March 08, 2014
For INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY we are publishing a never seen before conversation with Tracey Neuls. It gives a very inspiring insight into the background of our favourite female footwear designer. Explaining what TN29 stood for and the ethos of it all. She has achieved so much, following her talent and vision. We are so incredibly proud to be wearing and working alongside her. We've said it before but the way Tracey Neuls designs is political! Her first priority is always for the wearer. To make you feel good and walk confidently. Follow in her footsteps - follow your dreams!
I grew up on Vancouver Island. I always wanted to do shoes and I feel really thankful that that was something that struck me, when I was nine I was making shoes with kitchen rolls for heels and cardboard kellogg's boxes for the base. I always credit my mother for letting me walk down the street. I think another mother maybe would have said 'let's just stay inside.' I appreciate her for that. So, really I have been making shoes since I was nine years old.
Growing up in Canada, maybe things are a bit different now but the education for footwear design was absolutely zilch and there was nothing in the States either, so I ended up going into Fashion Design which was the next, closest thing. It has actually been an interesting route to the shoes. One of the things that we started doing 17 years ago now is looking at the shoe like a garment and actually draping the leather over the foot. I was the first to cover the the heel with the same one piece of leather as the upper. Playing with proportion. Not really thinking about it like 'this is the upper and this is the heel' but looking at it more as a silhouette. You see this quite a lot now but we were the ones who originated that. I think from a design standpoint, how I design shoes is because of this background I have in fashion design.
Almost 20 years ago I followed my partner to the UK. I enrolled at Cordwainer's whilst still working in fashion design and then started my company. The programme was 9 months, I went in and made shoes like a mad woman, got fast tracked and learned everything I could. Did my final show and got picked up by a catwalk designer. I started doing shoes for her and then season after season, it grew momentum and they started to want to sell the shoes too.
So next thing you know I'm in Italy learning the language doing so much hard work and I thought why am I doing this for somebody else? If it's this difficult I should be making it for myself. I haven't really looked back since that point.
I encourage anyone who has something they really want to do, to do it. It's really worth pursuing.
I started my label as TN29 it wasn't a conscious thing but I was 29 years old. I really liked the idea to not put my name on the shoes. I am naturally more of a shy person but it was more about the idea that when I started there was Tommy Hillfigger, Donna Karen, and I really didn't want people to wear a name, I wanted them to be themselves. I really strived for that individuality in people and not the sameness. So TN29 was my name and then when I was younger I would scroll and scribble 29, 29, 29 all the time when I was on the phone - so it kind of became a little bit of something that I needed to make the brand about, and when we moved to our shop in Marylebone Lane the building was number 29 as well. That number seems to crop up in my life a lot.
I think being a creative in Canada, it's a large country but it feels small in terms of a design presence so when I came to London I was all wide eyed for about two weeks, everything seemed different and new. Until I realised that when you walk down Oxford Street its all virtually the same. You could knock down all the walls and still have one giant brand. So that was a revelation and that fuelled me to go on and do something uniquely made for the person and we have been on the path ever since.
Recently we were doing a lot more casual rubber sole styles and it was becoming quite commercial, and so I wanted to do something a little more challenging. We hooked up with this amazing factory in Italy so the two brands Tracey Neuls and TN29 made sense, maybe its like Miu Miu and Prada or you know that sort of thing. Then a few years ago my factory retired. Sadly this is something that is happening in Italy, the old masters retire and their sons are off to Milan chasing money and the interest and pride in the craft is going. So I lost a portion of something. Right now we are made entirely in Portugal and fortunately we have found am amazing leather sole factory.
Long story short, in the end I think my hand is so unique that it doesn't matter wether it's rubber soles or leather soles - its just me. So I have come around to the idea that after however many years with TN29 that people want to hear a name and have a person behind the brand, so we are now all Tracey Neuls.
I think a lot of the process and the way I design things lends itself to more of a timeless product. In 2004 I was really thinking about the idea of ladies getting together and putting things right over some knitting and a cup of tea. Especially in London and the bigger cities everyone is running around and there isn't that time for reflection. So I thought why not knit shoes. I developed this with some local ladies who loved the idea.Since then we've knitted leather and fishing line to act as a veil over the shoe's upper.
When you think of the foot, the thought that anyone can mass produce anything for a foot is crazy! Sometimes I wish I was doing chairs or something, one size fits all!
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Owner and designer Tracey Neuls answers three questions.
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