Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Thursday, 26 February 2015

2015 Independent Shoemakers Conference - Part 1

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Last Saturday, Alistair and I attended the 2015 Independent Shoemakers Conference. It was a great success and many thanks should go to Ian Goff of the London College of Fashion and Sue Baughan for organising such an interesting, interactive and packed day! There's too much to cover in one post, so this week's is a two-parter.

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Held in the heart of beautiful Northamptonshire, it was appropriate that Sue opened with a fascinating overview of shoemaking in the area; the shoemakers who lived in workers cottages with specially built workshops, the arrival of mechanisation, the impact of WW1 with large boot orders...
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...its heyday with some 250 manufacturers in the county, the decline with cheap overseas competition and the current climate with some 16 factories going strong. 

Next up was fellow red-head, cowboy boot maker Lisa Sorrell. 

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It was great to meet her again and to meet her husband (and some-time boot model) Dale. She generously shared her experience of learning boot making and building her own business. It was fascinating to hear about the real peacocks out there - the men who want pattern AND colour - because cowboy boots are all about showing off and looking 'purtee' (pretty). Our clients have nothing on them (sorry Rob, you've been outdone)! Alistair and I both came away enthused by colour and design, so watch this space.

Cowboy boot maker Lisa Sorrell with her husband Dale, the man with a walk-in boot room
Lisa makes her boots herself and each boot takes a month from design to finishing. The uppers are machine stitched with intricate underlay and overlay patterns of leather and then the boots have a stitched fore part


and are hand pegged through the waist and around the heel.

Sorrell Cowboy Boots in American Alligator with design in kangaroo skin; the design on the left is on a 1940s boot last - lovely toe shape!
Talk of alligator and kangaroo was timely as we then heard from Simon Yarwood of World Leather Magazine. He spoke of the impact of competition from faux materials, anti-leather campaigns and a negative consumer perception on the industry and its realisation at the International Leather Forum in 2007/8 that something needed to be done. 

Simon Yarwood, World Leather Magazine

One of the key activities that the leather industry has launched to tackle this perception and to highlight the benefits of leather and good practices in the tanning industry is a competition amongst tanneries worldwide. 

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With the focus on corporate social responsibility, the Tannery of the Year programme identifies the two best tanneries in China, the rest of Asia, the Americas, Africa and Europe and has been won by tanneries from as far afield as China and Austria. 

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Whew! A long post this week, but we hope you will agree an interesting one. So, until next week happy shoemaking!