Saying Hannah Rochell is an avid fan of flat shoes is an understatement. From sneakers to loafers, sandals to boots, Hannah displays her love for comfy footwear through her blog En Brogue and through quirky published footwear guides. From over 10 years of experience working as a journalist for InStyle Magazine and Evening Standard, Hannah continues to extend into new journeys and chapters. Her first published book, titled, En Brogue: Love Fashion. Love Shoes. Hate Heels: A Girl's Guide to Flat Shoes and How to Wear them with Style has been praised for honouring flat shoes and has led the path for another guide - on trainers! Her writing features all the best picks on sneakers and flats and includes beautiful illustrations created by Hannah herself! We spoke to Hannah about her favourite sneaker brands, watercolour paintings and how she styles with confidence in this exclusive interview.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from the Isle of Wight, but I’ve lived in London for 20 years. I still head back to the Island regularly though!
What part of London do you live in and why do you love it?
I live in Hither Green, and I’ve been in SE London for over 15 years. I love it because when we first moved here it wasn’t well known at all, and while it’s changed a lot it’s happened quite slowly, which means there’s a great community spirit rather than mass gentrification. People tend to live in Hither Green for a long time, so it’s really nice to walk down the street and say hi to neighbours and shop keepers who are really familiar faces. We’re also close to loads of other great places, like Honor Oak and Greenwich, and there are lots of brilliant parks for walking the dog. It’s also much easier to get into town than people assume - there’s no tube but I can get to London Bridge in 8 minutes.
When did you start En Brogue and why did you decide to create a platform dedicated to flat footwear?
I started En Brogue in 2012, and it was borne out of my frustration at being able to find flat shoes and trainers that I really liked. I’d completely given up heels, and was lucky enough to work in fashion anyway, so I wanted to share my research with other women who felt as frustrated as me. Luckily, we’ve made HUGE progress since then, and both flat shoe design and trainer offerings for women have improved enormously.
How did you get into Fashion Journalism and why?
I actually started out working in TV production, but I did some fashion evening classes for fun, including one on fashion journalism, and my tutor persuaded me to give up my job and become a fashion journalist. By coincidence, the show I worked on didn’t get recommissioned for another series, so I was out of work anyway! I was also fashion editing an indie magazine in my free time, and had fallen in love with it. I sent out a few letters to magazines and started interning at the ripe old age of 30. I think my age worked in my favour and I landed my first job at The Times after 8 months. I’ve since worked at InStyle and The Evening Standard and am now working freelance.
What do miss about working in the film industry?
Only the people! I made some great friends but to be honest it turned out it wasn’t for me. Changing my career is the best thing I ever did.
What do you most love writing about?
I love doing interviews with fashion designers, but my favourite thing is writing about flat shoes. I’ve had so many messages over the years from women who have felt empowered by not feeling like they have to wear heels to work or to a wedding, for example, and I find it really rewarding. I also recently wrote a piece about how I have given up wearing bras! Which I received similar messages about. Basically, stuff that gives women freedom and joy through the clothes that they wear (or don’t wear!).
Do you have any go-tos' when it comes to fashion and what makes you feel confident?
Don’t be scared to experiment, but always wear what makes you feel comfortable. I think confidence and comfort are intrinsically linked, and if your shoes hurt or your dress is too tight when you sit down, you’re never going to enjoy your day or evening.
Flat shoes that you're excited to get back into or purchase for the summer season?
Pool slides and Birkenstocks. I live in both in the summer. They’re so easy and I love pairing them with everything, including quite formal floral dresses!
Top 3 favourite sneaker/ footwear brands?
I’m a huge adidas Originals fan. I’ve been really into them since I was 17 and heavily into Britpop. Gazelles have always been a favourite of mine, so when they had a bit of a renaissance recently I stockpiled! I have about 6 pairs now and I know I’ll be wearing them for decades because they always look cool. Converse has to be up there - I still have my first pair of Chuck Taylor All Stars that I got for my 13th birthday. They don’t fit me anymore but they have sentimental importance because they are the shoes that got me into shoes. And you can’t beat a Vans Slip-on. I don’t actually have any other style of Vans, because why mess with perfection?!
What do you think when some people say that there's an age limit with wearing sneakers?
Absolute nonsense. Wear whatever you like whatever your age. If Nike Air Max 90s make you happy and you’re 88, that’s brilliant.
Chunky 90's style sneakers or retro tennis styles?
Retro. Tennis. Every. Time.
Chunky 90's style sneakers or retro tennis styles?
Retro. Tennis. Every. Time.
How has the way people wear footwear changed in the last 10 years?
It’s changed so much! When I first started En Brogue it was quite hard to find good flat shoes or trainers in a size 4 that weren’t pink or purple, but now we are spoilt for choice! Designers, both high end and high street, are doing better, but women have embraced flat shoes and trainers and the way they style them, too. I even got my mum into a pair of Stan Smiths recently, and she looked great. And I think once you’ve figured it out, it’s very hard to contemplate going back to pencil skirts and heels (unless that’s what you love wearing, in which case, go for it!). The next interesting step is to see how the bigger sports brands embrace sustainability; adidas and Nike are already doing some great things in that area, but I think consumers will be demanding more before long.
In 2015, you wrote and published a sneaker guide, what led you to focus on sneakers specifically?
Something I’ve always loved about flat shoes is that most styles were originally designed for very specific purposes, which I find fascinating. So when it comes to sneakers, it’s even more specific and even more interesting! I could have written the book three times over; it was so hard to narrow it down to just a few styles. And as I fell in love with sneakers before I went anywhere near a pair of brogues, it seemed to make sense. Also, as I illustrated many of the styles in the book, sneakers are an absolute joy to paint! The shapes and colours just lend themselves really well to illustration.
When did you start illustrating?
Looking back, I’ve always been an illustrator of sorts. I used to write stories and illustrate them as a kid and would bring them into school to read to the class (geek alert!). I did A-level art and nearly went to art school, but I didn’t realise that illustrating was my thing at that point, and went down the TV route instead. It wasn’t until Mulberry sent an invitation for London Fashion Week that included a tiny sketchbook and set of watercolours (no idea why!) that I tried illustrating shoes. People seemed to like them when I posted them on Instagram, and it was ultimately my illustrations that meant my publisher approached me about doing a book. I now work with brands on illustration projects which is really exciting.
Do you have any current projects that you are working on?
Yes I have some really exciting things in the pipeline but I can’t really talk properly about any of them yet! Everything from designing a shoe to a homeware collaboration. All will make sense soon!