Just call Julia Skergeth a designer who goes against the grain. The Kingston University student turned the traditional stiletto on its head, after all, when she built a vertiginous heel using little more than rice, silicone, and bio-resin. Already, the towering footwear is turning heads—and heels. Unveiled during London Fashion Week in September, the concept won Skergeth at the prestigious Vauxhall Fashion Scout showcase—not bad for someone only in the first year of her postgraduate studies.

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The Austrian native came up with the idea after InCrops, a not-for-profit bio-renewables enterprise based at the University of East Anglia, challenged Kingston University’s fashion students to create examples of carbon-friendly couture.

Skergeth spent weeks glueing rice grains on a template to create a silicone mold, which she then filled with bio-resin.

Skergeth not only caught the eyes of the judges by focusing on alternative plant-based materials—she’s experimented with pistachio shells and coffee beans in the past—but also for reversing the slope of the heel from back to front. “I just love crystals, diamonds, and all the sparkly embellishments that finish so many luxury fashion items,” Skergeth says. “This project, however, asked us to create sustainable luxury, so I had to really think about how I could keep the materials and approach green but still make eye-catching designs.”

A cooking enthusiast, Skergeth looked to rice as her “alternative bling,” she says. Knowing it wouldn’t stand up to wear on its own, the student spent weeks glueing individual grains on a template to create a silicone mold, which she then filled with bio-resin. “Bio-resin dries crystal clear, so I also took the opportunity to feature the rice again by pouring it into the liquid,” she says. “Floating to the bottom, it reinforced the spiky shapes it had already created on the exterior.”

Skergeth preemptively strikes at critics who might deride her shoe’s unconventional—and impractical—form. “Shoe design has gone crazy. Heels have got higher and platforms have sent footwear to even dizzier heights,” she says. “So many shoes on the high street are almost impossible to walk in anyway, so I just wanted to take the opportunity to play with the design.”

In other words, she’ll rise above it.

+ Julia Skergeth

+ Kingston University