaries in footwear deign?

I believe in myself. 


Where do you start when tackling innovative design solutions?

First is to check issues that need to be solved. 


What advice would you give to future aspiring footwear designers?

Follow your dreams – always think new.  


What do you think will keep pushing the footwear industries forward?

New technologies will offer other possibilities on how to produce comfortable individual shoes in a reasonable time and acceptable prices for most of the population.


What do you wish to see more of in the footwear industries?

 As an artist I should say more extravagant shoes. Nevertheless, as a human being I think higher priority has health for that reason I would say medi shoes.


How do you handle pressure in design?

I keep my own paths. When I am working on a project I don’t care about time, my personal needs, or other designs.  I am 100% focused on completing the project successfully.


How do you feel about the impact of new technology towards footwear design and the industry as a whole?

It is another natural step to produce better shoes. It is like the evolution is always in progress and that’s great.


Photo Credit: Petr Huser