JUNIOR MEETS: 10 Questions With Zig + Star Founder Ali McAleavy

We love it when a new brand creates a buzz at the Junior Design Awards and Zig + Star was definitely a magnet for our judges, who loved the relaxed, cool vibe of this children's footwear line, tied in with its unisex ethos that makes leopard print and metallics accessible to all kids. The brand's presentation, attention to detail and clear sense of fun really appealed to the entire panel and in an incredibly tough category, in their first year of entering, they scored a gold award! Not something we expect from a fledgeling brand! When we spoke to founder, Ali McAleavy, it was clear that her background in buying, her hard work, creativity and sense of humour are the driving forces behind Zig + Star and we can't wait to watch this brand go from strength to strength. We'd quite like to eat lots of cheese with Ali too!


1.What inspired you to set up Zig + Star?

It was borne out of frustration of shoe shopping for my own children. Firstly, I couldn’t bear how gendered and limiting the boy/girl ranges were. It felt like trainers were the only true unisex option but they are not good for kids to be wearing all day long. I wanted cool, unisex shoes that they could wear for any occasion, whether that’s the playground or a party. And tackling the issue of kids’ growing out of their shoes so quickly, fuelled our design concept of full adjustability and creating podiatrist approved shoes that grow with the child.

2. Tell us about your own favourite pair of shoes?

That’s actually a very hard question. Having worked in footwear for over 20 years, one of the perks of the jobs was free shoes, so I have quite a few... maybe I’ll do my top three? For every day, my trusty black Converse, if I can force myself into heels, its my fave black Isabel Marant Jaeryn sandals and for winter, it’s my black chunky boots (lots of black basically!!!)

3.Where do you get your inspiration for your shoe designs?

It might be a cliché but everywhere… while our development definitely has kid’s growing feet in mind, the aesthetic has been influenced by everything around me; fashion, art, music, the natural world. But it’s not just visual influences, its also emotional. How I felt as a girl growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, how I felt as a mother of both a boy and girls. It’s been influenced just as much by things I don’t like, as it has been by things I do.

Astro Shoe, £49

4. We hear you love a mood board – what would we find on yours?

Pretty much anything you can think of… My musical stye icons (Prince, Bowie, Blondie), old images from the 70’s/80’s/90’s… photography I love (my all time favouite is Martin Parr)… I also have some lovely kids editorial shoots – there was one photographer that I particularly loved that appeared a lot, Leonie Freeman… I contacted her and we’ve ended working together on all my shoots, I love her.

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5. What do your children think of Zig + Star? Do you test out your designs on them?

They love it… They’ve been involved from the very beginning of all our development. Not only trying on shoes, but other elements too… coming up with all the little print icons that represent things that are important to the brand, the suitcase design of the box to take on your own adventures, even naming the shoes. The brand name itself came from the family, it’s a combination of all our names and initials.

Zig+Star kids shoes
Atomic shoe in pewter, £49

6. What are you reading at the moment?

I haven’t had much time for books recently, but the last book I read was Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. I love his all of his books, I find they completely change the way you look at the world and people around you. But my all time favorites which I can read over and over again are J.D. Salingers short stories.


7. What is your favourite childhood book or the book that you love to read to your children?

I loved Roald Dahl books as a child, so we’ve read those together - we particularly loved Danny the Champion of the World. And we’ve just started the Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton which brings back so many lovely memories… I’ve still got my copy with my writing inside the front cover.

8. You’ve just won a Junior Design Award - what is next for Zig + Star?

I have big plans for the brand, other products and categories I would like to add to the collection. But it’s still just me so I need to make sure I don’t stretch myself too far, too quickly. Staying truthful to our design concept of making flexible products that can grow with the child is the priority for me, so the development has to be really considered. The shoes were in development for 2 years before they were exactly as I wanted them, so if it takes longer to get the prefect products, then so be it.

9. Cheeseboard or pudding?

Cheeeeeeeeeese!! I’m savoury all the way.


10.What is your favourite smell?

I feel like I should say the smell of my newborn children… but truthfully, its La Labo Thé Noir cologne… Closely followed by my newborn children!