Inspiring Females presents: Alison Sefton meets Milly Jupp

Milly Jupp oustide Milly J Shoes on Tombland

Milly Jupp retrained with the British Footwear Association and combined this technical skill with her love of theatrics to create Milly J Shoes - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Head of Norwich High School for Girls, Alison Sefton meets trained opera singer and acclaimed shoe designer Milly Jupp to find out more about her inspirations and creative pathway.  

Alison Sefton, head of Norwich High School for Girls sitting at her desk

Alison Sefton, head of Norwich High School for Girls - Credit: Norwich High School for Girls

When you were at school, did you know what you wanted to be when you were older? 

I believe that people with an artistic talent identify what they want to do at quite an early age. 

From singing the ‘wheels on the bus’ relentlessly to my mother, I knew at the age of four that I wanted to get into singing. Many years later, I was very lucky to go to one of Europe's leading boarding schools which was for the performing arts and trained to be a classical, opera and theatre singer.  

I appreciate there are many people, even my age, who still don’t have a road map or the confidence to know what they want to do as a career - I am tremendously grateful to have had the support and drive to do whatever I wanted. 

I have been talking to lots of girls about how that roadmap isn't always straight - and it’s hard to pick that pathway at an early age. 

Of course. I don't know if you know much of my background, but I was brought up in Jamaica where, as a baby, I was abandoned on a bus and taken to an orphanage. 

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Wow - your roadmap must have changed at a very early stage? 

Yes - my adoptive parents were living there at the time. They wanted to adopt and they apparently fell in love with me straight away. They already had a biological son who was also very artistic too, but more into the creative arts. Sadly, my brother passed almost 10 years ago now. 

I’m sorry to hear of your loss - these moments can certainly change your pathway. 

I agree. At that point, I decided to do something which was different - something that I was very passionate about. That’s when I decided to work in footwear. 

My adopted parents are from Norfolk, plus it's got an amazing history in footwear, so it felt right to set-up a business here. I retrained with the British Footwear Association and combined this technical skill with my love of ‘theatrics’ - and that’s how Milly J Shoes was created.

At this time, I also started doing a bit more charity and community work - working with the Alzheimer's Society and creating community film clubs with the police. 

That's fantastic - so can you tell me about your inspirations? 

A big inspiration is my brother. He was exceptional in terms of his talent. I don't just mean his artistic talent - incredibly intellectual, and incredibly sensitive.

After his passing, I knew I wanted to create something that he would be proud of. It took me a long time to find my confidence to do this, despite being on stage a lot in my life - I think a lot of performers are assumed to be very confident.  

In terms of your career then, what's the best piece of advice you've ever been given? 

It was one of my first bosses who actually said: "If you don't ask, you don't get." It might sound a little bit brash, a little bit overconfident, but I found it's really put me in good stead.

When you ask though, it's got to be the right moment, not forced, and you need to stay true to who you are and what you can do. 

So in contrast, have you been given any really bad pieces of advice? 

I have, but I probably just put them to the back of my mind to be honest. Maybe several years later they might come out again and be useful. 

Is there any piece of advice you would give your younger self today?

I would say to trust myself and the people that surround me. I'm lucky to be greatly supported by those around me. I would say this is especially important advice in those teenage years where you go through so many changes - and even more so right now when they have lost so many opportunities to socialise and thrive. 

A lot of our students have found this support through some form of activism, seeing a collective injustice and wanting to make change. Have you seen this with young people you encounter? 

Yes, I think this generation is quite proactive in wanting to do things for the better which is brilliant - I just believe that they need a strategy and a good clear road map to follow when they do. 

Discover more about Milly J Shoes and Norwich High School for Girls at: 

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