Be it as boomers, millennials or gen Zers, we’ve all been brought up with the childhood axiom that we should not “play with our food.” Fast forward to 2022, there’s renewed interest in a particular trend that is currently gaining traction across social media platforms. Forget Cruggs, toe shoes and stiletto clogs, people are once again loafing around in bread shoes and toasting the entire internet into a frenzy while they’re at it.
For the uninitiated, the term ‘bread shoes’ might sound pretty straightforward: an edible and (questionably) wearable trend where you cut up loaves of bread and don them as footwear. Well, that’s what I thought too until I interviewed a bunch of enthusiasts who have debuted their own take on the trend over the years. There’s more to bread shoes than what meets the eye, to say the yeast.
For footwear and accessory designer Anna Melegh, her interest in bread shoes stemmed from an evergreen fascination with the idea of continuous production and consumption of objects, food and people. “I started to question why things that should last, do not, and those which shouldn’t, actually do,” Melegh told SCREENSHOT, highlighting how she has created a pair of bread shoes and sandwich slippers that were both part of her MA Footwear collection at London College of Fashion.
“Everyday objects were the core of my collection. For example, bin bags, egg boxes, milk bottles and bread. Could I go ahead a few steps and create a collection based on these items but by using high-quality materials? Could it be a bin bag turned into a fashion piece? Or a sandwich?”
When asked about the design process behind both her creations, Melegh took me back to early 2021—when the UK was under lockdown and physical teaching was suspended. “At this time in the course, we were in the design stage [where] we had to develop our concept and make a lot of material experiments,” she explained. “The lack of [a] workshop led me to search for alternative ways of making my mockups. I walked into the kitchen and started wrapping objects around my feet from the recycling bin—hand-stitched and glued into shoe-like shapes.”
At the time, Melegh also worked in a deli where loaves of bread past their shelf life were tossed into the bin at the end of the day. “I decided to take some of these unused de-purposed baked goods home and experiment with them,” the designer continued. After cutting holes and carving the insides out, Melegh tried the discharged loaf on her feet in different positions to repurpose them into the resultant bread shoes.
These quick experiments also led Melegh to include a sandwich slipper in her collection. “A few designers already made bread-like shoes so I was thinking that making a trompe-l’œil sandwich footwear would be more interesting,” she said. Lo and behold, the slipper which looks toasty enough to take off and dig in:
A quick Google search for the history of bread shoes will transport you back to 2009, the self-proclaimed age of “extravagant slippers”—when two Belgian twin brothers known as R&E Praspaliauskas launched a line of edible bread shoes that came in hand-picked cardboard boxes. Heck, the duo even curated the uncanny footwear for children too at the time.
A few years later, Coddies (you might recall the brand for its famous fish flip flops) kickstarted the concept of anti-skid bread loafers, which you could slip on both indoors and outdoors, to keep your feet nice and toasty in the winter months. “Perfect gift for your gluten-free friends!” the description of the product reads on the brand’s website. Bready or not, it looks something like this:
Virtually indistinguishable, right? While the comical slippers are styled like two fluffy loaves of bread that just came out of the oven, they actually sport a cotton interior, velvet exterior and foam base for optimal padding. Wear-resistant and easy to wash, the creation hit it off almost instantly on the internet as it evolved into the perfect choice for gag gifting and comfort cravers.
On my journey to break down the resurgence of bread shoes, I also stumbled across the works of Bernardete Blue, who graduated from University of the Arts London and Goldsmiths University. For Blue, bread shoes manifested as a full-fledged installation at Streatham Festival back in October 2020.
“As a visual artist, I use homemade bread as my main sculptural material, my language,” she told SCREENSHOT, adding how the medium, in all its forms, shapes and flavours, carries an abundance of cultural and religious connections for her. “My childhood memories of my mother’s freshly-baked bread are echoed in my own experience as a solo parent. The same arms and hands that are raising a child are kneading the dough, caressing it, shaping it and handing it over to the world to continue its journey of growth and subsequent decay.”
Blue also pointed out a particular element in her work that confronts what’s expected from her as a multifaceted woman and, consequently, releases socially-repressed desires—challenging what being a ‘capable’ mother and a dedicated artist actually means.
“As a mother, I tell my child to not play with his food. [But] when he’s sleeping, I play with food in a defying gesture of what entails to be a responsible or perfect parent or artist,” she explained. “I grew up watching my mum challenging the traditional gender stereotype that a woman belongs in the kitchen. I follow these memories with my take on creating works that seem like they are domestic (yet deliberate) accidents with subtle humour: ‘Oops! Look what happened in the kitchen…’.”
According to Blue, her bread shoe installation is rooted in all of the above, alongside the context of lockdowns. “When we couldn’t go out, our shoes were indoors—left to become stale as bread,” the artist continued. All of this, coupled with the additional struggle of food supply to stores, made her recall Charlie Chaplin’s scene in the 1925 American silent comedy film The Gold Rush, where they eat actual shoes in times of need.
“I aim to have a surreal yet giggly and playful vibe throughout my work, the [bread] shoes are of actual shoe size and could be worn by someone,” she added.
In terms of the design process, Blue outlined how she wanted the bread shoes to be real enough that they could be worn by an actual human. “This was important for the uncanny aspect of the work,” she said. “If the shoes were too small, they would resemble toys and miss the surreal touch: something that looks real (the shoes) but there’s something wrong with it (the material it’s made of).”
In terms of the technical aspects, Blue first created a structure capable of gently holding the dough where she wanted it to stay. “Once it goes in the oven, it expands and that’s its growth and independence,” the artist explained, adding how she later brushed it with water for a smooth and tanned effect so that it resembles leather.
Now let’s address the elephant in the room. Although bread shoes like Melegh’s are created with discharged material, some people on the internet are literally hoarding new packets of bread, cutting them up and wearing them—only to film the entire process and upload the video ‘for the views’:
When asked about her take on the so-called trend gripping users online, Melegh started by highlighting how bread has become a centrepiece of diets worldwide. “Honestly, I think it’s awful that some people are capable of wasting edible food just to get more views,” she admitted. “We live in a century in which we could stop hunger around the world. It’s fun to experiment with food that isn’t edible or otherwise wasted, but I recommend donating unwanted food that hasn’t crossed the expiration date or rather donating to charities the money they would spend on bread to cut up for views.”
The designer also mentioned that her sandwich slippers were made out of at least 70 per cent upcycled leather pieces she sourced from a factory based in the UK.
As for Blue, the visual artist hopes that her artistic practice is not identifiable with the trend in question, given how she has clarified her inspirations at the root of making her bread works. “I think that this trend is just another reflection of our contemporary way of living. We could go on and on about food waste but everything is a waste (for example, the water bucket challenge: waste of water, energy and more),” she said. According to the artist, our exciting search for the next big ‘thing’ keeps us entertained, and taking part in this keeps us connected socially—consequently awarding each other with the most funny or outrageous media birthed out of the same, resulting in more views and likes.
“From my grandparents and parents’ generations, I recall their stories of going to bed with hunger as their company after long and exhausting days of working in the fields. Whenever there was any stale bread, they would use it with warm milk (fresh from the goat or cow) and peppermint leaves to create a kind of soup. Nothing was disposable.”
Blue further noted how sawdust was incorporated into bread dough to make it more ‘nutritious’ during the war. “I find that this reflects their needs and way of living perfectly—just as the fresh bread shoes’ videos trending today reflects our contemporary ways, where humble sustenance is less connected to food and closer to entertainment and social display or acceptance,” she added.
When I reached out to writer Faith Hale, who curated a mini zine on bread shoes way back in 2017, the creative explained, “I make my zines by Googling something basic like ‘dumb lol’, ‘ridiculous’ or ‘wtf hahaha’ and then seeing what novelty pops up. I had never seen bread shoes before and they fill me with absolute joy! They’re so dumb! So silly! So totally useless but they make me laugh.”
In terms of the ethical standpoint of the resurfaced trend, Hale had a different outlook—highlighting how bread shoes serve an important social function. “It really feels like a ‘goof’ for goof’s sake,” she said. “Anyone who gripes about it being a waste of bread is a misguided cranky pants who’s clearly missing the point, which is fun.”
While interviewing the creatives about bread shoes, one particular query kept bugging me in the back of my mind. Do ethically-sourced edible bread shoes have the potential of hitting the streets in the near future? Or is it more of a couture piece that is nothing more than a fad on the internet today?
“Though bread shoes are comfortable and soft, they aren’t practical if it starts to rain!” Melegh enlightened. “But seriously, I think we won’t use actual bread as shoes not only because food prices are increasing, but also because I hope we are going towards a more sustainable fashion industry and wasting food can’t fit into this.” The designer personally visualises a more “look-alike” approach to the trend with the juxtaposition and assemblages of ordinary objects rather than using actual food in fashion. “Using factory waste and making food-looking pieces from it is a better route,” she explained.
Now, if you’re a fan of Melegh’s sandwich slippers but are clueless about how one could style them for an everyday look, we’ve got you covered. “I could imagine wearing them with something plain, like a full black or white suit,” Melegh concluded. “Extraordinary footwear is like jewellery that could be worn as the showpiece of the outfit.”
As #breadshoes sports 7.8 million views and counting on TikTok, let’s observe a moment of silence for Hansel and Gretal who could have found their way back much more efficiently if they’d thought things through before venturing into the forest.