Fashion / Designers to Follow

Introducing ROKER, the eccentric British shoe brand to know

HUNGER caught up with the former scientist turned shoe designer collaborating with London's new fashion radicals.

Modern and practical…big and bold? What is your shoe tribe? Mine lies somewhere in the middle: statement-making, block-heeled booties have been my go-to style for years, come rain or shine (excluding a 24 hour dalliance with some kitten heels. Never again.) How you dress your feet shouldn’t be an afterthought, it’s a reflection of your personality – both mood and outfit altering (“is it bad that I find his trainers off-putting,” my friend asked me recently). Like it or not, your shoe-drobe is just as important as your newly purchased winter-coat, jeans or party-proof sequin top.

Enter underground London-based shoemakers to know, Roker. Founded by 38-year-old former scientist Alim Latif, the bespoke footwear label using handcrafting techniques to ensure each design is personalised to every individual client. A celebration of British eccentricity, robust and timelessly stylish – Roker has teamed up with acclaimed designers from Charles Jeffery and Richard Malone to Ashley Williams and Louise Gray on some crazy-cool creations. Launched in 2016, already the future is looking bright for this indie brand. HUNGER caught up with the rising footwear star to talk hyper-construction, style icons and the art of collaboration…

Hey Alim! What was the starting point for ROKER? You originally trained as a scientist – when did you turn your attentions to shoe design? 

It surprises some people that I actually studied biochemistry at university rather than something creative. Science satisfied my inquisitive side, the side of me that likes to research, investigate and break down an obstacle in order to solve it, but I always knew there was something missing. I pursued the arts quietly and slowly at first, convincing friends that it was a hobby to take my mind off the lab work. By the end, it almost felt a double life, working in the lab all day and then on evenings trawling galleries and archives, sourcing vintage clothing from brands like CDG to see how they were constructed, and poring over back copies of The Face and Dazed and Confused that I’d find on eBay. With more exposure to it, the more I wanted to be invested in that world. It was when I enrolled in London College of Fashion’s footwear design short course that I knew it was shoes that really inspired me.

I had enough savings to either go the more traditional route of studying for three or four years at art school, or for purchasing materials and starting a company. Maybe it was my age or my determination, but I was sure it was the hands-on experience that I needed. I wanted to interact with customers, make mistakes and suffer the repercussions of those mistakes in a very real way in order to learn the trade, so I started working in design and production for T&F Slack Shoemakers, who in their time created shoes for David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve, and then in the evenings I was experimenting with the leathers I purchased with my savings to make my own samples at night.

You’ve worked with some incredible designers – from Richard Quinn to Charles Jeffery and Richard Malone – how did these creative collaborations come about, did you get in touch with them or vice versa?

I had some mutual friends with Charles, all of whom spoke very highly of him – both as a designer and a person. One of my best friend’s interviewed him for AnOther Man and said he felt we shared a similar approach and values. I already really admired his work so was keen to contact him when I heard he was open to it. When we met, the chemistry was immediate. We talked about ideas and concepts for hours. He is one of the most creative people I know and since that first meeting, he continues to inspire me. We both push each other creatively, and that isn’t always the case with a collaborator. We have a great relationship, now coming up to our fifth season working together.

From working with Charles, many other designers made contact. I also started to meet people through the industry, and when the visions felt aligned we worked together too. Each relationship is so different and unique. No two people work the same way. I’m very lucky that I have got to work with such talented people, I’m so proud of all of the work we have achieved together and each of my collaborators has been so different. I’d say that the running theme amongst all my collaborators is that they are all pushing the limits of what can be done, they are all so creative and are some of the most important voices in the conversation at the moment.

You’ve worked with some incredible designers – from Richard Quinn to Charles Jeffery and Richard Malone – how did these creative collaborations come about, did you get in touch with them or vice versa?

I had some mutual friends with Charles, all of whom spoke very highly of him – both as a designer and a person. One of my best friend’s interviewed him for AnOther Man and said he felt we shared a similar approach and values. I already really admired his work so was keen to contact him when I heard he was open to it. When we met, the chemistry was immediate. We talked about ideas and concepts for hours. He is one of the most creative people I know and since that first meeting, he continues to inspire me. We both push each other creatively, and that isn’t always the case with a collaborator. We have a great relationship, now coming up to our fifth season working together.

From working with Charles, many other designers made contact. I also started to meet people through the industry, and when the visions felt aligned we worked together too. Each relationship is so different and unique. No two people work the same way. I’m very lucky that I have got to work with such talented people, I’m so proud of all of the work we have achieved together and each of my collaborators has been so different. I’d say that the running theme amongst all my collaborators is that they are all pushing the limits of what can be done, they are all so creative and are some of the most important voices in the conversation at the moment.

Talk me through the design process here when you’re working with fashion designers? Is it very organic, do you see references beforehand and build on a concept? 

The design process in these collaborations take on various forms, some are more rigid whilst others are more flexible. It’s very different for each designer because it is about how we can work best together, develop and realise our joint vision. Simply put: every person brings something unique to the table, not only in their vision, but also how they bring that to life.

Someone like Ashley Williams has a very clear vision of what she wants, so in this instance we work very methodically. This is where my science background comes into play! Art School welcome you into their world and talk to you through their concepts in an abstract way, often in a way that considers their worldview and fascination with community. In these instances, it’s about translation and making broad and often emotive ideas finite.

With Charles and Richard Malone, we know that we share similar ideals regarding shape and form, as well as an obsessiveness with innovation, craftsmanship and – as is often where we descend to – a respect for the planet, and so the collaboration often starts with a cup of tea and an all-encompassing conversation that can often last hours.

I must also say that working with Louise Gray was a dream come true for me. I had been a fan of hers for a long time, and hearing her ideas of how to turn the simplest kind of shoe – a flat pump – into something I’d never seen before really invigorated me.

ROKER designs are entirely bespoke. What the first thing you consider when creating a pair of shoes for someone?

Yes, everything is bespoke and so every pair of shoes is unique and individual, so this really depends on the design and what it involved in the development. But I must express, it is so much more than just a pair of shoes, it’s channeling ideas into craftsmanship. You need to really understand that person, their personality, their style and how the shoes are going to be worn.

Have you got any stockists currently? Should people get in touch via website/email to enquire about about making a purchase?

Our shoes are currently stocked in selected retailers in London, New York and Seoul, including Dover Street Market and BOONTHESHOP, and our website is in development so always best to email first.

Who has been a fashion mentor for you?

Tim and Fiona Slack, who have been designing and making shoes since the early 70s and who were there on my journey from day one, and continue to mentor me now.

How would you describe the style DNA of Roker shoes – what makes them stand out from other shoe brands now?

It’s about the past, present and future. Having trained as a scientist and a shoemaker, it was inevitable that I would be inspired by innovation and the marriage between heritage and modernity, but also, I always felt very strongly and passionately that the future of footwear was all inclusive and gender neutral, and so from the very first pair I created, I have created without binary constraint.

Describe the aesthetic of Roker shoes in 3 words?

He, she and ze.

Who or what inspires you the most?

London. London is so multi-sensorial, diverse and rich in culture; everywhere I look I see inspiration.

And a career highlight for you so far?

Meeting Tim Walker backstage at one of Charles shows where he photographed all the looks including the shoes! They say never meet your heroes, but he was just as incredible as I had hoped.

Dream client to wear your shoes? 

Tilda Swinton, Grace Jones, Jarvis Cocker, Nick Cave. These people are icons and storytellers.

Advice you would give to young designers starting out today?

Work hard and listen. And I’ll say it again: work hard. You never know what tired is until you start a business.

Finally, what’s up next for you?

I’m launching my own standalone collection which will be available at Browns Fashion early next year and we’re looking to expand our stockists abroad. We are also working on next season Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY for London Fashion Week Men’s and I can’t wait for you to see where we take that!

For more information head to rokeratelier.com and follow on Instagram here

28 November 2018

#bespokeshoes #britishfashion #CharlesJeffery #emergingfashion #newbrands #ROKER