Mark Charles

Interview with Mark Charles

Teleica Kirkland

What made you want to become a shoe designer and how did you start out learning about design?

I’ve been designing since I could crawl but I focused more on Fine Art and Graphic Design, which I studied at Uni. I decided to become a shoe designer after spending years working as a Recruitment Consultant in the city. I had always loved shoes so I decided to channel my design ability in this direction. I quit my job in the city a week later and went to work for a shoemaker in East London.

What inspires you and what has inspired your latest collection?

Confident women with sex appeal, I find heels very sexual, and they change the way a women walks, the way she feels and her overall look. My AW12 boot collection is all about ‘Everyday luxury for women on the go’. I don’t think style and comfort are mutually exclusive.

Were there any particular challenges you faced being a black male designer?

Not really to be honest, personally, I think people will always be prejudice in some way shape or form, its human nature. However, that’s not my problem, if you’re talented, hard working and ambitious, with a little bit of luck, you can do absolutely anything you put your mind to.

What were some of the challenges you faced whilst setting up your business?

Money, Money, Money – Apparently, there is a lot of funding out there for up and coming designers but I never found it. Work, save and then work some more and you’ll be able to fund it yourself.

Also, production can be a nightmare, you really need to manage this closely and make sure you stick to your guns. People will try to sway you in order to make their life easier but you always have to be true to yourself. In the end, it’s your name that’s on it – good or bad.

What advice would you offer to people wanting to get into the fashion industry?

Study, get hands on work experience, get a job in the industry, learn how to network and take an interest in what other people are doing. There are many jobs in fashion besides being a designer, take some time to speak to people in different jobs and figure out what suits you best. Do not get in to fashion just because you want to be rich and famous, you need to have something worth sharing.

Some young people from inner city areas or from  under privileged backgrounds have a real desire and passion for creativity and design but may be/ feel dissuaded by their environment or family do you have any particular advice for them?

Yes, BE CAREFUL OF YOUR PEERS because these are the people who will inevitably have a major impact on you whilst growing up. It’s really sad but many youngsters don’t seem to know any better and the ones that do, don’t really have a choice but to stick with their friends. It’ very dangerous on the streets and many will often be targeted if they are alone – they are also targeted even more when they join these gangs. Then you have youngsters coming from broken homes with unfit ‘parents’ who behave just as bad as their children, it’s a tough situation to fix but firstly, I think the child needs to want to better themselves, once they make that decision, I think relocation to a much better area where they can mix with more like-minded individuals would be very helpful, but this is only a short term solution – and it still doesn’t help the other youngster who can’t get out.

[The scope of this interview doesn’t really allow me to expand on this too much without going off topic!]A recent  CIAD article discussed the lack of diversity on the British design scene; this was mirroring an article in The Griot about a lack of black designers in the US. Do you think there is a lack of diversity in British design and if so how do you think we can redress the balance?

Yes, there should be more diversity, but again, I think it’s a case of teaching youngsters that they can achieve what ever they set their minds to. I don’t think the industry is stopping us, but after all, when a customer wants to buy your product, they don’t see skin colour, they see fabric and cuts, and stitching. Ozwald Boateng is a great example of this, he just done his own thing and focused on being the best at it. The internet has levelled the playing field beyond all recognition. If I want to work with someone, I just ask them, eventually I get the ‘yes’ that I’m looking for. However, I do think that we need to help each other a lot more; this is another issue that deserves expansion.

Your collections are women’s footwear focused; will they remain that way and if so/ not why?

I will probably always focus on women’s shoes because I find it so much more stimulating but I would still love to design men’s shoes. Marc Hare is a good men’s shoe designer and he’s doing really well. Check him out!

Where do you see the Mark Charles Boot Company in 5 and 10 years time?

Like Nicholas Kirkwood. Making lot of shoes and expanding my business. My dream is to open my first store and allow customers to have an amazing brand experience.

What are the benefits and challenges of running your own business?

I guess the benefit is that you get to realise your own vision, the freedom to express yourself without having to get the OK from anyone. The challenge is always going to be funding, it’s VERY expensive and it always cost more than you think. Production can also be very difficult, you need to be able to manage this very closely and make sure you monitor every little detail. It’s 100 times easier if you can manage production on-site, if not, a good production manager can help with this.

If you were not a shoe designer what would you be doing?

I would probably be making something else!

What is your philosophy?

Ask and you shall receive!

Where can we find you online?