As a serious lover of shoes (let us not count the pairs…), I was deeply excited to learn that Lou and her Shoe School had migrated from Dunedin to Wellington, and opened up practically on my doorstep in Newtown. However, I harboured very serious doubts about my ability to DIY a pair of actual shoes – not only are shoes a thing that seem complex, but I very much doubted my ability to not fuck it up. If it involves precise measurement or fine motor skills, I will somehow end up with one sandal with one strap glued on backwards. I was legit nervous going into this.
The sandal making workshop runs for an entire weekend, kicking off at 9am on Saturday morning. I rolled up fresh from a delicious breakfast at Floriditas, confident that I was going to make a simple, classic pair of navy slides that I would wear all the time. I don’t know if it was the second (delicious) coffee from People’s that I drank as I worked through the design process, or if I was just my usual “ooh shiny!” self when I saw what was on offer, but navy slides were out the window within the first 20 minutes. No worries, I told myself. You can buy a pair of navy slides at any time. You cannot buy a pair of pinky-purple sandals with scaly pink highlight elements. And so that’s my first tip: GO BIG OR GO HOME. Spend some quality time on the internet doing research before the class, but be prepared to just roll with your vibe once you’re in the magical workshop with all the colours and inspiration.
Challenge one was drawing my idea – that side elevation of a crossing strap was harder to figure out than anything I did at work last year – but you get into making the sandals really quickly. The class can move at different paces, so while there were four of us, I could make good time on the early simple steps of my sandals, which meant that when I got to building my ridiculous three level sole (which I have zero regrets about), I slowed down again and we finished within about 10 minutes of each other.
As one might expect, Lou and her assistant, Gemma, were on hand to explain next steps and check and re-check before scissors were applied. Amazingly, they spent two solid days listening to me going “Lou, can you help me please?” or “Lou, what do I do after this bit sorry?” and at no point did they show any frustration. They truly are magic shoe pixies. My second tip: ASK AGAIN. There were a few times in the mix where if I hadn’t checked, I would have effed up. Girl, don’t do it. Lou has literally studied at the elbow of a bespoke shoe making master in JAPAN (aka the land of doing things perfectly), and she is the business. She can solve any crazy issues you throw her way.
Now, if you are looking at this and having serious Sewing Machine Anxiety, first please know you are not alone. I still remember my Form 2 sewing teacher saying that “it was important that I had at least tried”. We all know that’s teacher speak for “my god, I’ve never seen such a woeful drawstring bag” so you will appreciate that I was not excited to sew anything. The great news is that you can make sandals entirely via the exciting medium that is yellow glue! I sewed nothing (Lou sewed the wee seam that attaches the buckle to my shoe). When Lou said I could sew the edges of my straps, I politely demurred – I think my exact words were “if I sew something it will ruin it” – and we glued it up. This isn’t down to the design of my sandals either. Nobody in the class had to sew anything, and when I got home and looked at my other sandals I realised that actually there are very few pairs that have visible seams, and I’m pretty sure those are for aesthetics.
Two days of sandal making was kinda tiring, particularly on a very hot weekend, and I slept like a baby on Sunday night. What I think was awesome was that it was really consuming. I had to seriously concentrate on what I was doing, and I had to spend a fair bit of time visualising a future state that I didn’t really understand. That meant that I couldn’t think about the usual nonsense – forget meditation, this was the greatest mind clearing I’ve had in years.
Now, you might be less DIY-inept than I am, so it might not be as effective for you, but it was seriously great to have a very immediate and tactile task to focus on. Added bonus: I felt truly proud of myself as I worked through the stages. There comes a magical point on day two where the sandals aren’t finished, but they have reached the point where you can finally see what they’ll look like glued together. This is an amazing moment but you must not start racing to the end point – you still have some careful work to do! I exceeded my expectations for sandal making on all levels (yes, okay, partly by avoiding sewing but give me a break) and there was immediate and tangible proof that I did a good job. Do you know how rare that is? Actual measurable results from my effort = my new favourite thing. So, tip numero three is: BE PROUD. You are not a cobbler. It’s amazing that you are making your own shoes. Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.
The beauty of making your own shoes is that they are custom fit to you. That means that you can have two slightly differently sized sandals if, like me, one foot is a few millimetres larger than the other, and it means that the placement of the straps and hardware is totally tweaked to your foot and leg shape. Ohhhhh my GOSH you guys, these sandals are comfy-as. I just wore them for four solid hours in hot weather and I note the following: zero rubbing, zero blisters, totally cushy to walk on and exactly the right length of shoe and tension of ankle strap. THIS IS A DAMN MIRACLE. If I knew that to reach shoe nirvana, I would just need to make them myself, I would have sorted myself some lessons long ago. If you struggle to find shoes that fit you well, I truly do think it’s worth finding the moolah to head along to Shoe School and experience the heaven of having one really nice pair of shoes. I’ve already decided to put aside the money to head back to Shoe School later in the year to make another pair, that’s how much I loved it.
Speaking of money, the workroom conversation did steer to what other people thought of paying just over $400 to attend a two day workshop to make a pair of sandals, and as predicted, opinions varied. If you’re used to paying $19.99 for your sandals at Number One Shoes, then yeah, this might seem like a lot of funds at first glance. However. I genuinely think this is a totally reasonable price to pay for the following:
- A pair of bespoke sandals – fitted to you, totally unique, and great quality;
- 14 hours of a highly skilled craftsperson’s time, plus her assistant’s time (and Gemma, let’s be real, is incredibly talented and skilful so her time is worth a considerable amount);
- The experience of learning a new skill, which you can take away with you to continue with (yes, you could definitely make your own sandals at home after this course if you were keen).
Plus, you’re giving that money to a local business and supporting an awesome lady who is doing something interesting and fun. AND – you can layby a class, if it’s too big a chunk of change to find all at once.
In summary: amazing experience, highly recommended. Can’t wait to wear my sandals err’y damn day and walk on a cloud! You can find Shoe School here, including Lou's contact details if you have any questions for her.
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