In Conversation With: Maria Bika
May 28, 2021
Global Footwear Awards Category winner Maria Bika discussed Walking in Silence, 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. Walking in Silence was awarded the best in Medical category for Independent level.
GFA talks with Maria Bika about her background and her winning project.
Tell us more about your project?
My work aims to point out the importance of meditation and spirituality in the contemporary world, where more and more people suffer from anxiety and stress. The footwear I am proposing is designed so as to help people relax and meditate, and at the same time get into deeper contact with their inner center. The design combines the principles of nature and reflexology. The main materials of the collection are the hard wood (Walnut and Oak), leather and some parts of silicone. During the whole design and construction process, I have been using recycled wood and leather.
What do you see as the strengths of your winning project?
My project suggests a new footwear form and indicates our need for self-concentration and internalization. I also believe that the combination of the materials is unique and minimal.
What does this award mean to you personally?
This award is an affirmation for me and gives the motive to keep researching and creating. It makes me happy and reminds me not to give up my dream.
What was most important for you when working on this project and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
The most important factor was the construction process and how could I translate my concept idea into a 3D Footwear outcome that would be effective. A great challenge I faced was the process of giving shape to the final wooden parts and the definitive curve of the wooden sole.
What is your guiding design principle?
My aim is to design minimal shoes, inspired by architecture, that are effective, unique and propose a new way of walking and standing. I want to create innovative body shapes that help people to relax and distress.
Where do you get motivation and inspiration from for your work?
My motivation derives from my deep love for footwear and my personal vision for a better world. I always observe people and the way they tend to move or stand. I also get inspiration from nature and architecture, history and art.
How/when did you discover that you wanted to work in design?
Since I was a kid, I have always been attracted into drawing, fashion and footwear design. After graduating Architecture School in Athens, I was sure that design is what I wanted to do.
Is there something [shoes or any other product] that you wished you had designed?
A footwear model that I love and I would love to have been part of its creation, is the Melissa Shoes from Zaha Hadid Architects.
How do you think your own culture and environment has shaped your personal and professional creative vision?
Regarding my environment, my parents love art and travelling around the world, so I always loved visiting museums and going to galleries since I was a young girl. Additionally, my greek culture has definitely influenced my creative vision, and ancient Greek history is still for me a source of inspiration along with my experiences from my trips in Europe, America and Asia.
Tell us about a project which has been your greatest achievement?
My final thesis in London College of Fashion, called Moving in Silence, is for me my greatest achievement so far, as it was the first time I designed a full footwear collection and managed to complete its construction and publication. It is a project I deeply love and it expresses my design character and my personality.
Which designer in footwear industry do you most admire and why?
I deeply admire Eelko Moorer because he is really an innovative and conceptual footwear designer and he is an inspirational professor. Furthemore, I love Zaha Hadid’s fashion projects and I admire Rem D Koolhas and United Nude for their architectural shoes.
How do you feel footwear design has evolved over the past years and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Footwear design for me is an expression of the culture and society and it evolves as history changes along with the way of life, of style and the terms of beauty and fashion. I believe that shoes are becoming more and more comfortable and attached to our everyday reality which demands a lot of energy and constant movement. Technology, Ecology and Gender are definitely three factors that will determine how footwear design is going to evolve during the next years to come.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career and the industry now?
Industry gives you a number of different possibilities, and you have the chance to work abroad and meet new people and be part of amazing footwear projects. A big challenge I see in my career is that you need to have a number of qualifications and have knowledge of the new technology and the medical shoe.
What would be your dream design project?
My dream design project is a shoe that would combine design with biomimetics, and would give the wearer the opportunity to experience dreams, old memories and feeling while using the pair.
What’s your creative process and what creative software do you use?
Everything starts from concept design for me. I always start from abstract sketches and random ideas and trying to translate them into 3D mock-ups. Regarding the creative software, I am using Rhino, AutoCAD and Revit.
What kind of questions do you ask before beginning a shoe design? What piece of information is of utmost value?
When I began to design a shoe project, I always write down my core idea and what I want these shoes to express. Who is going to be the user and the environment where they are going to wear the shoes. After, organizing all these factors, I question myself how can they become environment-friendly and still express the design I have in my mind. Overall, for me less is more when it comes to design and despite what we create, as designer, it is always necessary to think about the ecology and the sustainability of the shoes.
What kind of culture or structure needs to exist to foster successful team collaboration?
Team collaboration is vital for a project to become successful. For that to happen, it is very important to have a clear organization and an equal post division. Each member of the team should have specific qualifications and tasks to accomplish. And team should be fun, because when you are happy somewhere you always give back the best you have.
How do you deal with feedback?
Feedback is fundamental for going forward and becoming a better designer. It is something that I am used in since I was a student in Architecture, because you would receive all the time feedback both from professors and students. It makes you stronger to brave to deal with your possible mistakes.
What are you working on now, what is in the pipeline for you?
Right now, I am a fellow teacher in National Technical University of Athens. At the same time, I am dealing with my brand RΞAA and any footwear or architectural project I can accomplish.
How has the pandemic affected your work and design process?
Pandemic was something unpredicted that affected 100% my design process. I had to stay home and try new ways of creating and making. And, after all, my brand idea express the human need to stay calm despite all this anxiety and distress through footwear.
How do you feel about the topic of sustainability in regards to footwear design in general?
Sustainability and Ecology are still a big matter for shoe industry and there are a number of different factors that still need to get solved. For me, footwear design has to go along with sustainability as this is something that affects the design and the construction process.
What would you tell your younger self seeing you winning the awards?
I would congratulate my younger self and remind me to stay focus on my design vision.
With so many designs coming out daily, how do you keep pushing boundaries in footwear deign?
That is really a good question, as footwear designs come out all the time. But, I believe that sometimes you should focus on your design and think about your own creative direction. When you really desire to be innovative and push boundaries in footwear design, you should work constantly and research your topic.
Where do you start when tackling innovative design solutions?
When you tackle innovative ideas, it’s good for me to start from point 0 and try to walk away for the project for some period of time, like one or 2 days, and then summarize all your actions and design aims. It is true that the best ideas come when you don’t expect them to come.
What advice would you give to future aspiring footwear designers?
Never stop dreaming and working. It is important to love this if you want to succeed. There will be challenging times of difficulties and obstacles. But, when you focus on your own design vision you always manage to make it through. Learn as much as possible, and enjoy all the process despite any prize or achievement.
What do you think will keep pushing the footwear industries forward?
Societies and Cultures evolve and change all the time, as the human need and what footwear industry desires. Shoes are closed attached to all the people and determine our everyday way of life. Additionally, technology is affecting the footwear industry and will certainly continue to do so.
What do you wish to see more of in the footwear industries?
I wish to see equality, respect to all human beings and constant design innovation.
How do you handle pressure in design?
I cannot deny you that I always work better in pressure. It is then that I manage to accomplish even the most difficult parts of a project.
How do you feel about the impact of new technology towards footwear design and the industry as a whole?
Technology and 3D innovations, along with biomimeitcs and science, will help footwear to evolve even more. It will affect the design, the walking experience but also the manufacture process.