Global Footwear Awards (GFA) has begun its global search to identify visionary designers in footwear. Gravel was awarded the best in Sustainability and Social Impact.
Gravel is a football boot, which was designed for the rough conditions of Ghanaian football pitches. It consists of a hemp-textile upper and a replaceable natural rubber outsole. A lacing system, along the lateral and medial sides as well as stitching in the toe and heel area connect the two. This enables the replacement of the rubber sole without special tools, which is exposed to lots of abrasion. The foundation of this project is a two week long research trip through the southern part of Ghana. It was documented by means of photographs and it represents most of the research from this thesis.
GFA talks with Ruben about the winning project:
Please tell us about your background and journey to design?
Growing up in Austria with a ghanaian dad and an austrian mother forced me to look for alternative ways to connect with the people around me from an early age on. Sports helped me on that journey and quickly became one of most vital ways of building those connections. Especially football took a hold of me and so my first time becoming aware of design and being interested in a product was also connected to football. It was the Nike „joga bonito“ campaign which included people who looked like me and had a style that I also wanted to imitate.This in combination with me always enjoying to tinker around led me to add things like lacecovers to my football shoes which furthermore increased my interest in the way objects are made and how they work. After graduating from mechanical engineering school (type of high school in Austria) I realized that I wanted more freedom within my process of creating, thus my journey in the field of design began.
What do you see as the strengths of your winning project?
I believe the holistic nature of the project is what makes it so strong. Sustainability is still only an afterthought for so many products and design concepts. This project has the idea of sustainability at its core and is giving the spotlight to a place that is not in the main focus of most globally active sportswear companies. Another substantial aspect is the authenticity and the closeness this project has with the people and environment the shoe was designed for. Every design decision is based on experiences and interactions with those people and places I visited on my trip through Ghana.
What does this award mean to you personally?
Obviously, the news that my most personal design project so far is of interest for not only my friends and family but also accomplished designers who have seen a lot already in their careers, makes me proud. But more importantly it shows that authenticity is being valued in the field of design and that definitely encourages and motivates me to continue on this path.
What was most important for you when working on this project and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
From the beginning to the end, I tried to stay as true to the impressions of my trip through Ghana and the people I engaged with as possible, because it is essential for me that my designs carry an aspect of integrity and authenticity. That in itself was a big challenge, because there was so much that I saw and experienced during those two weeks, which unfortunately had to be left out. For example pollution like plastic and electrical waste is a huge problem that I witnessed in Ghana. I faced the ethical dilemma which many designers encounter: working in the consumer goods sector while trying to offer sustainable alternatives.
Where do you get motivation and inspiration for your work?
From interactions with people who are passionate about their crafts. While researching I try to take in as much as possible from those kind of moments and usually it doesn’t take long for their passion to rub off on me and spark something new in me.
How do you think your own culture and environment has shaped your personal and professional creative vision?
Coming of age, no matter if it was in Austria, where I grew up, or with my family in Ghana, always seeing yourself as somewhat different from the people around you definitely had a big impact on who I am today and how I see and understand people and society. That may sound a little bit depressing but I was lucky enough to have always had a very supportive family as well as nonjudgmental and accepting friends. Ultimately the times in which I had to look in from the outside became a big part in shaping my vision and way of approaching not just design but life in itself. The combination of all those experiences made me realize the true value of the people close to me and this is also the reason why I like to base my projects on human interactions and connections.
Which designer in the footwear industry do you most admire and why?
There are a couple whose work I appreciate greatly. Daniel Bailey, for his mayor role in inspiring so many of us footwear designers, as well es some astonishingly daring designs. Aaron Street, for his unrestricted yet functional approach. But the one that I truly admire is Robert Fliri, for designing the Vibram FiveFingers. Which is still the most innovative shoe when it comes to functionality and health in my opinion.
What do you think about the different creative processes and software and how they play a role in design today?
I strongly believe that every designer needs to experiment to find tools which fit their style and approach the best. As someone who never spent a lot of time sketching, making mock-ups or actual prototypes came more natural to me. The fact that I already worked with CAD software in my early teens makes experimenting with all the new softwares such as Gravity Sketch, CLO3D and so on, something to look forward to in my projects. Some designers think that using tools like CAD too early on in the process reduces the quality of one’s work. I beg to differ. They open up so many new paths which can result in never thought of solutions.
With so many Designs coming out daily, how do you keep pushing boundaries in footwear design?
I don’t like to focus on pushing boundaries. I’d rather focus on creating something of true value for the people and their community.
What do you wish to see more of in the footwear industries?
Seeing more experimentation of how shoes can be constructed would make me happy. But most importantly I’d like to see the big sportswear companies finally make a real commitment towards sustainability. They need to realize that they have a massive influence on the younger generations and that comes with a certain responsibility. Using a small percentage of recycled materials to create shoes which still end up in landfill as toxic waste won’t cut it.
Learn more about Ruben here:
LinkedIn: Ruben Asuo
The Global Footwear Design Awards (GFA) is announcing winners for its second edition, showcasing a variety of exceptional creative potential across 20+ categories in all levels; Brands, Independent and Students. The GFA recognizes visionary design talent from around the world with an ambition to provide the highest recognition to footwear designers in all categories including sustainability and social impact.
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