People of Our High Road: Souraya from Esska

Our High Road: What brought you to Chiswick & when?

Souraya, Esska Shoes: We moved to Chiswick 11 years ago when I was heavily pregnant with my first child. I’m originally Lebanese and moved to England nearly 20 years ago, first to East London, then we wanted to move somewhere greener. From the feel of Chiswick, it’s quite family-orientated and quite safe, and we’re still in the same house in Chiswick we moved into. We love the area, we love Chiswick.

OHR: What was the motivation behind creating Esska?

S: I started Esska 14 years ago. I design the shoes and have them made in Portugal. I used to sell them to other shops and online, and it just grew and grew and grew. My business is mainly online, my shop is more of a showroom and great for people to be able to try the shoes on if they want to. I always thought it would make sense to have a shop. The idea was to create something more like a studio: a space or workshop with an office that has a nice display. I’m on Acton Lane, so there’s not a huge amount of passing footfall. I open 10-3 Thursday and Friday, 11-4 on Saturday - as I have young children, that works for me.

OHR: What makes you happiest in your work?

S: The best, best feeling I get is when someone emails and says “I wore your shoes for my wedding, and I love them, they’re the most comfortable shoes, thank you for making me so happy”. I did something that made someone happy - that is the most amazing feeling. I managed to have a little impact and make someone happy!

OHR: What's your proudest moment in retail?

S: I definitely think my proudest moment is when I opened the shop. It’s not something I dreamt about as a kid, I actually studied as an architect. It was only later in life that I decided to quit architecture and do shoe design. But from when I was a little kid, I always had a vision: I want to create a space that is my own, and see if people like it. Having my own shop has done that. The shop invites you... “come in, step into my world”... if you like it, you’ll understand what I’m trying to do. By doing this, I'm putting my heart out there and saying “this is what I've created”. I hope you like what I've created, and if you do like it then it is for you. There are days when I come into the shop on my own, and I look around and think “oh my god, I have opened a shop!”.

OHR: What's important to you when selling your shoes?

S: I sell from the heart, so it has to be what I really like to wear. This season I’m wearing a boot called Connie. They’re in the new collection and I wear them every day. It is what I post about and everyone who comes into the shop says “oh, they look amazing!”.

OHR: Do you have some favourite products or designs?

S: Aside from selling what I love wearing, I have some bestsellers that do really well online. Plus, I have my style classics: I know they fit, they’re comfortable and they’re popular so they will always be in my range. Of course, in new seasons they might come in new colours and textures, but the design will stay the same. In fashion, you've got trends where one season something is the winner, and the next season something else is the winner.

OHR: How do you select what to design next?

S: I design a Spring/Summer collection and an Autumn/Winter collection, and for each one I decide on the styles that I’m bringing forward, then I start thinking about what I missed last season. I think mainly about the shapes first, whether I want high heels, platforms, or flats, and that is really hard. People ask me how I know what is going to come next: I guess it’s a feeling of what I’ve been sensing around and also what I miss. For next summer, I’m doing a lot of platforms, maybe it’s because we’ve seen a bit of a revival of 70s style! Sometimes I just get a feeling. The part where I really let my imagination go is when I work with the leathers, the colours and the materials because this is the bit I love most! I like experimenting but sometimes it can be really subtle, it doesn’t have to be crazy. My “Esska woman”, the woman I am designing for, is not looking for a fast-fashion shoe. She wants the combination of style and comfort, and I put a lot of effort into the comfort and fit. But I also want to offer her something that’s a bit different, for example, I might add a little bit of metallic on the edge. Whatever it is, there is something to it that’s a bit special, that she can’t find anywhere else.

OHR: Do you have some local tips to share?

S: I absolutely love Chiswick House. I think we are SO lucky to have something so nice on our doorstep. Sometimes I go for a run there. When the kids were younger I used to take them there and spend the whole day. It’s definitely a treasure. Also, there are lots of little independent cafes and shops - I think Devonshire Road is a beautiful street with lots of nice boutiques and cafes. Angies on Chiswick High Road and Fed & Watered on Churchfield Road (Acton) are really good too.

OHR: How do you like to unwind after a busy day?

S: With a drink!!! Basically, pick the kids up from school, and if it’s summer, a cocktail in the garden with a friend, or go to the pub - our local pubs here are The Swan & Duke of Sussex.

OHR: At the moment I'm most looking forward to…

S: Going on holiday. Which is not going to happen, but this is what I am dreaming of.

OHR: What would you do if you were in charge of Chiswick for a day?

S: I would pedestrianise it for a day, and just have a party outside, eating and drinking, where everyone can all cook and people can celebrate their differences. I want to go for a big party! I want to dance!

A big thank you to Souraya, Matt Hemes for conducting the interview, and thank you too for reading.... more coming soon in our People of Our High Road series.

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