While we all try to stand out with our everyday office outfits, there is no need to fall into the norm of black corporate shoes with a medium heel or the average Oxford or Derby shoe.
Instead, we should bring colour to the world, live with our hearts on our sleeves and wear our personalities.
Originally from London, Daniel Sullivan, ‘shoeholic’ and designer extraordinaire, exploited his creativity and created Irregular Choice to brighten up the shoe world and give people more opportunity to express themselves truly.
Although Dan designed his first pair of shoes at the age of 13, it wasn’t until 1999 that he created the quirky, eclectic shoe chain Irregular Choice. Dan focused on made-to-order shoes for eight years before the London designer opened his first store in 2007 in the world’s fashion capital, New York City.
With hard work, determination, and his parents’ support, Dan Sullivan has created his very own shoe empire. Stretching across the globe, Irregular Choice now has a significant social media following and nine shop fronts, with Dan sharing whispers about more in the works.
When I spoke with the man behind the irregular, Mr Dan Sullivan, he told me that it’s important for people to be comfortable to express themselves in today’s society, if not with their clothes, why not their shoes.
“Recapture your freedom which eloped with your youth,”
– Dan Sullivan, Owner & Designer
Q: What is Irregular Choice, and where did it start?
A: When I started, it was 1999, and the High Street in London was really boring.
What I wanted to do was some creativity into the High street which was dominated by merchandisers, who were just saying, Oh, that’s a black shoe, then we just sell that, it’s boring, but we’ll sell more of that.”
I gave it the opportunity to do more fun stuff, and be more creative. It’s just all about being unique and being different.
Q: Why shoes?
A: Shoes have so many different elements to it that you can be creative with. In clothing, it can become quite saturated with people doing so many different things out there; it’s very hard to compete.
But I think you can be so much more creative with footwear, and you know, you can have this amazing thing just come off your feet – you might not wear in your clothing, because you might be a bit scared to wear all those colours, but you’d wear it on your feet.
Q: Where does the inspiration for the split toe shoe you incorporate into your designs come from?
A: I’ve always loved Japan. My parents took me there when I was 12, and I just find that the Japanese culture is just so different to anywhere else.
It’s just fun, quirky, cute, and I just love tapping into it and taking inspiration from them.
Even just walking around the streets, just sets up a different vibe. If you go to London, Paris, LA, New York and Rome, you know the fashions are very very similar in the sense that they’re all moving down the same line; you’ve got your Prada, Louis Vuitton’s, Gucci and then everything’s just the same.
But if you go to Japan, obviously they’ve got that sort of style they bring in from Europe, but it flips it as well onto their own look and their own dynamics, and it just always sets my mind going creatively just being there.”
Q: What inspires you for your designs?
A: It really is anything. I look at the world and I look at things that might work for a shoe, and I look to try and push those boundaries.
So I might see a pencil and I might look at that and go wow, you know, I can make that into a heel – I do a pencil heel. You might look at your pencil and think, okay, what can I write with that.
I think everybody looks at the world from what inspires them to be creative and how they want to do things. I just like to look at things and dream and having time to daydream, I think is really important.
Q: Have you always designed all the shoes yourself?
A: For the first 10 to 15 years, I basically designed everything.
My father and mother joined my business from about 2000 to 2003 when it started taking off, and they took on a big substantial part of the business -my mom lived in Taiwan and she used to make all my samples for me, and she taught me how to design.
My dad was the business guy, he knew how to deal with the financial side. Unfortunately, my father then passed away in about 2014 so I had to take on all that business, and then my mom retired so I took on that as well, so then I started bringing it up with designers.
Now I design about 50% of the collection.
Q: Are the shoes still being made in China?
A: Yep! And we’re still with the same factories I was with 20 years ago, so they only work for us.
When we started with them they were working with other people, but we took over the production. I never bought into the factories like actually owning them, because you start understanding their problems, and I didn’t want to understand their problems. I wanted them to get on with their bit, and we’ll get on with our bit, but they only work for us.
Q: Is there one specific thing that you try to incorporate with every single shoe?
A: The only thing I would say is that we have to do everything to try and be as irregular as possible. There’s no point in us being, you know, regular.
Q: How many different collaborations do you work with and what is your favourite?
A: Star Wars! That was my favourite. Number seven was just about to come out and I mentioned to Disney that we’d love to do something with them, so we booked it in and it was great with the R2-D2 heel and the Yoda heel.
At any given time, we’re probably working with about three or four different collaborations, because they work so far in advance.
Some of the stores are still selling through the one we launched last December, Wizard of Oz, so you know, there’s loads going on at different times.
Q: Do you see people in the UK quite often wearing Irregular Choice shoes?
A: Yeah, in the UK, definitely. And it was a big change for me when I moved to Australia because nobody knew the brand here.
Now it’s getting there, we are starting to see them on the street and we are building the brand.
Q: Do you plan to open any more stores in other states or territories in Australia?
A: We will be opening another store, we’re just not sure whether or not that’d be back in Melbourne CBD or whether or not we’re opening the first one in Sydney, it’d be one or the other.
The idea is to have three stores, so two more.
Q: Are you still as passionate about what you’re doing today as when you started in 1999?
A: Yes, because I still get really excited when I design something.
I’m probably less passionate about business. I really can’t be bothered with the financial side of things, staffing and the headache side of things, but the creative side and getting stuff out to market, and the excitement and the anticipation of will the customers like it or won’t they like it, I get the adrenaline from that.
Q: Why would you say it’s better to wear colourful shoes more than just your everyday normal shoes?
A: Because it’s a chance to express yourself. I think you could go into an office, for instance, and if you wore colour or too much creativity, they’ll be like, oh, what you’re wearing?
But you could go in there with the shoes, and they’d go, oh their fun shoes, they’re nice, and I think you can get away with it.
Shoes, I think are things which you can really show off your personality more.
Some people are still scared to come out of their shells, and I think that shoes can allow them to do that, it can allow them to slowly express their personalities without having to fear that you’re going to be criticized too much. And hopefully, the shoes are the first way in, then maybe you can start building on that and get the confidence to be more yourself which is what Irregular Choice is all about, trying to allow you to express who you are and what you want to portray to the world.