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Studio Visit: 80%20

Behind the scenes with the NYC-based footwear brand's founder and designer Ce Ce Chin

by Graham Hiemstra in Style on 15 March 2012

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Proving that fashion and function can indeed go hand in hand, 80%20 stands out as a chic, everyday answer to the often painful women's heel. What started as a girl's spin on what sneaker-heads and skaters were wearing has grown into a much more mature and fashion-focused footwear line for ladies. While the Vans-inspired styles have evolved into a more formal silhouette, the emphasis on comfort and wearability has remained a constant. To get a better feel for this continuous progression we recently caught up with founder and creative director Ce Ce Chin at her studio.

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Looking out onto midtown Manhattan, Chin's Fashion District design studio maintains a sense of order, with only a few inspiration boards hinting to the free-flowing creativity at the heart of the operation. Neatly tucked away behind closet doors is an endless collection of sample shoes, swatches and objects—offering somewhat of a parallel to the designer's signature style, the Original Hidden Wedge.

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Chin describes her design process as "non-linear", mocking up ideas, sketches and digital models as she goes, and using her unique masking tape technique. Covering current shoe styles in tape allows the designer to create a 3D drawing board of sorts, turning her ideas into a model she can hold in her hands before resorting to an actual prototype. The freedom of adjustment during the design process allows Chin and her team to toy with ideas and colorways, keeping 80%20's playful attitude going from ideation to production.

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As shown in her design methods, Chin says she has always learned better through experience than by regimented task-driven assignments, a style that ultimately led the designer from her hometown in the Midwest to experiment with design in NYC, where her grandfather and father had grown up. Fifteen years later, Chin—who lives in her grandfather's third-generation Chinatown apartment—has made a name for herself among what she calls the male "shoe dogs".

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Chin sees a future of exploration and expansion for 80%20, aiming to introduce more silhouettes and materials for upcoming collections, like Hudson Bay-inspired colorways and cork-molded footbeds on a high-heeled platform for Fall 2012. As far as inspiration goes, Chin says she prefers to "build based on what works, but shaped on the current vernacular." With this in mind, the line seems poised to continue introducing innovative new styles that still follow the 80%20 mantra of designing for everyday use.

For a closer look at the 80%20 design studio check the gallery below.

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