Youthful, ambitious, and oh-so-talented, Dubai-bred footwear designer Katrine Hanna has proven herself as a woman to watch – and she’s only 25. How so? Her eponymous line of luxury heels has become a favorite at one of the leading shoe retailers in the world – Level Shoes in The Dubai Mall – and she’s a regular fixture at Paris Fashion Week to boot. With a preference for earthy tones, a signature block heel, and a variety of feminine silhouettes, her work is equal parts captivating and fashion-forward.
But while this Lebanese-Australian millennial seems like a natural, she didn’t expect her creative side to culminate in strikingly stylish heels. Hanna’s heart was originally set on textiles and 3D work, though her trajectory quickly changed towards a more sartorial route. After studying at Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion and interning at the likes of Alexander Wang and Rupert Sanderson, she is now poised to be a breakout star on the footwear scene – not just in the Middle East, but the world. In this exclusive interview with Savoir Flair, she reveals what it really takes to run a business, if she has a plan B, and exactly what led her to these great heights at such a young age.
So tell us, how exactly did you get into footwear?
Well, I took a lot of art courses thinking I was going to do fine arts when I was younger – my work was all about escapism, fairies, and things found in nature. I focused on everything from painting to sculpture that I thought I’d continue with in university, which led me to experimenting with a lot of 3D products, textiles, and working with different types of materials. I thought I might want to design jewelry, but footwear resonated with me because it combines all the different elements of art and design together.
I was able to design my own materials and put them into a 3D product. It’s a part of fashion, but because it’s a shoe, it’s something niche, something different. And I liked the whole skill set behind creating it. I didn’t see it as shoe-making; I saw it as making a shoe out of anything. For three years, I studied the whole craft of making shoes at the London College of Fashion – I’m a trained shoe-maker! After that, I decided I wanted to set up my own company.
Did you do anything else to prepare yourself for the industry?
During my studies, I tried to do as many internships as I could to understand the parallels between how the fashion industry works in comparison to making shoes in school. I learned how to create a business plan, but it was also helpful to be in the real world. I interned with Chelsea Paris, Alexander Wang in New York for a summer, and Rupert Sanderson for a year while I was still in university. It was good because I was able to get both types of education this way.
When did you start your brand?
After I graduated in 2016, I came back to Dubai, learned about finding a factory, and went forward with creating my logo, starting my company, and registering my brand – that’s how it all started. I officially launched at the beginning of 2017.
Were there any hardships that you’ve had to overcome?
I think the most difficult part was finding a factory that I could work well with. When I’m asked about starting a brand, I always stress on the fact that you must have a reliable factory that believes in you, and you believe in it. That’s why I like to work in Italy; the craftsmanship of footwear is unparalleled and that’s important to me. I studied this, so I’m very cautious about the cut, the finish, and the details that go into it.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always thought I’d grow up to be an artist or a mermaid – I guess I did both.
When did you decide that shoes were definitely something you were going to design?
I knew towards the end of my program. When you design a heel, it’s like you’re designing a mini sculpture. I didn’t want to be a part of fashion because it’s very intense, but I do like having a unique look, and that shows in my shoes.
How did your parents feel about this decision to become a designer?
They were encouraging, and my dad was very supportive – he has more shoes than I do! He’s the shoe lover and I feel like he really pushed me because he has a love for shoes as well. Having support from my parents makes all the difference because it’s not an easy field to go into.
Did you study business?
The courses I took did have elements of business, but it was more self-study. I’d taken some lectures that were business- and fashion-based, but I focused on the making of the product. Now, I’m learning along the way.
So what have you learned about the business side of the industry?
There are so many things that you have to consider before starting your company – budget, investments, understanding how to allocate for its different aspects. I now know that there’s a lot more that goes into shoe-making in terms of public relations, social media, and knowing what the general public wants in order to give it to them. Other things like production, pricing your product, knowing how to get buyers interested, presenting at Fashion Week, and being able to follow up on the production to guarantee things are on time? I’ve had to pick up all these skills.
What is it like now that you’re running your own brand? Has there been a shift in your approach?
For the three years that I was studying, it was all about creating the product, but now it’s become the smallest part of my business. There has been a big adjustment in the way I think. It’s no longer about the creativity, but how to make my creativity successful for the majority of the time. It’s a bit difficult because you have doubts, but that’s the real world – you have to prioritize things in order for your creativity to succeed.
Did you have a plan B?
I never thought that it wouldn’t work out because I was always going to try as much as I could. I don’t think you can ever fail unless you’ve tried a million times, and I would’ve done that until I definitely knew it wasn’t working out. I don’t think I had a plan B. For me, plan B would be to do it again.
How did you get into Level Shoes?
The buyer at Level Shoes has been like a mentor to me. I approached them and thought I wanted to go into buying, but realized that I should pursue my own brand. I’ve had Level’s support from the beginning, which I’m very grateful for because they’ve taken a chance on me.
Which women do you look up to?
Nathalie Trad – I got into contact with her a long time ago, even before I started my business. I wanted to talk to her and felt like we had something similar. I’ve followed her success from the beginning, and she has always inspired me. She has grown in such a unique way while growing with Dubai and working with unique materials – not unlike myself.
How would you describe your brand?
Transforming women into an allegory of fantastical nature. I always try to connect women with nature, which I’m very much inspired by.
Lastly, what’s your motto in life?
“If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind, your creativity opens up endlessly.” It’s from a Chef’s Table episode with Jeong Kwan, and has always stayed with me.