What is your first memory on shoes?
How did you catch the shoe virus?
I think shoes really are magical objects for most people. They hold a mystery and beauty in them that is powerfully attractive. I remember always being very careful with my shoes growing up, making sure the laces were tied perfectly and not twisted in anyway. I remember cleaning my football boots meticulously and watching them dry by the fireplace and remember the smell of the leather. I remember my attraction to shoes from a young age but never dreamed that I would some day make them. I just didn’t know that it was an option.
I first realized that it was something people could do when I happened on a shoemaking course at RMIT (polytech) open day here in Melbourne. I signed up fort the course and after experiencing the creativity of it, I was hooked.
Did you have a Mentor ?
Unfortunately no one really comes to mind. I get so much inspiration from the books I’ve read by other shoemakers and online that I have never wanted for encouragement. Of course, if I hadn’t met James Roberts, my business partner (Roberts & Hassett ), I probably wouldn’t be in the position of a professional shoemaker so I have much to thank him for.
How did you start this partnership with James and why did you chose shoes?
James Roberts opened a cafe/retail space called Captains of Industry in the Melbourne CBD when I was finishing my shoemaking course. He was very much self taught and was experimenting with welting and different construction methods at the time. I had only learned how to make cement soled shoes on my course and quickly realized the limitations. So I approached him and asked him to show me what he had learned. We found had similar tastes regarding ethos and aesthetic and got on really well.
Captains of Industry was very popular from the get go. It is a Gentleman’s outfitters originally housing a Cafe, Shoemaker, Tailor and Barber all separately run, but under the same roof. James had so many orders for shoes that he offered me a partnership and Roberts & Hassett was founded.
How can you and James manage to keep the egos out of the workplace?
A few years ago now James moved away from Melbourne to the country in search of the quiet life. We are still in partnership but he has been taking time away from shoemaking for a while. He has, quite recently, set up a shop in the country town of Kyneton where he is looking to get back into shoemaking but in more of a RTW capacity. I’ve been on my own at the city workshop for some time now.
But I remember well our few years under the same roof and there was nothing by encouragement and respect between us. We once had a welting race to see who could do a shoe the fastest but it was all a laugh. We were constantly joking around and saying bad shoe puns whenever when ever we thought of them. We are still very supportive of one another and remain close friends.
What are the biggest challenges in today shoemaking in Australia?
There are many challenges for makers generally all over the world, but specifically Australia is isolated, so it’s expensive to get quality materials shipped if you can find them at all. It’s especially difficult to find nice haberdashery for example.
The market here is changing for the better, meaning men are appreciating and demanding quality more but I think it is still along way behind parts of Europe for example. On the other hand, being possibly the only bespoke shoemaker around means I don’t have to worry too much about competition so it’s not all bad.
What memories do you have of your first order?
I honestly cannot remember. even my first love is a little hazy… It must be fumes.
Well, I do remember a pair of tan Derby’s I made that I put on display. I think they were the first pair of shoes I ever hand welted. A good friend saw them and fell in love with them. It was the first time someone paid me for something I made and it was a beautiful feeling. Luckily I still get to see them from time to time.
The key elements of a good shoe would be…
Construction! Beauty, obviously, but that is in the eye of the beholder right? Also, it has to be suited to it’s function. There is no point in wearing triple soled hiking boots on the tennis court.
In bespoke shoemaking is customer always right?
To a point yes, if a customer isn’t happy with the pair they are not going to take them away. But this makes me think of fit, the biggest challenge in bespoke shoemaking. Often a customer will try on a fit shoe and think it is fine but as a maker you learn to look for possible issues and be vigilant though this process.
To be continued…