It was Tinitrader’s pleasure to interview creative local designer Maria (Rie) Southwell of Chook Leaf. We visited the truly unique studio of the Mount Martha based designer last week to get some insight into the origin of Chook Leaf. We loved chatting with Rie and understanding a little more about how she has managed to develop such an exquisite range of quirky children’s and women’s shoes, all whilst raising a family of three gorgeous children! And of course we loved meeting her adorable miniature Dachshund puppy, Banjo!
Chatting to Rie in her combined home/studio is a little like taking a glimpse into your imagination and seeing what it would be like if you were to quit your job in the city and move to the seaside to pursue your dreams! Rie has a magical studio a short walk from Mount Martha beach. Rie seems to have done an amazing job of capturing in her work and life the chilled out cool vibe of living in a beautiful beachside location.
Rie’s studio resembles a treasure trove of inspiration and textile samples. Rie has collected an amazing array of inspirational bits and pieces over the past decade of working in the fashion industry. Rie has a strong fashion background and started out studying fashion design. Chook Leaf grew somewhat organically from a need for a pair of soft shoes for her first little girl at the young age of 9 months (almost 14 years ago!). There was nothing on the market that was soft and fashionable.
After demands from friends and many passers by in the main street, Rie saw a unique opportunity to develop a shoe that would be softer for young children’s feet. Designed in Australia and hand made in the softest hand made leather, they have gained the reputation as the comfortable fun brand of shoes that children love to wear. Chook Leaf shoes are created from beautiful soft lambs’ leather, making them perfect for growing feet. Much like her personality, Rie’s designs are organic in nature, and have a special quality that is truly unique. Rie loves to see children enjoy their new shoes. Her own children inspired her shoes and she loves to continue to create a beautiful product for other people’s children. Rie takes inspiration from a myriad of sources including her favourite architecture and interior blogs.
Rie does an amazing job to juggle running her own business and raising her kids. She tries hard to fit her work between 8.30am and 3.00pm, however like many working Mums she doesn’t always succeed!
We were enchanted to hear the story about the origin of the brand name. Rie grew up with chooks in the backyard and always remembered her Mum referring to the chook’s feathers as a chook leaf. The name just made sense for her little own children’s shoes! Each of Chook Leaf’s shoes is named after a different breed of chook. Who knew there were chook breed’s called ‘Welsummer’ and ‘Campine’.
Rie has enjoyed wonderful success with her lovely shoes. Little fashionistas around the world have enjoyed her shoes. She was excited when Suri Cruz was photographed wearing Chook Leaf. Rie has a myriad of ideas and projects that she would love to work on including a long held dream of collaborating with Vivienne Westwood to come up with a quirky and creative shoe. We would love to see that!
We look forward to seeing more of her lovely shiny and colourful creations!