Work of heart: the sentimental story behind footwear brand Bronwyn

3 May 2022
By Courtney Joe

Introducing the consciously curated label designed by Sarah Street.

Bronwyn 'Cleo' heel in black.

Sarah Street knows what women want. After all, she’s juggled all the tropes of modern womanhood: marriage, family, an intense career spanning furniture and product design, more recently spending the past 12 years specialising in women’s footwear design in the UK and Aotearoa. Your toes may have unknowingly slipped into a pair or two of her designs already, during her creative tenure at Kiwi-owned footwear label Mi Piaci, but after six years leading the esteemed brand’s design team, she was ready for a new challenge — her own name in footwear. 

“As women, we’re just busy, so I wanted to create something that supported us on the busy journey through life,” says Street. A year on maternity leave with her second son, Cas, gave her the clarity and courage to rethink her career and design journey, and ultimately evaluate what like-minded women want to wear and how they should be shopping. Armed with a fresh perspective on how to complete the wardrobes of modern women, she began a year-long process of designing, sampling, producing and branding, naming her new venture Bronwyn, after her late mother. 

“When I was naming the brand, I was playing with all these names,” she says. “I wasn’t even thinking about my mum’s name. I just wrote it down and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t think of anything more fitting’.”

Bronwyn creative director and founder Sarah Street.

Stepping out

The launch of Bronwyn coincided with Tāmaki Makaurau’s fourth lockdown. The plan had been to launch online, in stores and via a showcase with a womenswear designer at New Zealand Fashion Week, but Alert Level Four didn’t deter this designer from pushing forward. Launching a start-up business, working full-time and parenting full-time from home is no easy task, yet when we speak to Street during lockdown, she’s calm and composed, dispatching courier collections and hushing her workroom ‘assistants’ Vinnie (3) and Cas (15 months) while showing us her footwear designs on Zoom. “There are shoes everywhere,” she says. “But we’re making it work. You’ve got to hustle!” 

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Offering two distinct collections — ‘Foundation’, a year-round offering of footwear essentials, plus a limited­-edition seasonal range, ‘Capsule’ — Street’s understanding of her customers is evident. “One of the really great things I learnt [in my career] was that the customer voice is so integral to your design process,” she says. “If you don’t design for a customer, what’s the point of having a brand? Bronwyn is consciously curated for a modern woman, a woman who’s on that journey towards more conscious shopping. She’s more aware of what she purchases; she’s buying for longevity.” 

And with Bronwyn, she can. The ‘Foundation’ styles are evergreen, expressed in a pared-back palette of black, camel and shell — staples made to be worn season after season. The ‘Capsule’ designs are seasonal and limited in number (to combat overproduction), in a palette of optimistic hues such as this season’s apple green and bubblegum pink. Customers can even purchase in ‘Wardrobes’ — a curation of key Bronwyn styles intended to form a foundation for your everyday shoe wardrobe. 

Bronwyn 'Cleo' heel in shell.

Pillars of strength 

Through every facet of Bronwyn, Street steadfastly abides by her four design principles: “elevated, curated, conscious and heart”. ‘Elevated’ and ‘curated’ reflect her personal aesthetic: refined details (rubberised foreparts, unique buckles and trims…) and minimalist silhouettes complemented with pops of colour. ‘Concious’ reflects the responsibility Bronwyn has to educate her consumers on their wardrobe habits and consumption; “The whole brand ethos is to make things simpler and streamlined, a slower approach to fashion,” she says. ‘Heart’ is a nod to Street’s mother’s compassionate nature, and Street’s commitment to be kind to people and the planet; Bronwyn shoes are manufactured ethically at a SMETA-accredited family-owned and -operated factory in the shoemaking district of Porto Alegre in Brazil, working alongside LWG- and CSCB- certified leather tanneries.

Speaking of heart, Street brings the conversation back to her mother. “That whole brand pillar of ‘heart’, was inspired by Mum. I just wanted to create something that I know she would have been proud of.” 

And proud the late Bronwyn should be, that the women of Aotearoa are carrying a part of her with every step they take in her namesake shoes.

This article was originally published in Fashion Quarterly summer 2022.

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