Helen Kirkum on the deconstruction of the Air Max 90
In a world obsessed with the freshness of trendy sneakers, Helen Kirkum disrupts with her unique handmade masterpieces. From his London-based studio, Kirkum dismantles some of the industry’s most beloved sneakers and re-values our wasteful habits into new pairs that shake up conventional trends. For her, sneakers are less about brands and co-signatures than about personality and what they mean to you.
That’s what makes her special. At Helen Kirkum Studio, some of your favorite pairs (including the Off-White ™ x
Along with the personality, storytelling, and craftsmanship, there is also an enduring aspect to what Helen Kirkum Studio does which is, again, just another reason the decorated designer is a silver lining. for the footwear industry (which, as we know, is one of the biggest culprits in harming our planet).
Everything Kirkum touches has a signature look and feel, and in many ways his approach can be compared to the cult impact of the Nike Air Max 90. You can recognize and appreciate an AM90 from a mile away, and the same can be said of Kirkum’s work. To better understand her craft and the importance of her job, as well as how she came to love sneakers (especially the AM90), HYPEBEAST caught up with Helen Kirkum for our last episode of unique companions.
HYPEBEAST: What made you love sneakers?
Helen Kirkum: It’s quite an interesting story because I was in traditional shoes at the start. I studied in Northampton and made brogues, dress shoes, and I think it was my personal style that led me to sneakers. I wanted to find out how they were made because I didn’t know – because I had always made traditional shoes. Then I started to get more interested in sneakers, which led me on a path of deconstruction and reconstruction. That’s why a lot of my work has a tactile, hand-made feel because I come from a place of that kind of traditional footwear.
So by cutting sneakers and rebuilding them, is that how you figured out how they were made?
I wanted to have sneakers cut out because I knew the pattern was different. I remember one of my techs, when I told him I wanted to make sneakers he said “You don’t want to make sneakers because they’re not real shoes.” I’ve always been interested in these concepts like what constitutes a real shoe and why it would appear in that context. When I started taking them apart and playing with the proportions and construction, I learned so many interesting things about the shoes themselves, and that was really it.
What differences have you noticed?
In traditional shoes, the concept of mending and mending is really ingrained. You would always have your shoes resole, but in the sneaker industry, that really didn’t exist when I started this process. I wanted to know if I could create a sneaker so visibly tactile and handmade that you had no choice but to be faced with the idea that it was made by a person, because sometimes the sneakers appear on the bright and shiny shelves (in a perfect background), and they become devoid of workmanship. So I really wanted to bring this element to sneaker culture.
I wanted to come up with an idea of something worn, something second-hand, like something new and beautiful and challenge that idea of novelty and always wanting the next thing that’s pretty obvious in sneaker culture.
Have you ever wanted to put your product ideology into larger scale production?
When I first started I was adamant that sneakers had to be produced this way. The make-to-order concept makes it exclusive and really personal, and I actually offer a service where people can send in old sneakers and make them a new shoe from all of their old sneakers, so they have stories drowned out. in the material. This element is so personal that it must be a one-off production.
However, collaborating with brands is another way to make my work more accessible, which is good.
As a designer, what makes you gravitate towards the Nike Air Max 90?
My first experience with the Air Max 90: I remember my older sister had a pair, they were white and were so damaged and not white at all. I remember thinking she was the pinnacle of this cool girl with these shoes. Without realizing it, it has always been there in my life as an important shoe. When I first started out in sneakers (because I was never a sneaker enthusiast), my partner bought me a pair of Air Max 1s, and that was my first pair of “Oh , I have cool shoes “. I have had a relationship with the Air Max family, which has been nice.
It’s a shoe that I know well and every time I sort it out and find one in a recycling center, I always think it will be a good shoe to cut.
“You will always find something good when you cut a shoe. “
[As for my work] The Air Max 90 has such great proportions and the most satisfying thing to cut is those key components on the back and sides. Putting a scalpel in there and running along the seams is so satisfying. The parts still stand out really well, they’re well made and there are a lot of nice components that are also iconic, so what’s cool is you take those shapes out of the AM90 and put them somewhere else, but the people still recognize the origins of the product – this is something that is important to my work.
What do you find when cutting an AM90?
I love showing off the inside of a shoe, and you can show off the glue, the foam, the reinforcements, all the things that people don’t realize fit into a shoe. I think, especially when you start to take it apart, you can still almost see the ghost of the shoe even when all the layers are removed. Something like that is inspiring.
I use the zigzag stitch a lot in my work and the reason I started using it for the first time was that when you take a shoe apart there are a lot of layers that are buttered with that zigzag. I wanted to show this process that no one ever sees by putting it on the outside of a sneaker.
You will always find something good when you cut a shoe.
Was this the first sneaker you cut out, or was it something else?
It wasn’t my first, but it was one of the first that I made a complete shoe [from]. Usually when I work I make shoes by taking bunch of different pieces from bunch of different shoes and turning them into one, but I actually made a shoe where I just cut out the AM90 and to reassemble it in a reconstructed format. It was the first time that I had worked with one shoe and made only one shoe.
The first one I did was a shift of a lot of different things. I work with a recycling center called Traid and I get whatever I’m given, and that’s where I started.
The word “sustainable” has a jaded reputation in the sneaker industry. Would you say what you are doing is sustainable?
With my job, I always try to say it as it is, and I always try to improve myself in everything I do. I take stems from recycling centers and break them down and then turn them into new stems, so that’s where the recycled element comes from. But I also do very small productions, everything is made to order, there is no waste in that aspect.
There are always things you can improve and work on, so I try to introduce the brand and what I do, and then I let people decide how they want to interact with it.
Could the sneaker industry learn something from you?
What I’m trying to do is highlight some of the issues we have in terms of overproduction and all the mass of sneakers we have in recycling centers. I started it because I went to recycling centers and thought, “There’s so much stuff here it’s ridiculous, I have to use the materials instead of using a new material. In that sense, it’s almost asking a question or bringing this situation to light, showing that there is a way around it and that it’s something more people can do.
In general, the more artists and designers who come up and show sustainable processes and different ways of working, the more young designers get this message across, the more others have to listen to what we say.