KOI’s Uzair Ahmad and Madeline Wood on designing distinctive licensed footwear

KOI’s Founder and Creative Director Uzair Ahmad and Footwear Designer Madeline Wood talk us through KOI’s recent collaboration with Playboy.

Uzair, Madeline, it’s great to catch up! To kick us off, talk us through the origins of KOI?
Uzair Ahmad, Founder & Creative Director, KOI: Our family’s deep-rooted connection to the world of footwear dates to the 1980s, with our origins firmly planted in the city of Manchester, England. Footwear was not just a trade for us, it was a part of our lives. I remember growing up just seeing shoes everywhere around the house as a kid and had apparently eaten a few of them when I was a child!

As I moved into the professional world, my initial foray led me to a shoe warehouse. It was here that my hands on work in the realm of footwear really started. Over the years, I immersed myself in as many areas of the industry as possible, taking on a multitude of roles and acquiring a comprehensive understanding of the craft over the years. It was through this hands-on experience that I gradually had the confidence and vision necessary for KOI to evolve into the distinctive and independent brand we see today.

Great stuff. Let’s talk about some of your brand collaborations, most recently a partnership with Playboy. What appealed about working with that brand?
UA: The exciting part about working with the Playboy brand was its iconic status and global recognition. There was a wealth of inspiration to work with and what felt like a treasure trove of incredible prints and artworks, all of this combined is a creative’s dream.

Uzair Ahmad, Madeline Wood, KOI, Playboy, Fashion, Publishing, Film & TV

What kickstarted the design process? How did you get to grips with the IP?
Madeline Wood, Footwear Designer, KOI: The design process always starts off with looking at the history of the brand, and what their key vibes and aesthetics are. In Playboy’s case, it was looking through all eras of Playboy both online and by acquiring old physical copies from the 70s to 90s. We then like to produce mood boards based on the different directions we could take. This helps both with understanding the IP’s design language, but also what hasn’t been done before so that we can offer something unique yet still true to the brand.

“The design process always starts off with looking at the history of the brand, and what their key vibes and aesthetics are.”

Playboy is a very popular IP, so it’s quite a challenge to offer up anything that hasn’t been seen before while also still playing with nostalgia and familiarity. I feel we have achieved that with this collection by taking inspiration from some more unusual places.

Can you talk us through some of your favourite design details from the Playboy range?
MW: The design details are quite delicate – examples of this are the ornate embroidery techniques, the dainty translucent organza ribbon serving as ribbon ties reminiscent of ballerinas, the carefully cut gold trims and the crushed velvet classically associated with Playboy. Also, not to forget the metal Playboy logos featured throughout the collection. These details touch on the sensuality and careful visual consideration that is present in the Playboy brand – but in a very intricate and subtle way.

Uzair Ahmad, Madeline Wood, KOI, Playboy, Fashion, Publishing, Film & TV

Looking across all of your collabs, what is the key to crafting great footwear based on brands?
UA: The key is to understand the brand; what is it trying to say? What message does it bring forward? How does it communicate this visually? Once you have that, assimilate it into the creative process; think about the design through this lens while also not losing touch with Koi’s own way of communicating. That way you have something that remains true to both parties.

Last question! How do you fuel your creativity? What helps you have ideas?
UA: Keeping an open mind and looking for inspiration and ideas everywhere. If you focus too hard on the world of shoes, you limit your visual library to what is present within that realm. But if you look at all things – fine art, the online world, TV, film, music and even just what is around you – the world is full of valuable and creative details, even if it’s just a random product in a pound shop, an abandoned building… All the way through to beautiful natural landscapes. The whole range the world offers can bring valuable creative insights.

Great stuff. Thanks again guys.

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