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I’ll Never Forget the Day I Fell in Love…With Shoes!

purple gogo diba boots circa late 1960's
a lot like these but in mauve

In 1970 I walked past a boutique window in the Chalfont-Haddon Hall Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey and fell in love. The object of my desire? Paul McCartney? Mick Jagger? Davey Jones? David Cassidy? No, something even better than them…the coolest, on trend, ? fashionable pair of knee-high lace up boots made of mauve suede with black grommets and laces, with a softly squared toe, and boxy heel. They were beautiful! They were Italian, they were expensive, and they were groovy!

I was smitten, enamored, besotted – utterly and completely. The suede was soft as butter. They were fab, badass, and I wanted them, very, very badly. They reminded me of Twiggy in 1960’s go-go boots and Nancy Sinatra singing “These Boots are Made for Walkin.’” I loved that song then, and still do. I was 8 years old. My passion for shoes was born.

In 1977, I celebrated my next passionate shoe moment on my 15th birthday. I was visiting my family in England when we were walking through London, where I was entirely immersed in the London vibe. My Mum treated me to my first perm and I felt so “au courant” and grown up. While browsing our way through the sales, I spotted a pair of pointed toe, high heel pumps in purple leather with a tone on tone purple textured embellishment. They were brilliant, and I simply could not take my eyes off them… For the second time in my life, I was head over heels for shoes. I fell in love. I had to have them. This time my mother agreed that these would be my first pair of adult shoes, and I was thrilled!                                       

My perm and these heels were the beginning of my journey into adulthood. They were the foundation of a new identity I adopted as I went off to a new school. There, I wore buffalo sandals and Candies and found my place with a group of friends who self-identified as
mis-fits. Years later I learned we were the cool kids. Who knew?

I moved on to a number of serial monogamous relationships, cavorting with various iconic styles…surplus army boots, riding boots, cowboy boots, creepers, heels, platforms and gladiator sandals. The running theme through all of these relationships was constant…badass and beautiful. I was constantly drawn to the hardware used to add the sparkle and shine.

In 1985, Robert Palmer released “Addicted to Love.” His lyrics certainly rang true. In the early 2000’s I fell in love again. This time I was in Reykjavik with a group of my university students. We were studying how trends disseminated from Europe to the US and vice versa through Iceland. At this time Reykjavik was a key trend city. Icelandic music was all the rage and the world was starting to notice. The country was steeped in small business and had a growing creative economy. In addition to music, film and technology, lifestyle products were emerging.

gold fish skin shoes
sparkle, texture, shine

As I passed a window with 14 students in tow, I came to a screeching halt. My inner magpie had spied something sparkly once again,  a pair of gold fish skin, round toe heeled pumps. The elements of these pumps electrified every part of me… sparkle, texture and shine. My eternal love combination. The fish skin had texture, the gold provided shine, and the metal heel provided sparkle. The store was closed, but I knew I had to go back. I was already flirting with the pumps, batting my eyes, throwing my sexiest smile, telling them how dazzling they were and promising them that I would return…and the next day, I did. With tremendous anticipation, I entered the store to buy them, just as I told them I would. 

They were incredibly expensive for me at the time, AND they were at least a size too big, BUT I had to have them …and I still do. They became the first pair in a growing collection of Icelandic footwear. Most, I wear,  but the gold fish skin pumps are special…. because they were my first. As part of a limited production run and the brand lasted only a few seasons, so they are even more special. The crash in 08 resulted in the brand going out of business. I am one of very few people in the world who owns shoes (and boots) by Maria K. Magnussdottir.

You see, it is not always about wearing shoes. Sometimes shoes are about comfort and protection. On occasion shoes are beautiful object d’art meant to be admired, collected and put on display. For those of us who love them, shoes are symbols of who we are, who we aspire to be and who we become. Shoes reflect our dreams, our love, and our ability to admire something beautiful. Shoes empower us. As the saying goes, ”Give a girl the right pair of boots and she’ll conquer the world.”

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Artisans fight to Stay in Business while Customers Stay at Home

tools of the trade

A specialty artisan, like me, produces lifestyle products to order. These are end-use items in fashion, home goods, lawn and garden, and gift categories. This group includes jewelers, ceramicists, glass blowers, wood workers, apparel, accessory makers, and other specialists.  Unlike the consumable producer, the specialty artisan makes products to order, carrying little to no inventory. This artisan needs orders for their made to order goods that come with a premium price tag. Currently, the pool of potential buyers is reduced with many people losing jobs and paychecks. These items are wants, not needs. The typical sales channels – Etsy, Facebook, Instagram, etc. are not the answer. There are so many specialty artisans on these platforms – it’s hard to stand out in the crowd.

I have been part of the specialty artisan community for over 40 years and I advocate and provide support services as a consultant in this community. This sector is often overlooked and often, these businesses are solopreneurs…..but we ALL need your help. Here are some ways you can give these artisans a fighting chance to stay in business while you stay at home.

• If you are financially able, buy something that you love from an artisan. The artisan gets money and you get something that will brighten your day!
• Follow those you like on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Share their posts with your network.  The more people they reach, the more opportunities they will get to sell their product or service.
• Sign up for their newsletters.
• When you need a gift, consider buying from an artisan rather than a large store.

It doesn’t take much to give a business a fighting chance. I’m selling 13 Mystery boxes. Each includes a handmade pair of slides and other gifts, an $80+ value for  $50. If I can sell all 13 boxes, I will infuse $650 into my business. That may sound tiny to some, but for me and most other small businesses, it is significant. It will pay for my business taxes; show fees, new marketing materials and more.

This is an illustration of how this relatively small influx of dollars, could help many specialty artisans stay in business while you stay at home. 

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Boot Repair for my Best Friend

Happy Max

In winter of 2018, my then 15-year old dog Max tested a set of dog booties that had been sent to his rehab therapist. Originally we were protecting his paws from the rock salt that many people in my neighborhood use to melt ice in the winter. They did the trick, but Max was pretty hard on them. He does some intermittent scuffing with his back feet due to arthritis in his lower back.

As his arthritis has progressed, I’ve used the boots to help stabilize his back legs on slippery steps and protect his pad from unusually hot and cold asphalt and cement. Most recently, I discovered that his back paws are splaying wider than before. His toenails are filing down to the quick on our daily walks. His poor toenails need protection.

NO PROBLEM – I’m a shoe maker, I’ve got skills. I’ve got supplies. AND my best friend needs his boots.

Here’s the repair process

In the first photo above, you can see the wear, the tear and splitting after a few months of hard wear. They were in need of some serious repair.

First, I made a pattern for the new sole by tracing a boot onto a file folder. Fit the pattern to both boots. Make minor adjustments. Note- there is a right and left boot. You only need one pattern. You just turn it from one side to the other get the right or left boot.

To control the splits and the possibility of Max’s paws getting pinched if I didn’t secure them, I added a light leather liner to cover the splits and help maintain the original shape.

Trace and cut the right and left shoe pattern on the leather and soling materials. Next, I cut them with a utility knife. The key to success is to change your blade often. (See top right photo.)

Check the cut pieces against the boots a final time.Apply 2 coats of glue. Wait for the first coat to dry completely. Apply the second coat.

The Next Day…

After the second glue had dried for several hours, I reactivated the glue with a heat gun and glued the new liner and new sole over the damaged sole. I used a roller to make sure I got the sole completely covered. I use neoprene contact cement for my shoes.

Pressure is applied by wrapping each boot with elastic banding and securing it with masking tape.

The next morning I unwrapped the boots and finished the repair by grinding the edges of the soles with my dremel tool.

The repair works. My best friend is happy. The repair is starting to wear already. They will need to be repaired again and I’ll continue to do it. My Max is worth it!

You can do this too! Follow the steps above.

 To make the pattern you will need:
•1 file folder or light weight cardboard (empty cereal box weight)
•A pair of scissors
•A pen

To make the repair you will need:
•One utility knife
•A small piece of light weight leather
•A sheet of soling rubber
•Contact Cement – Barge or even shoe goo
•Elastic banding or elastic first aid wrap
•A rolling pin
•Masking tape
•Sand paper to finish the edge

These supplies are readily available online at or Tandy Leather online or in store.

If you don’t want to take it on, you can send the boots to me and I’ll do it for you. OR Host a workshop for you and your dog loving friends. Let’s talk about how that could work for you and your dog. Email me for details.

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Behind the Doors of a South Philly Row House

the doors of south philly row houses
Row Houses, South Philadelphia

I’ve lived on the 9th-10th Street corridor from Lombard to Ritner Streets since the mid 1980’s and for me South Philly is home. From Department Store ready windows, well-kept stoops and nicely appointed exteriors, these houses are home to the residents who create the neighborhood fiber that welcome each wave of immigrants.

Historically this area began as several small Native American townships, including Moyamensing and SouthWark. Further Native American influence is seen in the names Passyunk and Schuylkill. The area grew as wave after wave of laborers, immigrants and refugees arrived looking for industrial and dock work, creating a vibrant cultural mix of old world ways and new world traditions that exist to this day.

In the late 19th early 20th centuries, Philadelphia was known as the “workshop of the world,” producing luxury goods for the likes of John Wanamaker and Strawbridge & Clothier Department stores. Many skilled craftsmen and women immigrated to Philadelphia in search of a better life and South Philly absorbed this wave into the mix. Many of them performed their craft in the home where they first roomed to pay their landlord. This resulted in fascinating finds in working class homes. I’ve lived in 2 and on my tours of many houses for sale, I’ve seen marble window-sills, stained glass windows, even hand-painted wall paper, found in my own humble home.

The Fleischer Art Memorial founded in 1898 had a mission to bring art to the masses and the creative community lives on today with many artists and crafts people living and working in the area at home or in converted studio space. I for one have worked in both my South Philly homes and outside studios in the area. Over my years in South Philly I have pursued millenery, paper-making, fine art, textile design, knitting and currently shoe making in these spaces – all behind closed doors.

In 2016 I launched my hand-made to order shoe-making business, RoxAnneLava. In 2017, I did some customer research and created a series of prototypes and participated in local fairs. I needed a system that would carry and display my product easily.

I settled on a vintage suitcase listed on eBay, a vintage Belber Neolite travel suitcase priced at only $10.50. It looked to be in very good condition, but as I generally do with eBay, I wanted to research the brand before I hit “Buy It Now”.

Belber is a heritage American leather good company founded in Philadelphia in 1891. School age brothers Aaron and Henry Belber (ages 14 and 17) immigrants from Romania via Hamburg and Glasgow pulled together $200 and started making luggage in their South Philadelphia basement. They worked 10 hours a day, 6 days a week handcrafting luggage – behind closed doors.

The brothers, joined by their two other brothers, opened their first factory in Philadelphia in 1903. Using lightweight fabrics, quality leather and hardware and the first of many of their patented state of the art locking mechanisms, they produced stylish and elegant luggage and travel accessories at an affordable price. “As Modern As Tomorrow” was their slogan!

Innovators in marketing and advertising, Belber created a market for their products using inspirational and aspirational advertising in magazines and newspapers. They were one of the first Brands to pursue product tie-ins with celebrities and films.

A group of entrepreneurs acquired the brand in 2013 and launched their first new collection in 2016. It’s not a bad history for some teenage immigrants starting in a basement in South Philly – behind closed doors.

RoxAnneLava shoes on display
Vintage Belber Suitcase – featuring RoxAnneLava Shoes

I bought the suitcase. I use it for display. I like to think that just maybe the Belber brothers started their business in MY basement! Even if they didn’t, their suitcase and story are a constant inspiration to me as I build my brand and business.

Behind so many “closed” doors, there is innovation, creativity and new products being born – that’s Philadelphia!