Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Beginning

As many of you may know, I am currently in Doylestown, PA learning how to make shoes. For many people, the fact that I am pursuing something called bespoke shoe making seems somewhat out of the blue.  Let me give just a little background on the trade and my interest in it. 

First of all, the term bespoke literally refers to speech, to "bespeak" something.  It's a custom order product, made to the specifications of a customer's wants and needs.  So, a bespoke bicycle would be one that you had custom-made for your height, riding purposes, aesthetic sensibilites etc.  The same goes with footwear.  In spite of the fact that the vast majority of shoes are made in high tech factories, there are still a handful of people who make a living by constructing shoes by hand, according to the size and shape of a customer's feet   Theiy're called cordwainers, or bespoke shoemakers.

My own journey into bespoke shoes was not a typical one.  For the last five years I was on the staff of a very small church in Flint, MI.  For part of that time I was also part of a small crepe "restaurant".  I very much enjoyed both of those endeavors.  Not that they didn't have their down sides.  They certainly did.  But, overall, I enjoyed doing both of them.  But, through a long series of events, both of those avenues of work came to a close.  

Now, a couple years ago I became very interested in the idea of making shoes.  I am really intrigued by the idea of things which are made by hand.  I know that factories have given us many good things, and raised the standard of living for people all over the world.  I've even worked in a couple.  So, I am not against factories, or buying things made in factories.  But, I also think that, if possible, it is nice to have some things which are made by hand, things that have a little bit of a "soul" to them, where individual time and attention was invested into the product by its maker.  I believe that's how God made us, and so enjoying a little slice of that in the products we purchase is a good thing

Initially I thought it would be cool to make my own shoes.  I really enjoy making things.  I like creativity.  I like to draw, paint, make cartoons. So, I figured I could learn from a website how to make some shoes.  But I realized it was a bit more difficult than I thought.  So, I filed it away and decided I might try to learn it at some point in the future.  I just didn't have the time to dedicate to it with my other responsibilities.  But more recently, when I realized that both things I had done for the last few years weren't going to be there anymore, I knew it was a time where I could dive into shoemaking head on.  

So in January of this year, I went on a little trip.  I decided to visit a couple shoe makers to see if somebody would be willing to teach me.  One of them was Perry Ercolino in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.  Perry has a pretty high reputation in this field.  He is one of the few people in this country making a decent living from making shoes.  There is a good article about him in Esquire Magazine .  When I met with him it turned out that he was open to teaching me how to make shoes.  And  I considered myself fortunate that I would have the opportunity to learn from one of the best.

So this blog is my attempt to document my learning journey.  And maybe there's somebody out there interested in learning to make shoes and you would be helped a little by reading this. Also, there are several people that I know that just are curious about this strange thing called bespoke shoemaking that I've jumped into and may want to peak in from time to time to check on what I'm up to.  Even if there aren't many people who end up viewing this blog, it's something that I will enjoy doing, if for no other reason than documenting my journey so I can track my own progress and have  a tangible record of a part of my own life.

The following video is one I sent to a few friends and family to give them idea of where I'm working and what Doylestown is like.

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