The Community Market for Makers & Shakers on Saturday, October 14th was my first live shoe event. Hosted by NextFab in North Philadelphia as part of DesignPhiladelphia, I had a great day of feedback, networking and fun and oh yeah a few sales.
My second generation RoxAnneLava Signature samples in whole sizes 5-11 debuted to the public. I offered 2 options for orders, my holiday leather collection in black or cranberry patent/silver or cranberry crackle/ gold or red metallic, OR a new offering of up-cycled leathers that are waste materials from a furniture manufacturer in black/red/brown. My 1st generation Signature prototypes, 3 sample pairs and logo tees were also available. It was great to have people see, try on and react to my shoes.
These events are always best for exposure and networking and Saturday did not disappoint. I gained about a dozen new email subscribers, sold some product, got some ideas and feedback and connections on the shoes from people who don’t know me and met some new potential partners for a couple of really interesting initiatives.
I’ve been a maker and had making businesses for most of my adult life. It’s great to watch this new one grow. I am pleased with the positive response. It’s gratifying to work toward my personal and professional goals. A day like Saturday validates I am on the right path.
Meet Pixie a pointed-toe flat mule, created on a vintage 1980 last (Ah memories of my wanton youth). Pixie is my first foray into working with soling weight leather. What an experience. The leather I have is thick with a veg tan finish. I think it will make for a sturdy sole, but boy is it hard to cut. After using my scalpel (too weak), a 45mm rotary cutter and leather scissors (both hard to control on curves and often crushed rather than cut) and my regular utility knife, I was defeated.
I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to do it. My hands hurt and were a bit numb. I wallowed in self-doubt and self-pity for about a minute and then did what any self-respecting maker would do – I went took a tour on the internet to see what I could dig up. Someone suggested an Olfa Heavy Duty Utility knife with heavy duty break off blades. Thanks to Amazon Prime, I got my new knife/blades, a 60mm rotary cutter and blades for the 60mm and 45mm the next day. I also got an electric rotary cutter, but I haven’t tried it yet.
The rough edge gave me an opportunity to learn about edge finishing. The insole on this baby is another piece of lighter weight leather. Between the 2 pieces and the heel, I was able to learn to bevel edges, sand and burnish edges. I got to experiment with my Dremel tool which proved to be a life saver.
This shoe is 4 component pieces and again I was working with all cement construction. I knew I wanted a nice finished edge to the upper so I got to incorporate topline tape and I repeated that folded edge that mimics a sewn edge with the construction. Here you can see the folded top edge and skived edges of the upper ready to be glued over the last to the French Beveled insole. ( Another tool in my tool kit!)
Several wrappings and edge finishings later Pixie debuted. Even with a few warts (I need to get the upper flatter to connect more seamlessly with the sole), I love her shape, style and spunk. She’s mine to test as we transition into Fall. I definitely need some more work on cutting veg tan sole material and finishing these edges. The only way to get better is to do it, so I carry on.
Elba is my first prototype. She’s with a tester now to see how we she goes. Elba is a one-strap cement construction clog. The clog is a complete component made of wood with a rubber sole from Italy -very chic.
I chose to use a padded insole, again using the cork. My goal was to align the fit of the insole better to the outsole and cover the insole in a cleaner manner than I had done on my recycled shoes. I even tried my hand at shaping the insole to the outsole (note the curve). I did a better job on the cover. You can see improvement in the edges and skiving.
Sadly I didn’t do too well on the size. In the end my insole is a bit too large. Lesson learned. Trim the insole before covering it. The decision to cut inside, outside or on a line can add or subtract a significant amount of area when several materials and components come together.
Next I attacked the weight of the leather. I have a quantity of lightweight leather that I am using for much of my prototyping. Originally, I was going to secure the strap to the insole, but as my design developed, I decided on clog construction with decorative nails directly attaching the strap to the wood outsole. Either way, I thought the leather was too flimsy, so I backed it with cork to give it enough body. This was imperative for the nail method to work. You can see I glued my edges as if they were sewn. I skived the interior of the edges to try to get a smooth edge against the foot with partial success.
I had given up on the flower before I backed my strap, but as you can see, I found a really great resolution. I merely cut the floral shape and balled up the leather to create a distressed and wrinkled effect. I attached the shapes to the strap with thin leather cord that acts as the pistils. In my next pair, this will happen before I back the strap.
The nails were also a trip. A couple didn’t nail in smoothly and making them symmetrical was a chore. If you look carefully at the side view you will see that I chose to use only 3 nails, my aesthetic preference. That might be a mistake. I’ll have to see what my tester says about how they hold up.
Recycling experiment: What would I get if I took apart a shoe I didn’t like so much and a Betsey Johnson hand bag that didn’t cut it and created a new shoe? This is the question I asked myself in June as the Shoe Symposium grew closer. I hadn’t made any shoes in over year and I was determined to make something so I could get back into making and get some feedback as well.
I started by breaking down a very inexpensive pair of sandals. The wedge fit well, but I never liked the upper. No problem. I had a Betsey Johnson hand bag that had great leather and hardware, but I hated the style. So I broke that down as well.
I knew I wanted to use cork for the insole. I like a slightly textured insole so my feet don’t slip. I used cement to cover the insoles and some clamps to help keep them tight while they dried.
Next, I prepared straps. Some went through vintage buckles. Others had hardware. I explored the potential on forms:
And on feet:
I made my final choice and put it all together:
These were entered into competition at the Shoe symposium primarily for feed back. I knew there were quite a few mistakes, but I wanted to pros to tell me what they saw, both good and bad. The critics did NOT know these were recycled.
As with all design critique, I got quite a range. On the craft side, I needed to work on my insole and outsole alignment and getting my straps symmetrical on both feet. Other comments included a discussion of leather to hardware weight and I had worn them too much for competition (these were recycled soles).
The critics were split on the cork insole cover. (I used this because I wanted to work with cork.) One critic loved the juxtaposition of cork with the metallic. One critic said the cork was too casual with the metallic. One critic did not comment.
I am thankful for the feedback and continue to work to correct the craft issues with each pair I make. I’m proudof the aesthetics and I’m happy to wear them. This recycling experiment makes me happy. I have the style shoe I like with the leather and hardware that suits me. These are truly greater than the sum of their parts.
It’s time to get back to my journey and sharing it with you. I’ve had a very shoe- centric 3 months. It’s been exciting and exhilarating and best of all, I’ve carved a path forward with my business.
As many of you know, I had not been able to practice my shoe making skills. My full-time job and personal issues were keeping me very busy. Last summer, I made a decision to make some big changes that would allow me to focus on shoe making. I’ve stepped down from my full-time teaching position as of August 31, 2016. I’ve beefed up my consultancy, ONO made in the 191.
I attended a Shoe Symposium in Ashland, Oregon and re-connected with my teacher Bill Shanor from Bonney & Wills. The biggest gain from this experience was a bunch of small quantity suppliers. These relationships have been critical in my path forward. I also made a connection with Iron Horse Boots who has a similar business model to me. I am hopeful we can collaborate and support each other as we move forward.
Since May, I’ve been working on making. I started with a recycled sandal and since have moved into 6 styles of women’s sandals. I’ll share each with you in my next posts. The plan is to work on my craft, work through prototyping and have the prototypes tested. So far so good. I’m concentrating on cement construction just now.
The next batch will include sewing with my fabulous new (to me) Singer Post Bed Machine. I’m partnering with screenprinter/bag maker, Tim Eads. His fabric, my designs to make a men’s loafer style deck shoe and women’s espradrilles. The bases have just arrived via Esty.
I’m back and ready to share my journey with you. Sit back and enjoy.