WHAT IT’S RE­ALLY LIKE…

To be a shoe­maker

Australian Traveller - - Contents -

I usu­ally get into work some­where be­tween 7:30 and 8 o’clock. The first thing I do is flick on the lights, sit down at the com­puter and choose some mu­sic. Then I would prob­a­bly look at all the unan­swered emails, just do all that ad­min stuff. Then I start to pre­pare my shoe­mak­ing for the day, my work plan for ev­ery­body. That’s my favourite time in the morn­ing – when ev­ery­body’s here it’s like the circus be­gins. The days can be hectic be­cause it’s man­ag­ing the work­shop, the dig­i­tal side of the busi­ness and the cus­tomers. My work­shop moved to the Strand Ar­cade five

years ago. And I was in Padding­ton for 14 years be­fore that. The Strand ap­proached me and ini­tially I wasn’t sure. But I think what re­ally at­tracted me was the her­itage of the build­ing. It’s al­ways been a kind of home for Aus­tralian de­sign and the cu­ra­to­rial ef­fort at the time was very much fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing this con­cept of a stand­alone ar­cade that spe­cialised in ar­ti­san crafts­peo­ple. It was creating a unique shop­ping iden­tity that was dif­fer­ent from your West­field, your shop­ping cen­tres, and drew from the her­itage of the build­ing. I’ve been mak­ing shoes for 27 years. Be­fore that I free­lanced as a pho­tog­ra­pher for 10 years, af­ter study­ing pho­tog­ra­phy at Syd­ney TAFE. And I worked as a med­i­cal pho­tog­ra­pher at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney vet­eri­nary science fac­ulty. Then I moved to Eng­land and worked at Guy’s Hos­pi­tal in Lon­don and stepped into more com­mer­cial work. And that’s where my first in­ter­est in shoe­mak­ing came from. I met a shoe­maker, Paul Harn­den, and I did a story on him. And then he made some shoes for me. I came back to Aus­tralia, went to col­lege and learnt how to make shoes. I loved the idea that you could be work­ing with your hands but you’re ac­tu­ally mak­ing some­thing

that is tan­gi­ble. Pho­tog­ra­phy is kind of dif­fer­ent. I pho­to­graph the shoes for the web­site and In­sta­gram, and so I could al­ways sat­isfy that in­ter­est – but it was just the idea that I could make some­thing that is use­ful. It had a prac­ti­cal use and I could some­how im­prove the qual­ity of peo­ple’s lives. The [cus­tom-made shoe­mak­ing] process be­gins when a customer comes in and I take their mea­sure­ments.

Then they choose a style and a ma­te­rial, and we create the story. Then they come in for a se­ries of fit­tings. My favourite part of the [phys­i­cal] process? I have to say pulling the up­per over the last. You make the pat­tern and then be­fore this, ev­ery­thing is two di­men­sional. And then you pull it over the last and it be­comes three di­men­sional, and the life be­gins. The three key el­e­ments in a shoe? That the de­sign works for you, it’s a de­sign that you feel com­fort­able in and that it com­ple­ments what you wear. That the ma­te­rial of the shoe makes you feel good. Not only that your feet feel com­fort­able but the rest of your body does too, you’ve got good pos­ture, it makes you smile. And then the com­po­si­tion of the ma­te­ri­als, the con­struc­tion and the type of ma­te­ri­als. That they’re durable, with no syn­thet­ics, are sus­tain­ably sourced and use veg­etable tans; all that stuff, you know?

AT the core of it all is that I need to have a very tac­tile, highly con­tex­tu­alised im­age of the peo­ple wear­ing my shoes. If I don’t, I don’t have a mar­ket. I see peo­ple in a restau­rant, I know the brand of cloth­ing they’re wear­ing, I know what they look like; I’m vi­su­al­is­ing that per­son. My cus­tomers are split be­tween cre­atives and busi­ness peo­ple. Your clas­sic ar­chi­tects or de­sign­ers or peo­ple who have an in­ter­est in de­sign… Or they’re fi­nance peo­ple, bar­ris­ters or sur­geons. It seems to at­tract those three pro­fes­sions, I don’t know why. It seems they’re look­ing for a cre­ative out­let of some kind. Some es­cape from the trap­pings of cor­po­rate life or the pres­sure of be­ing a sur­geon or what­ever… They’re com­ing for the ex­pe­ri­ence and I think that you can walk in here and there is a pal­pa­ble

tex­ture you can smell, you can feel. I think they’re look­ing for some­thing that’s got a bit of ground­ing for them. There’s a per­sonal con­nec­tion within the prod­uct. Peo­ple talk about ‘oh there’s a trend back to hand­made’. It’s al­ways been there, I just think peo­ple have got greater aware­ness of it now. And I think the aware­ness has arisen out of the fact that peo­ple have gone, ‘well you know, you can buy some­thing hand­made and re­ally the cost is pretty much the same, or not much more than if we bought the equiv­a­lent lux­ury brand’. The dig­i­tal age al­lows you to nav­i­gate be­yond com­mer­cial brands and choose for your­self. I think the aware­ness is def­i­nitely a re­ac­tion to

ev­ery­thing else be­ing the same. Even in lux­ury goods the prod­ucts are pretty un­in­ter­est­ing when you think about it. Beau­ti­fully made, sure, but there’s noth­ing that you look at and go ‘ah that’s art’, or ‘that hits me in the soul, I feel that’. I don’t mean to say that what it was like then is

bet­ter than now, but it was dif­fer­ent. You went to buy things and you met the per­son who made the thing, so you had a greater un­der­stand­ing of the process. You had a tex­ture of the per­son. I think now there’s a highly mech­a­nised aes­thetic out there. Peo­ple have this ex­pec­ta­tion of ev­ery­thing to have this line of per­fec­tion, and that line of per­fec­tion is de­rived from ma­chin­ery. I’m not say­ing all things, but a lot of things made by ma­chin­ery are pretty cold, they

don’t have any kind of soul or feel­ing. There’s noth­ing you can have a con­nec­tion with. And I think that’s some­thing peo­ple are in­creas­ingly look­ing for – hav­ing a con­nec­tion to your en­vi­ron­ment, your­self, the prod­ucts you wear. More and more I think that I’m in the

re­la­tion­ship busi­ness. My busi­ness is about main­tain­ing a re­la­tion­ship, or build­ing a re­la­tion­ship with in­di­vid­u­als and main­tain­ing that over a pe­riod of time. I’ve got a few that are over 20 years old. This guy here [whose shoes I’m mend­ing] has been a customer for 25 years. That’s what it’s about for me. When I first started out I was kind of fol­low­ing the de­sign lines, the sil­hou­ettes, the colours of

the mar­ket at the time. The trends that were hap­pen­ing then. It took a long while to find a sen­si­bil­ity and then I re­alised it would be great to just draw from my en­vi­ron­ment, what’s around me. So I’m al­ways think­ing about the colours you see in the en­vi­ron­ment in the desert, that kind of scorched, stained, streaked pal­ette. So what I’m try­ing to do with the de­sign is take

the clas­sics and twist them a lit­tle bit. For me, I’ve got to have a de­sign that’s a bit dif­fer­ent. But the other thing [that’s im­por­tant to me] is the sur­face tex­ture of the leather, and hon­our­ing the in­tegrity of the leather. I work with re­ally great tan­ner­ies so that I can find leather that is the nat­u­ral fin­ish, it’s veg­etable tan, it has no fillers, it has no struc­ture or paint put on it to create a con­ti­nu­ity. I want to see the skin for all its scars and I want to hon­our the scars. I want some­thing that is what it is and not some­thing else. There just doesn’t seem to be any point for me to make shoes or use leather that ev­ery­one else uses. You’re not re­ally creating any point of dif­fer­ence. Visit A.McDon­ald Shoe­maker on the sec­ond floor of The Strand Ar­cade in Syd­ney for ready-to-wear or cus­tom footwear and ac­ces­sories. An­drew also runs five-day shoe­mak­ing cour­ses, dur­ing which be­gin­ner stu­dents can de­sign and make a pair of shoes. an­drewm­c­don­ald.com.au

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: The pat­tern cut­ting stage of the shoe­mak­ing process; An­drew McDon­ald in his work­shop and store in Syd­ney’s Strand Ar­cade; An­drew takes a customer’s mea­sure­ments. OP­PO­SITE: An­drew works with the finest tan­ner­ies to source leathers with a nat­u­ral fin­ish and veg­etable tan; He’s been mak­ing shoes for 27 years.

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