Describing the shoes Dan Sullivan designs as "eccentric" would be to do him a disservice. his shoes look like they were designed by an eight-year boy let loose for the first time in the arts and crafts section of a Toys "R" Us.
Sullivan is the founder and designer of Irregular Choice, which sells shoes to help you "stand out from the crowd." In case you don't use your footwear to say, "I'm wacky, I am," what this means in practical terms is shoes with Yoda figurines in the heel, yours for £195 [$295] plus shipping.
Irregular Choice hit the headlines recently in the UK after Labour MP Angela Rayner used House of Commons-headed notepaper to fire off a faintly threatening complaint letter when she failed to get her hands on a pair of sold-out £195 Star Wars–themed heels with four-inch R2-D2 heels.
We reached out to Sullivan to find out about his customers, his craziest designs, and how exactly he incorporated a flashing lightsaber and Darth Vader sound effects into a pair of shoes.
VICE: Hi Dan! Where do you get your inspiration?
Dan Sullivan: I get ideas in my sleep, or when I'm falling asleep. That half-awake, half-dreaming time is really productive. Or sometimes when I'm on a plane, or walking around with my earphones in. I just let my mind wander to see how creative I can be. But having the idea is the easy part. The hard part is actually making the shoe.
So how do you actually incorporate R2-D2 or a flashing lightsaber into a shoe?
We start off modeling all the effects in 3D. Then for the Star Wars collection, we sent the mock-ups to Lucasfilm, and they checked it and said "Yoda's eyes need to be a bit bigger," or whatever. Then we send the images to the heel maker, who hand-carves the prototype in wood. He's done bunny heels, ice cream heels, unicorn heels, Santa heels for us; the lot.
Tell me about the famous Star Wars collection.
For the Star Wars launch, we had people traveling through the night to get to the store for the opening. We had one lady who flew down from Scotland, ran to the shop, bought her shoes, and flew back straight away. Another woman started saving her money for the Star Wars collection as soon as it got announced, before she even saw the shoes online. There are so many people who are just beautiful fans.
Why do you think Angela Rayner liked the R2-D2 heels so much?
I don't really want to comment too much on the letter specifically. But those R2-D2 shoes were our best-ever seller. We sold out the entire run—3,000 pairs—in half an hour. Apparently they're being sold on eBay now for £400 [$605].
What is it about R2-D2?
Everyone loves R2-D2! He's the cutie, isn't he? It's his cute voice! He's got that Japanese feel to him, too.
I'm more into the Yoda shoes.
Yoda's one of my favorite characters. Other people had done Yoda prints on shoe uppers before, but I wanted to come at it from a different angle. So many people think that Star Wars is just masculine, but it has such a big female following, too. So I wanted to see what we could do with heels—I wanted the Yoda heel to be the big feature.
How technically challenging are these shoes to make?
On the Star Wars heel we've got speakers and lights in the platform. So you press a button and it makes lightsaber sounds or R2-D2 sounds. It's really challenging to get the speaker and lights into the platform of the heel, I've never heard of anyone else doing that. We had wanted the Darth Vader voice, but unfortunately Lucasfilm wouldn't allow it. Something to do with copyright issues.
What's the most difficult shoe you've ever made?
Maybe the Balletomane wedge. A friend of mine asked, a few years ago, when are you going to make some ballet pumps? She just wanted the standard ballet flats everyone wears.
And I thought, what if you take a ballerina music box, and put the ballerina inside a Perspex heel, like she's in a glass cupboard? And when you wind up the heel, the ballerina twirls around and it plays "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," like a music box? It was difficult to fit that all in, but we got there.
Can you tell me a bit about the kind of customers you have?
We've had customers who've moved house so they can convert a room into an Irregular Choice room for all their shoes. One lady told me she'd been offered two jobs, and she took the one nearer our Carnaby Street store so that she could walk past our window every morning.
There are collectors who spend tens of thousands of pounds on the website each year. This lady in the shop the other day, she told me that she'd bought 56 different versions of this one shoe we do. She said to me, "Every time you do a new color, I buy it." I didn't even realize I'd done 56 colorways of that shoe.
How comfortable are these shoes to actually wear?
We try not to cripple people with what they're wearing, so we have test models based in our factories in China. But we design all the shoes over here in the UK.
We know that a lot of people don't like wearing high heels. For example, if you're a hairdresser you don't want to be walking around in heels all day. So for them I'd probably recommend the C3PO or Darth Vader flats.
Your shoes are really out there—for example, these light-up unicorn trainers. Is anything too much?
Every girl loves a unicorn, don't they? But we wouldn't do anything just for the shock value, or swear or be rude. We're about fun. It's all about being on the rainbow side of life.
Your shoes definitely attract attention.
My shoes are "wow" shoes, definitely. A good friend of mine met her fiancé because she was wearing a pair of my "I Love You" heels in a bar. A guy came up to her and was like, "I love your heels," and now they're engaged.
I think, if you're wearing something fun, it makes people happy. People think you're more approachable when you wear something nice, you know. I'll walk around in a jumper with a bunny rabbit on it, and people will smile at me.
Everyone else just walks around, so busy in their own worlds. But when you show off your fun, creative side, people are more open to you! When you have hearts on your heels—well, hopefully they will bring you love.
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