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ALOHAS 3D Design Contest Winners: Interview

We sat down (virtually) with the top 3 winners of our design contest--here's what they had to say.

An Interview With Our Contest Winners

Recently, we had the chance to host our first ever 3D Design Contest–and we couldn’t be happier with the results. The winner’s shoe will be produced and sold on our site come this fall, but we’ve also gone ahead and written a featured article about our top 3 winners –what was their process like? When did shoe design become their passion? Here’s the words of wisdom they shared with us.


The Story of a Winner: Lily Mergard

Hey! I’m Lily – a designer and maker, lover of shoes, and bespoke enthusiast… Amongst other things. A little obsessed with innovation and problem solving, I love the feeling of learning something new, and will often get deeply entrenched in researching a given topic. We can small talk, but if I’m honest, I much prefer those deeper conversations.

From Passion to Purpose

As a young child, I was inspired by a very small, very exciting book I discovered in the bookshelf of my family home – a picture book – filled cover to cover with the most exquisite and extravagant shoes in the world. Well, let’s just say it was a real page turner! Though there were some shoes that were quite shocking or just outright strange, I was amazed at how unique and innovative they each were, and was inspired to think about shoes differently from then on. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a very selective shoe shopper and wearer, and would imagine my outfits coordinating and feeling better with shoes that didn’t exist yet. When my university Honors year arrived, I was writing the thesis for my final year fashion project, and designing the custom outfits I would make. Intuitively, I knew my outfits would clash with any shoe available in the mass market, so I took a deep breath – maybe more of a gulp! - and concluded that I would just have to make them myself. Opting for a simple sandal construction with minimal materials, I focused my energy on the sculptural form and function of the wooden platform. As soon as I started carving the first prototype, I knew I had found the missing piece to my puzzle. The shoemaking craft and I were made for each other.

The small story book that inspired Lily

Stepping It up A Notch

I studied at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, and graduated with First Class Honors in my Bachelor of Fashion Design. I was fortunate to have many skilled and knowledgeable tutors during this time, who encouraged me to think outside the box and get involved in various projects. One particular highlight was the opportunity to visit Hong Kong and Seoul on a cross disciplinary study tour, across Fashion and Industrial Design. Before that, in school I took a lot of arts subjects, which really developed my love for creativity and doing things differently.

The Quest for the Perfect Dancefloor Companion

ALOHAS had been on my radar for some time, and it is one of the few footwear brands that seemed to consistently deliver quality made shoes, sophisticated designs, and maintain its integrity to sustainable practice, time and time again. Since starting to take social dance classes as an adult, naturally, I began to hunt for the perfect footwear that would fuel my confidence on the dance floor. No surprises though, I couldn’t quite find what I was looking for. It was only a matter of weeks before I heard about the competition, and it seemed like too good of a coincidence to pass up the opportunity!

Lily's initial sketches

Trusting the Process

My creative process usually starts when I least expect it. I’m going about my day, doing a task, learning a skill, and I’m unwittingly conducting first-hand research at the same time. At dance class, my peers chat about their shoes, the modifications they’ve made for a swift twirl, and which shoes are their favorite. I told them how I want to have my own dance shoes, but when shopping, they all look the same and none of them work with my outfit. I certainly couldn’t wear them to work! So, these preliminary problem solving ideas had been brewing for a few months before I ever put pencil to paper. I started to notice shoes around me, evaluating their materials, what the sole was made from – would it grip to the floor or allow for a minimum friction spin? Would they fly off into someone’s face or stay well secured? Will it create blisters or help me dance all night long? These were some of the criteria I had started to develop. After all, the shoe - whatever it was to become - had to solve real, tangible problems.

Once the competition started, I did a little more research on trending shoes, existing successful designs, and of course spent a lot of time on the ALOHAS website while wearing my other ALOHAS shoes! I started rough sketches in my notebook about 3–4 weeks before the design submission deadline, refining and exploring different ideas, and getting my family and friends’ opinions on them. I started to do the CAD drawings with about 1-2 weeks left, when I realized I needed to test out my design in a rough prototype. I needed to visualize the facets of the heel design in 3D, so I traced the 2D profile onto wood and started carving away the rest. I grabbed an old shoe last, covered it in masking tape, and drew on the topline and straps. It has a completely different feel once you’re drawing onto contours instead of a flat surface. At this stage, I realized I needed to tweak my design a little – so I was glad I spent that extra time testing out the idea. Then it was back to finalizing the CAD drawings, deciding on colourways, and editing the presentation documents for submission. Time seemed to really speed up towards the end – (it was such a whirlwind!) – but those sleepless nights refining Emelia were worth every second.

Emelia: The Making Of

Sometimes, simple is best. The resources I used can be found easily around the house or from the stationary store – paper, pencil, eraser, masking tape, ruler, translucent baking paper for tracing. These are the foundations for getting out the scribbles and sketches for the initial idea. Emelia really started, however, from my first-hand experiences and listening to the stories of other dancers, so this research became an invaluable resource in the design process. I purchased a book about footwear to help me understand the nitty gritty of shoe design and the different components necessary. Using some existing shoes of mine as a guide for dimensions, I was able to ensure my CAD sketches were proportional, and to scale. This came in handy when I needed to test out the heel contours I had designed, since a quick pattern could be traced onto baking paper to transfer the contours accurately.

I was also blessed to have access to a few industrial tools such as a bandsaw and sanding machines, thanks to a familial connection. In terms of inspiration, it is always so much more satisfying to start with a problem; to identify what is missing. That way, when you solve it, there is a greater sense of achievement, as it becomes a much more meaningful, purposeful design. My problem came from not having the right footwear to take me from work to social dance classes at night, as well as a strong aversion to the existing options on the market. I also had the added criteria of creating a comfortable and stable design, so that if anything should interrupt the dance, it would not be complaining feet! I quietly suspected these problems would also resonate with many people, not just dancers. As for design influences, I drew on the mental notes I’d been taking from the best and worst shoes I’ve worn, as well as the tide of new trends flowing into vogue more recently. A hybrid of Mary Jane stability, slingback femininity, and western boot charm, Emelia is an unlikely yet modern twist on a few of the most classic shoes. She’s versatile enough to be worn in a variety of different settings, which, for shoe shoppers hunting for quality, is exactly the kind of shoe they would desire.

Sole Lessons

The process of being a contestant in the competition has taught me some valuable lessons.

  • It’s entirely possible to turn a dream into reality; to make the 2D into 3D.
  • It doesn’t help to compare your design to others, especially when the brief is broad and the deadline has passed!
  • To have more faith in myself. The hardest part was honestly watching in anticipation as the public votes rolled in, waiting anxiously for the final results! The most enjoyable part was honing my idea in the CAD drawing stage, and starting to see the possibilities becoming more concrete and achievable.

In a nutshell…

The ALOHAS Design Competition has allowed me to explore much deeper what is fast becoming a lifelong passion; something I’m not sure I will ever really get to the bottom of. I hope I'm still designing and making shoes when I’m old and wrinkly! Overall, I am just so grateful for the whole team at ALOHAS - that they were able to facilitate the competition in the first place. Sometimes you don’t realize what you’re capable of until given the opportunity to test it out. I think it’s so worthwhile to try things, test things, and play - always. How else will you learn, grow, or enjoy a meaningful life?

In 2nd Place: From Ecuador to Milan, Daniela Burbano

Hello! My name is Daniela Burbano. I am 26 years old, born in Ecuador yet raised in Milan. I studied fashion design in Milan at NABA, majoring after that in shoe design.

I love fashion in general, in all its aspects. I've been lucky enough to work in different fashion departments, and most recently as an assistant stylist. It’s been a great experience! I really love working in this field, especially experimenting, doing research and meeting new people.

I've always loved fashion–ever since I was a little girl I used to design clothes and put on fashion shows with my little sisters, who were my models for the clothes I created with paper and whatever material I found at home. I started being interested in footwear design at university, in fact, after my degree I enrolled in the postgraduate programme in footwear in San Mauro Pascoli, a small town where the elegant and luxury footwear industry is concentrated.

Italian Style meets Spanish Craftsmanship

At the moment I am starting a small but big project called DyeffeStudio; together with my partner/friend we are creating a brand of elegant women's footwear that combines Italian style with Spanish manufacture. At the moment, we're developing the prototypes of this first collection that will be released; we are very lucky because we have managed to collaborate with very talented young creatives and experienced artisans. The brand identity will be a mix between our two personalities, slightly extravagant and also minimal and elegant. We want to create a brand that is sustainable and we are constantly investigating ways to make us so. One of the means we will use to avoid unnecessary production of goods will be to produce only to order.

It is a project I believe in very much and I hope it will become my present and my future. I decided to participate in this contest to push myself. I really appreciate ALOHAS' philosophy and style so I felt very inspired to participate!

HotGirlSummer: The Process

To prepare the contest project, I explored the style, colors, shapes of the brand's products to get a general idea of their style. After that, I started to create the initial moodboard. I started looking for inspiration by watching various brand shows and then I focused on creating some sketches. Once I found what I liked best, I put it together in detail and laid out my work trying to make it as clear and concise as possible.

Indicatively it took me about 4/5 days.

The idea for HoTGirlSummer came from the wish to create a fun and sexy shoe for the summer. The fact that it is a wedge makes it much more comfortable to wear and the jewel on the instep makes it stand out. I thought it could be a winning idea because it was modern and contemporary but at the same time, in my opinion, it was in line with the brand's style.


Every project represents a small challenge. The most difficult part of the contest was definitely the fact that I had to align myself with the brand's aesthetic. It is an important factor that makes a difference and it is very easy to make mistakes.

I loved assembling it all; I always enjoy wrapping up the projects to see the result of my work all together.

I would like to conclude by saying that I am very happy to be a finalist in the ALOHAS competition and that it was very inspiring to participate!

In 3rd Place: Walking the Path of Alaula by William Cockayne

Hi! I'm William Cockayne, a 21-year-old university student who currently studies footwear design at De Montfort University in Leicester (UK). I spent my childhood and teenage years in Solihull, Birmingham, where I commonly explored the local countryside with my friends. If I wasn’t doing that, I would travel to local places such as Birmingham City Center, which is where my passion for fashion and footwear began.

Turning Curiosity into Passion

It’s hard to believe, but originally I didn’t have a passion for footwear and at one point I didn’t understand why people would own expensive and interesting shoes. I was the kind of person to say ‘Why do people spend so much money on shoes? They’re just going to get dirty because they’re always on the floor'. As well as this, when I was younger I would sometimes feel a bit shy and would look down at people’s feet, so I would always notice their shoes. This interest then developed in my early teens, when I discovered that some footwear companies had a customization feature–e.g., Nike’s ‘Nike ID’, which was later renamed the ‘Nike By You’ programme. I used it to design a custom pair of shoes, opening the world of footwear culture and history leading to where I am today.

From Dreamer to Creator

My future trajectory is to develop my understanding of the culture and history of footwear and fashion as a whole. Experimenting with new styles that I have seen used in footwear before, whilst combining my other passions like plants and nature into my designs.

Baby Steps

I’m currently a footwear design student at De Montfort University, going into my 3rd year of studies. Before university, I had a background in art and design, which I studied for 3 years. I chose this after high school because I’ve always known growing up that I love art and drawing, and wanted to do it as my future line of work ever since I was young. However, I never knew exactly what I wanted to do with this skill until now.

The Contest Chronicles

Initially, I wanted to try to get my name out there as a young designer and get my work seen. However, due to the nature of the contest, this would be a great opportunity to also try something new and test my skill as a designer. This was particularly useful in testing my ability to design a new type of footwear that I hadn’t tried before, as I normally stick to trainers, whilst thinking more outside of the box for the design to suit the ALOHAS target customer market.

The creative process consisted of many different stages e.g. – research – gaining insight towards the customer market of ALOHAS; analysis of the brief – so that I understood what the aims for the design had to be; moodboard – to start drafting design ideas and putting possible material ideas into plan and lastly designing – this was the exciting part as I let my creativity and ideas take charge at this point. Overall, this process took approximately 2 1/2 weeks to do, a major part of this being taken to understand and research ALOHAS and their history whilst drafting appropriate draft designs.

I began with doing some primary research about ALOHAS looking into the different styles and colors they use in their designs, and all about the history of the brand. After doing this I began to sketch simple using pencil and paper keeping the research in mind, until I produced my chosen design which I then transferred into Adobe Illustrator, to then start making a digital outline that I could start developing the chosen color palettes based of other products, the final step was creating the final CAD which I used adobe photoshop with the final product being a fully rendered design with shadows and texture included to the base design.

I came up with the concept for ‘Walking the Path of Alaula’ when researching about the history of ALOHAS and its Hawaiian origins, it being founded in 2015, inspired by the idea of sunsets that the Hawaiian islands are known for. The name ‘Alaula’ helped intertwine all these different concepts, since each of ALOHAS’ heels are named with different female names, and Alaula is a female Hawaiian name meaning ‘light of dawn’, which links back to the concept of sunsets being related to Hawaiian culture. This made me believe this concept could win due to its link to the brand.

Personal Challenges

Initially, the start of the contest was quite difficult, despite going into it knowing the various styles of footwear that ALOHAS offered, like heels, espadrilles, and much more. As I normally focus on designing sneakers and boots on my course and as a hobby, I knew that in order to develop my skills I had to create my own challenge through pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Although my plans are unclear currently, my main aspiration is to explore different aspects of the fashion industry. Allowing myself to specialize in footwear whilst gaining deeper knowledge surrounding the more technical and design side to different style shoes in person and outside the university setting.

Key Takeaways, Future Aspirations

This process has taught me about the importance of adaptability and time management. Being able to have even a brief outline of when you start and then finish your design is so helpful.

Even a step by step outline helps my creativity and I have found that the process then is easier to develop and follow.
I have learnt so much about what it means to be a footwear designer by partaking in this opportunity, the highs and excitement of receiving votes for my design as well as the lows of not getting first place whilst understanding the areas that I need to improve on. A key area that I’ve learnt the importance of is challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone, which is a skill I will continue to develop during the rest of my journey as a footwear designer. This is so that I can figure out my strengths and weaknesses which will prove beneficial in the future towards developing my skill set. I’m excited to see where the next steps of my journey will take me and hope you will follow my journey too: check out my Instagram (@snkr_sktchs) for updates!

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