Originally from Sydney, Jane Frances is the founder and designer of award winning footwear label, Dear Frances. After studying in London and Milan, she took up an internship at a family-owned footwear factory in Italy where she trained in the artisan craft of footwear design. Today, she’s based in London and her shoes are still made by hand at the same factory, using the age-old techniques handed down through generations of artisan shoe makers. Since the label’s launch in 2014, the label has been called a ‘brand to watch’ and praised by the likes of Vogue. In this interview Jane shares some insights on life as a shoes designer, what success means to her and some advice for aspiring designers.
Were you always destined for the world of shoe design?
Yes I think so, however it took me a while to realise it. I’ve loved shoes and design, form, texture and tone since a very young age, as long as I can remember. However, it wasn’t until I explored these interests during my studies that I truly realised my passion for shoe design and my desire to pursue it as a career.
What does success mean to you?
Success is a personal thing and difficult to measure. From a business point of view, I measure our success on how well we’re listening and responding to feedback and whether we’re doing all we can to improve each season. It’s about finding the balance between growing and changing while remaining true to the Dear Frances ethos. On a personal level, it’s a similar concept really –it’s listening to people and allowing them to help you grow, though always remaining true to who you are.
What is it that distinguishes Dear Frances from other shoe brands?
I try to focus on my own work and not be distracted by what others are doing around me. It’s important that we have a clear identity and message in everything we do, that each aspect of the label speaks the same language and tells the same story. My style is very refined, with the focus being on classic silhouettes, tonal colors and fine texture – this is what our customers have grown to love and expect from us. Each pair of shoes we make is designed with these things in mind, helping us to create cohesive collections with a unique Dear Frances aesthetic.
Your label is London-based and Italian-made – how often are you splitting your time between the two places?
Rather constantly actually. Our studio is based in London, so day-to-day this is my base and the design hub for Dear Frances. It’s home really. However, I love being at our factory in Italy and I spend as much time there as possible. I have a close working relationship with our production team and travel to Italy several times each season to work on new styles, oversee production and to work on the sampling process.
What can we find you doing day-to-day?
Every day is different, which is the best thing about my work. If I’m not in the studio designing, then I might be traveling to Italy to meet with the factory or out sourcing materials from local suppliers. Much of the work is less glamorous than you’d expect, there’s lots of late nights and emailing and planning for upcoming events, photoshoots etc. I also travel a lot, especially during fashion month when our calendar can get particularly hectic.
Pros and cons of owning your own business?
I cherish the freedom that comes with having your own business and the personal satisfaction of building something of your own. As a creative, there is nothing more satisfying than following your instincts and designing collections that truly speak to you. Of course, there are always difficulties too and managing all aspects of the business was certainly a challenge when we first launched. From design to production, sales to PR and distribution – initially we handled all facets in-house, which quickly became very demanding. However, I believe this is the best way to learn and it places you in good stead when starting your own label. The pros certainly outweigh the cons and the motivation to keep going only seems to get stronger.
If you weren’t a shoe designer, what would you be?
A photographer, definitely.
How important are the right shoes are for a woman?
Incredibly important. However, I think what’s most important is that she feels herself in what she’s wearing. The right shoes are less about what others might consider to be right and more what feels right to you and what gives you the greatest sense of self. To me, that’s what all this is about.
What’s next for Dear Frances?
Aesthetically, we are developing a range of new styles for Spring 2017, which I have been working on for some time now. We are also continuing the evolution of our core styles and Timeless Edit, incorporating a range of exciting new textures and colourways each season. We do have some very exciting projects in the works, which I’m excited to share very soon!
Any advice for aspiring designers?
Everyone has their own unique voice, it’s just a matter of listening to it and trusting it enough to follow your instincts. The industry is tough, but it’s worth the hard work, so take the time to learn as much as you can before forging your own path.
How do you relate to the word ‘adrift’?
The sense of being adrift is actually apparent in each of my collections, which are influenced by how I see my life. I was born in Sydney, Australia and moved a broad to study, first in London and then to Milan. Shortly after my studies and internship, I relocated to Paris for a couple of years and then to London for some time, onto Switzerland and back to London, where I have finally settled for now. I’ve been adrift for many years! I find the word comforting and certainly something I can easily relate to.