Liz Ciokajlo

In Conversation With: Liz Ciokajlo

May 28, 2021

Global Footwear Awards Category winner Liz Ciokajlo discussed Natural Selection – The Objectification of Shoe, 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. Natural Selection – The Objectification of Shoe was awarded the best in Women’s Dress category for Brand level.

The story – OurOwnsKIN is a project which explores human foot skin to rethink how we design for future manufactured 3D printed and grown shoes. We translate anatomical and emotional perspectives of the body into design for items we wear – from footwear to fashion apparel. We run design thinking workshops with collaborators and wearers, evoking insights to create solutions for critical design and future manufacturing. A collection of varied natural non woven materials were selected and applied to a methodology in a masters educational context.

GFA talks with Liz Ciokajlo about  her winning project.


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

The collection asks questions on the authenticity of materiality and challenges perceptions of the acceptability of materials perceived as waste.


What does this award mean to you personally? 

This award is really unexpected. The Global footwear Awards is of a very high standard, I admire so many of the finalist and winners work!  The award has a fantastic jury and it means so much to me for this recognition.


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

Most important were to keep the integrity of the material character and to present in a clean, modern way. The biggest challenges as achieving this and manimpulating the materials!


What is your guiding design principle?

Design is like an elastic band that is pulled and shaped by various contextual factors. As we develop more sustainable materials to ‘replace’ in a ‘like for like’ way and in essence mimic other materials…are we loosing material agency and character? So in Natural Selection my aim was to celebrate material character in a pure, provocative way, where the ‘elastic band’ is not added to but pulled in unexpected but somehow familiar ways.


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

Playing with materials and observing and leaning about natural processes.


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

I always liked to make things, take things apart. I discovered there was a thing called design when I was about sixteen and that is when I decided.


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

I have designed furniture and products. Really anything with form and that has a personal attachment. Footwear is one of the most complex and exciting objects that exist. It is sensorial, emotive, functional, and steeped in material cultural references and history.


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

I was born in and trained in Industrial Design in the midwest in the US. With this came that pragmatic and instrumentalism approaches. Also with this came the experience of nature which in the right places is breathtaking in the US. I can’t get away from the idea that design is a powerful reflection of cultural meaning. When I refer to design it is the representation of societal values.


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

Caskia: Designing a MarsBoot. It was a collaboration between Maurizio Montalti and further Manolis Papastavrou and Rhian Solomon. In this collaboration we proposed a woman’s boot for Mars made from material small at launch (variant mycelium and 3D print) and grown, expanded and constructed during the seven month journey. It was a hard won developed concept and the work was originally a response to a MoMA commission via the wonderful Paola Antonelli and was shortlisted for the Beazley Design of the Year.


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

Marloes Ten Bhomer, she is amazing in her thinking. I once asked her how she determines if an aesthetic is ‘right’. She said something to the response that if it does not look ‘right’ it means something is not in keeping with the concept. That has always stuck with me.


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

Climate Change is a real driver for the vast material development we have witnessed over the past years. We are producing sustainable material alternatives that ideally can fit into established invested manufacturing models. However at some point I hope the new alternative materials and associated processes will define new aesthetics as exciting as our last material innovation era, The Plastics Age.


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

I opperate really outside of the industry to a large extent. I think that industry realises the importance of the issues raised in the work, however it is challenging to incorporate in our existing, very established manufacturing models and supply chains.


What would be your dream design project?

To design a zero waste item with a system that in a deconstruction and reconstruction of a natural, vernacular material, which reflects it’s culture, agency and wearer.


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

A lot of making mock-ups, etc… and Rhino CAD.


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

What is the aim and the context. Who is it for, what is the associated history, culture and thinking that can provoke new perspectives.


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

Respect, trust, compassion, openness and true desire to work with people. I have been so lucky to collaborate and work with wonderful people. I have learned so much from my colleagues in the everyday.


How do you deal with feedback?

Always good to understand perspectives and lenses of feedback. Once you understand this feedback is just a conversation from which you can grow and learn. Feedback is also contextual. This takes to focus to what is appropriate in a given situation.


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

In addition to designing footwear items I teach design at University. The Pandemic has made gruelling for educators so things have slowed and been a bit in overdrive for shifting education solution plans. There are things slowly happening, which I prefer not talk about at this point.


How has the pandemic affected your work and design process?

I am using more CAD and more interested in supply chains.


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

We can not truly address sustainability issues without considering the evolution of have we have arrived here. Technology and material innovation can go a long way to address many issues but without the designers input and concept innovation these fixes will not stick. And sticking or as Jonathan Chapmen put years ago emotionally durable design, is so important.


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

Awards are fantastic places for debate and in the context of an everyday object such as footwear can help us collectively determine our current cultural value aspirations. Simply awards help us dream to be our collective better selves.


What is your design mantra you live by?

What I hear I forget, What I see I remember and what I do I understand. Xunzi (340 – 245 BC)


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

To remember that such a fundamental product as footwear is a vehicle which captures our endlessly morphing values and world we share.


Where do you start when tackling innovative design solutions?

I look at what others have done historically and currently. By understanding continuum and evolution we can decide innovative directions. We are not short of ideas in society. Innovation is drawing from and making connections with and ultimately observing our world. Once an aim or idea is formed then this directs the actions needed to make things happen.


What advice would you give to future aspiring footwear designers?

With 24 billion pairs of shoes made each year, there is a place for you. You just need to follow your interest and values, and get specific and exhaustive with finding out as much as possible. Then make, make, make!


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

Industries change and morph historically. I really do not know if the industry will radically change soon. There are too many external factors that ultimately will determine this. However what I do know is that people love shoes, men, woman children. Of course sustainability and technology (robotics, AI) will and are already changing the industry and will continue to do so. My hope is that people, wearers will ultimately be the drivers.


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

Material diversity, authenticity and localism.


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

Honestly technology is great and so important. But do not let it replace real materials, real items, real communities and real people’s (wearers) choices.