Lately, I've been seeing a handmade shoemaking trend start to emerge, with classes popping up around town and images of handcrafted sandals suddenly showing up on Instagram. Whether you're interested in crafting your own sandals, or just want to buy a handmade pair, this micro-trend will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about that collection piling up in your closet.
Here it is, the image that sparked my fascination with handmade shoes. Like most DIY obsessions, it started out with an innocent scroll through Instagram, but when I spotted and promptly bought this DIY Sandal Kit ($55)—a collaboration between Soludos and Wool and the Gang, being crocheted by Calikatrina—I was hooked (pun intended). While I loved the idea of making my own home decor and clothes, cement planters and pegboards, I had never thought to DIY my own shoes. In a city where a pair of kicks is typically destroyed after a single season, could I really construct something sturdy enough to survive? With the trend starting up in cities like Brooklyn, LA and Portland, it seems many artisans are putting their work to the test. And if they do get damaged? Well, who needs a cobbler when you know how to make your own shoes, right?
One Woman Leading the Shoemaking Trend: Rachel Corry
Based in Portland, Oregon, Rachel Corry is the shoemaker behind Rachel Sees Snail Shoes. She both makes shoes and kits to sell in her online shop and teaches sandal-making classes. Curious how she got started in the niche world of shoemaking, I chatted with Rachel about what it's like to see into the sole of a shoe.
So, how did you get started in shoemaking?
I met a clog maker in Wales and watched him work while at a music festival. He remade my favorite sandals because mine were starting to bite the dust. Then, once I was home, by some twist of fate, both the original sandals and the remakes perished in a small apartment fire! I was devastated. But the fire melted the adhesives in my shoes, and I was able to see into all the layers of the sandals and for the first time, understand what was going on within the sole. After that, I tried remaking several pairs of burnt shoes on my bedroom floor using basic tools.
Do you prefer to work in the morning or at night?
I work in the daytime. Now that I'm in my 30s, I never work at night.
How did you make the decision to open a brick and mortar—is it something you've always dreamed about doing?
I opened Neapolitan last summer. I wouldn't have sought out a retail space, but it was offered to me by a friend. And it was right next door to my shoemaking studio, so how could I say no? I even cut a small window in the wall from my studio to my shop so I can greet people while I work. Having my own shop where I can dictate all the colors has always been a dream, but not one I thought I'd get to realize. I'm very happy for the opportunity, but a little puzzled about how people make retail work as a viable business!
Is there a starter project you would recommend for someone who's curious about shoemaking?
Yes! I would wholeheartedly recommend starting by making a sandal. Simplifying the shoemaking process down to the basics (outsole, insole, and straps) is a great way to get acquainted with all sorts of fit issues, leather options, and pattern-making processes, without getting overwhelmed. I put together a sandal-making kit to help people make their first pair!
Ready to make your own shoes?
Order Rachel's starter sandal kit, or join a class at one of these awesome shoemaking spaces.
- Brooklyn Shoe Space: Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this co-working space for shoemakers also offers classes to the public, ranging from an intensive 5-day workshop, to a quick shoe decorating lesson.
- Chicago School of Shoemaking: A leather-working school with classes for sandal- and moccasin-making.
- Neapolitan: Join one of Rachel's classes in Portland.
Watch Shoemaker Faye Smith in Action: