China Mainland Student Design Competition Footwear Winner 2023: Yejia Heng


China Mainland Student Design Competition Footwear Winner 2023: Yejia Heng

Currently studying shoe design at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, Yejia comes from a quaint third-tier city nestled in the heart of Sichuan, China. Yejia’s hometown, characterized by its heavy industrial presence, bears witness to the visible effects of pollution. Both of Yejia’s parents, grandfather and the parents of fellow classmates work and rely on these factories to sustain their lives. Growing up Yejia had a vague understanding of pollution and sustainability. It wasn’t until recent years that it was clear how being born and raised in this environment shaped Yejia’s unique understanding of sustainability.



Tell us about the inspiration behind your project:

My design titled “PUPA” finds its inspiration in the transformative behaviours observed in the insect world. The intriguing metamorphosis of these creatures never fails to captivate me. Central to this beautiful process is the cocoon, acting as a protective vessel. Just as leather is created from animal skin, a by-product which first functioned as a vessel supporting life during their existence, and later evolving into a natural material to be utilized post-lifecycle, the cocoon, too, acts as a container facilitating insect metamorphosis and the “rebirth” of life. This metamorphic cycle symbolizes the circularity inherent in leather, aligning leather and cocoons as vessels of “rebirth,” an exploration central to my design concept.

What do you think makes leather a great material to design with?

Leather, as a biological material, is a product of natural selection. Compared to other synthetic materials, it boasts a unique structure. Being an extension of skin itself, it possesses distinctive flexibility and stretch-ability, allowing it to be customized into various shapes, sizes, and styles to meet diverse design requirements. It’s a material with boundless potential.


What has been your experience in working with leather for this competition?

During the initial phase of design research, I experimented with various techniques to dye and shape leather. The manual transformation of leather fabric proved to be an intricate and time-consuming process. Whether it was shaping it meticulously using a burnisher or exploring different folding methods, along with the subsequent color rubbing treatment, each step required a patient approach. However, the final outcome of the leather truly allowed me to experience the expressive potential of this material.


How do you think winning this competition will impact your career as a designer?

Winning this competition first and foremost has boosted my confidence in my design abilities and manual craftsmanship skills. It has motivated me to delve deeper into this field and transform my design concepts into tangible products, aiming to enlighten more people about the alternative side of leather. Additionally, being an international competition, it presents a rare opportunity for me to gain insights into the creativity and perspectives of top designers from around the world. This experience has had a profound impact on both my career and personal growth, broadening my horizons. I will continually draw inspiration from it and strive to elevate my design prowess.


What are your thoughts on leather and sustainability, and how you think leather can adapt to a fashion industry increasingly focused on sustainability?

Leather’s unique biological attributes give it distinct advantages in terms of sustainability. In the right conditions, it can biodegrade, resulting in a relatively minor environmental impact over time. Additionally, high-quality leather products have a longer lifespan and are more durable compared to synthetic materials. In the context of the current trend towards longer-lasting products and a shift away from “fast fashion,” leather undoubtedly stands as a premium choice in the increasingly sustainability-focused fashion industry.


How has this competition influenced your view of working with leather in the future? 

In this competition, especially the sustainability aspect, I’ve gained insights into the various industries’ efforts towards more environmentally friendly leather production and processing methods, along with the development of new technologies. I’ve also witnessed the potential of leather materials in digitization and traceability. In the future, we can trace the origin of raw leather materials, production processes, and distribution channels. In this era, the ancient material is being re-imagined in a more eco-friendly manner in the production process. Without a doubt, leather will play a significant role as a crafting material in my future design endeavours.

Click here to view all the shortlisted entries from this year’s China Competition.

Click here to learn more about leather and sustainability.