Élan Hawkins struggled with her identity and she used her own personal experiences as inspiration for her designs. As a creative young and proud black woman, she wants to be an inspiration to women and other designers out there. By creating stand-out statement pieces, her messages always come across loud and clear and she is a force to be reckoned with! Élan Hawkins stands for individuality and diversity. In this article, she speaks openly about some of the struggles that she has faced in her life, and what makes her such a special designer.
1. Where do you get most of your inspiration from?
The inspiration for the projects that I create comes from my own personal experiences growing up. I have always been a big fan of things that could evoke emotion positively, whether through storytelling or any other medium. When I was younger, I struggled quite a bit with my identity, and so these positive interactions were a way to keep pushing me forward. I wish to have that same kind of effect on other people through my designs. My design projects are dedicated to helping people feel uplifted and inspired.
2. Has another footwear designer ever tried to steal your ideas, and if yes, how did you find out & what was your reaction?
As of right now, no designer has stolen any of my designs.
3. What makes you unique in comparison to other designers?
(What sets you apart from others?)
When I look at the community surrounding design in the current time, I see a lack of diversity. Diversity in women, diversity in culture, and diversity in mindset. My time in college as an Industrial Designer, though filled with much significant education and teaching, was missing a considerable influence on a diversified mentality. I am unique as I am an African American and a female as well, a minority of the minorities.
As of right now, I am working on starting a career in the footwear industry. I have only just started my journey to making an impact as a designer. I believe in the quote, “live a life that outlives you.” What this means is that you were able to share your influence beyond your lifespan. How can I be a positive influence on generations to come? We only recently recognized the small number of black people, especially black women, working as designers and other higher positions. This has nothing to do with our ability to work but the opportunities that we are lacking. I may be pursuing a career in footwear, but I will not stop until I have made my own significant impact on society. I believe there is a large opportunity for women, just like myself, to influence the future of good design.
4. What words/advice would you share with young people who are planning on pursuing design as a career?
For anyone young and pursuing a path in design, networking is one of the primary necessities to finding yourself in the industry. I have seen from my experience that, in most cases, it does not matter how good your portfolio is. Companies are more likely to hire someone who has been recommended directly to them. Portfolios can show good work and ideas, but it is limited to just that. If you want to be successful in your field as a designer, networking is just as important as all of the other steps involved.
5. What does the word, ‘design’ mean to you?
When I think of the word design, I think of two things; art and ingenuity. Art by itself is geared towards an expression of oneself. Ingenuity by itself can solve issues involving one or multiple individuals to achieve a particular goal. When you combine the two, you get artwork but with an awareness for a specific consumer. This is what I consider design.
6. Do you believe that artists have the power to influence, and why would you say so?
I believe 100% that artists have the power to influence. Influencing is primarily the main point of our job, evoking emotion and generating a reaction. Artists have, since the dawn of man, being able to communicate with one another through artwork. Take hieroglyphics, for example. Indigenous people created symbols and painted them on the cave walls to connect with others. The same happens today, just on a broader scale.
7. What do you love most about designing and creating?
My favourite part about designing is the final steps towards completion. To think of an idea and have it come to life is one of the most magical experiences I have had the opportunity to come across. After working on a project for weeks or even months, I always take a step back to appreciate the journey. All of the mistakes, successes, long hours spent, tears of frustration, sleepless nights are all worth it when I get to see the final creation.
8. If you take a look at your design career, is there a specific moment that stands out from the rest, and why?
The moment that stands out to me was when I learned that design is more than what they teach at school. As I mentioned before, the lack of diversity in the Industrial Design department had me questioning bringing some of my other skills to the table. In addition to being a designer, I am an illustrator. For the longest time, I was told to keep the design modern, sleek, and simple, so I refrained from using my illustration skills. I kept them separate until I decided to take a footwear class in my third year of school, where they allowed me to create my own brief and even encouraged me to use my illustration skills.
It was a significant turning point in my career as a designer, and from that day forward, I decided to start trusting my own internal guide more when it came to designing. I have decided to pave my own way as a designer in this industry, even if it is not the most traditional route.
9. What is your most favourite design that you’ve created and why?
My most favourite design project has been my Maya Angelou footwear project. The project focuses on influencing future generations with the significant stories of people from our history.
I chose to develop this project as a statement for many black women such as myself who deal with society and many of its injustices that occur. When I was younger, I struggled with issues surrounding my identity. To most people, I was judged by my complexion rather than my actual heritage. I would have been able to cope with these challenges a little bit better had I known more about people such as Maya Angelou who dealt with similar challenges. I built this project to inspire young women to create a better future. Generating shoes inspired by historical figures can remind us of where we’ve been and show us where we can go as a people. Lifting up our younger generations will only facilitate the future of our world as they will be the ones to run it eventually.
10. Describe your morning routine?
My routine involves waking up in the morning around 8:30 am, lying in bed for a few minutes to mentally put together my work schedule for the day, and then getting up to start that agreed-upon schedule. Usually, I listen to classical music to keep my mind open and running before starting some of the more strenuous tasks.