Fashion Friday: The Norwich shoe designer creating wearable works of art

Emily Jupp of Milly J Shoes in her new shop in Tombland, Norwich. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Emily Jupp of Milly J Shoes in her new shop in Tombland, Norwich. Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

In her studio in Tombland designer Emily Jupp creates shoes that are wearable works of art. We meet her.

Her shoes are fantastical feats of imagination, adorned with everything from fairytale characters to sweets that look realistic and tempting enough to eat.

Emily Jupp’s incredible, and award-winning, creations are like works of art – and now one of her shoes inspired by the city’s history is going on permanent display at one of its museums.

After a visit to the pharmacy exhibit at the Museum of Norwich at The Bridewell, Emily took her design cues from some of Victorian medicine’s more curious treatments.

“It was actually a visit to the museum that resulted in the commission,” she explains. “I was absolutely enamoured by both their historic shoe collection, and the pharmacy which was built up by local pharmacist, John Newstead, who dedicated his time to the collection and won an MBE for his efforts.

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“On the off chance, I contacted the museum saying that I’d like to donate a shoe I already had. However, they knew of me, but didn’t know my work and so were a little reticent at the start, until the assistant curator visited the shop who in turn told the head curator about my work and that they must get a shoe! So, from there, they said that they wanted a shoe for the permanent collection.

“However, my work was set, as I had to whittle down all their fantastic artefacts into one idea for the sculptural shoe. I swung from the miniature diaries to Colman’s followed by the textile trade, to the pharmacy.

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“There was something truly magical about the pharmacy, especially with it being Victorian. With the advent of peculiar health benefits from bottled leeches to vials of opium and arsenic, this was a macabre and fascinating time for medical sciences.”

Explaining her creative process, Emily says: “My mind started to imagine the large scale pharmacy on a smaller scale shoe, turning those peculiarities into miniature form. It was a delight for me, as one of my specialities is hand making miniatures. Of course, where I couldn’t make it, I’d order it in, such as metal Victorian weighing scales.

“I wanted the shoe to also incorporate modern environmental trends, so it was important for the base shoe to be upcycled,” she adds. “Here I used an old, tatty wedge shoe due to the amount of creative space on it.”

Listening to Emily’s incredible life story at her showroom and studio in Tombland, you understand her drive and determination.

As a baby she was abandoned on a bus in Kingston, Jamaica and taken to an orphanage where she was adopted by a British couple who were working there. When she was four the family moved to Bangladesh.

Always creative, Emily went on to study drama and opera. It was a family tragedy eight years ago, however, which inspired Emily to launch her own brand, Milly J Shoes.

“My brother took his own life,” she says. “He was a very talented artist and he inspired me to try doing something completely different.”

And that was designing shoes. She got a pair of plain shoes and created a design inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Encouraged by a friend, she put a picture on Twitter where it was seen by model Jodie Marsh, who got in touch asking Emily if she could make her a pair, which she then wore on the TV show This Morning.

It was from there that Milly J Shoes really started to take off with requests for one-off commissions. In 2014 she appeared on singing competition The Voice wearing a pair, which brought them to another audience. She’s gone on to win numerous awards, including Footwear Designer of the Year in The Footwear Industry Awards 2015 – she was nominated in two categories in the 2020 awards – and last year she was named one of Norfolk’s 100 most inspiring women. She is also a speaker for different organisations, working with young people and runs creative workshops with the Maids Head Hotel.

She moved from her shop on St Benedict’s Street to Tombland a couple of years ago. As well as selling shoes, which are very popular for occasions such as weddings and proms she also makes and sells shoe clips, which customers can use to personalise shoes which they already have.

And when it comes to having Emily create bespoke shoes for you, the only limit is your imagination.

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