In my short career as a writer, I have interviewed fashion designers, musicians, and entrepreneurs, but so far in my experience the best interviews come from shoe designers. Don’t ask me why, but all the shoe designers I’ve met have been really cool people who I’d just as easily talk beers and places to grab a good sandwich, as heels and fashion trends. Miranda and Ada, the phenoms behind Vancouver shoe line Cocopunkz are no exception. A week ago I met with these ladies over wine and cheese to discuss everything from art, to shoes, fashion cliques, and our mutual lust over Anthony Bourdain.
Miranda and Ada have been lifelong friends since they met way way back in the day as fellow fourth graders with a love of art. Both came from traditional Chinese families, who encouraged discipline as much as artistic creativity. Miranda went on to study Chinese paintings, watercolors, and other traditional forms of art, but stopped when she entered university, while Ada entered the Interaction Design program at SFU. While they found day jobs in the corporate world, the two continued to encourage each other artistically. One day, they decided to experiment with whatever random materials confronted them, including a beat-up pair of boots Miranda brought over. The pair on a whim decided to paint it thinking nothing of it until Ada’s sister spotted their creation and loved it. Coincidence sparked an idea and Cocopunkz was born!
Cocopunkz is one of Vancouver’s best kept secrets with their one-of-a-kind, hand-painted shoe art. These are not Converses that you scribbled with a marker in grade 7 – oh no, these are highly personalized, extremely stylized works of couture. Whether inspired by Cocopunkz themselves, or by a customer’s request, each shoe undergoes several iterations of design before it’s finally hand-painted using oil paints on leather and then sprayed with a waterproofing protectant. One pair of shoes can take anywhere from 5-20 hours to complete. Though the majority of the shoes online are classic pumps, customers can supply any sort of shoe they like, so long as the “canvas” is leather.
When asked where they get their original designs, both artists seemed at a bit of a loss. “Inspiration is everywhere!” they proclaim after a moment’s thought. Ada tries to explain further, saying they are inspired by cinematography (e.g. Sakuran), blogs, childhood memories, opinions, current events (e.g. the Obama heels), and the personal experiences of themselves and those around them. Each shoe is laden with symbolism that only the artist and the subject can decipher. Like a maze, one has to traverse each shoe’s secrets to find its true meaning. If they had to choose what artists influence them though, their answers will surprise you as they range from Betsey Johnson, to artist M.C. Escher, to Anthony Bourdain (Ada is a professed Food Network addict). As you can see, these two are not your ordinary fashionistas.
Throughout our interview, Miranda and Ada impressed upon me how “real” they were. Looking at their shoes, I expected to meet two very artistic people strutting towards me wearing 5 inch heels, artfully distressed denim, and noses to the sky, but they were anything but. Instead the two were refreshingly down-to-earth and laid back. When they decided to start their business, they just went to the Small Business BC office and asked how to do it! To promote Cocopunkz, their approach was simply to wear the product, which was how they snagged their first boutique seller, Jules & Eve, where they still sell Cocopunkz today. Soon after, an Etsy store and website followed.
Cocopunkz is a labour of love first, and a fashion business second. Success, no matter how small, is fulfilling and both ladies state that their primary motivation and reward from Cocopunkz is the chance to share their love of creativity with each other. It’s something that has bonded them throughout their lives and is apparent in each shoe they produce. “If a shoe isn’t 100%, we’ll pull it”, Miranda says, nodding her head for emphasis. It’s that motto of doing it for the love, and doing it like you mean it, that is the primary lesson both women say every artist should learn. Miranda sums it up pretty nicely by saying, “if it’s not uniquely you, and it’s not the most important thing to you, then that shows and nobody is going to buy it.”
That concept of extremely personal, entirely unique, shoes as art is what is the key to Cocopunkz’s success and what makes them stand out from any other shoemaker out there. The two have no plans to expand the line into a mass production business and frankly I couldn’t agree more with that decision. In a world of homogeneous fashion slaves, it’s supremely refreshing to see something that stands out and refuses to blend into the background. Time is money and individuality is precious. Wear a pair of Cocopunkz shoes and you are 100% guaranteed to hold something that will never exist again – what could be more priceless than that?