Hello Sewing Rabbit readers! I am super excited to bring you an interview with a fellow local MAKER! Eddy of Edwards shoes is one of very few cobblers or handmade shoemakers left in the country. It is a dying craft and he is breathing new life into this amazing art form. I am proud to have been able to sit down with him and learn about the art of making a shoe as well as hear about his passion and hope for the future! -RaeAnna
<R> So, tell me what prompted you to become a shoemaker?
<E> I started out making bow ties for myself and to sell and wanted to work more with leather so I began making men’s bags. And I’ve always been obsessed with shoes. Even before I started making shoes I owned about 40 pair! Being able to take a design, draw it out, and then have a finished product is the best feeling. I told a friend that I had an interest in making them and he became my business partner, investing in the equipment and machines needed to create a shoe.
<R> How do you find people’s reaction when they find out you actually MAKE your shoes?
<E> It’s funny because when I get a compliment on my shoes, obviously first I’ll say “thank you” and then if they ask me where I got them I tell them that I made them. Everybody always says “what do you mean you made them?” And I don’t know how to explain to them in any other words than “I made them!” I’ve had people ask me if I ordered a kit and just put them together, and I just have to explain to them what I do! It is a dying craft and from what I know there are only about 12 people in America that actually make them and a lot of them were taught overseas. When I took a recent pair of shoes to the post office to mail for a charity auction the UPS guy asked me if they didn’t fit. I said “what do mean?” And he said well are you sending them back because they didn’t fit you? And I said “no, I made them!” It’s the best feeling to have people see the quality of your work and know that you created it.
<R> How did you get into the business and learn?
<E> There are a lot of boot makers but not a lot of shoemakers in America because 90% of our shoes come from China. And if I wanted to study shoe making I would have to travel to a school overseas or apprenticeship where it would take a lot of time from being the person who swept floors, and other errands to who knows how long until I would actually be making a pair of shoes. I read everything I could read, I watched every video I could watch. And I found that most of the people that I could find who could answer my questions would only want to answer one or two. So what I did was Google every shoemaker I could find and every time I got stuck making a shoe I would e-mail this guy. And when I got stuck again I would e-mail this guy! And I would go all the way down my list so that by the time I got through all my questions every one of them only answered one or two. But it filled in the gaps with what I couldn’t read about. And some of the things I just improvised. Some of them I did it right, some of them I did it wrong, some of them I realized I didn’t have to do a step but it made the shoe better. So it was basically trial and error for the first 6-7 months. I bought a lot of shoes at Goodwill to learn. Goodwill has pay by the pound and whatever it weighs is what you pay. Reverse engineering!
<R> How many prototypes did you have to make before you felt you found the right process?
<E> The very first pair of shoes I made are probably the very worst shoes I’ll ever make but they were the best that I’ve ever made! I didn’t even know if I would be able to make shoes. I jumped in – I basically jumped off a cliff and learned how to fly as opposed to learning how to fly first! So when I was actually able to make a pair it gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
As time has gone on and I’ve been able to get better equipment it has made it easier. My first few pairs probably took 60 hours and then I got it down to about 40. When I first welted it took me 5 and a half hours and I’ve been able to get that down to about 2 hours now. As time goes on I get a little bit better and each pair I make I try to get a little bit better. I try to make certain improvements such as the stitching on the upper part. It’s the hardest for me because it’s top stitching and that is such a critical part because you can’t take out the stitching. When the needle pokes the hole that’s it. If you mess it up you have to just throw it away. That’s why I have some of the shoes sitting up on my wall. Everything was fine but the top stitching was just so bad I couldn’t save them.
<R> Oh no! So, no “keep calm and get out the seam ripper?!”
<E> If I push my machine too fast – like when my dogs have jumped up on my lap while I’m sewing – I’m screwed!
<R> I love the vintage look of your machines! Tell me about the process and what you use each machine for.
<E>I have three machines. The oldest is the sewing machine from the 1950’s. It was bought from a shoe factory and it’s only purpose is sewing leather. The machine was liquidated from a shoe factory that was sued by the government. It was like a 50,000 sq ft factory and I found mine from a guy who did a lot of leather work and moccasins. Like a sewing machine’s presser foot, or walking foot, the small disk to the side of the needle is called a roller foot and it keeps a very close stitch to the edge of the leather.
<R> So there is no zig-zag or other stitch options with this machine?
<E> No, it’s just one stitch but it does have about 4 different lengths that it will sew. I have it set at 7 stitches per inch for what I need.
<E> The Landis K is a machine from the 1960’s and attaches the sole to the bottom of the shoe. When the needle goes down into the shoe it picks up the thread. It’s like the reverse of a regular sewing machine and the bobbin is actually on the top.
(Demonstrates the motion of the mechanism)
<R> I remember seeing this next machine on your Instagram feed!
<E> This is the “finisher” – it not only polishes the shoe but it will sand the sole down and around it. Or, should a pair get screwed up it’s also the machine in the repair business that can replace a sole on a pair of shoes. That’s the good thing about how I make my shoes. They can be repaired. If you “eat a hole” through your sole because you’ve walked on it a bunch or your heel starts to go away, you can send my shoe back to me and I’ll repair it. All I have to do is replace the heel or replace the sole and you have a brand new shoe again. I’ll only replace and fix my own shoes.
<R> I think that’s smart and your shoes probably last longer than mass produced shoes.
<E> The problem that I have with mass produced is that they are mostly glued shoes. If you want a shoe that you only want to wear for three months, that’s great because they will fall apart and they can’t be fixed.
<R> I love that you call it the “Birth of a Shoe!” How long is the process and is it hard to see a pair go home with a new owner?
<E>They are so labor intensive and that’s what makes them so expensive. Even in my best day I can’t make one quicker than 30 hours. It takes me almost a week just to make a pair. So, when you take your cost and add that into your hours it can be quite expensive. When I finish a shoe even if it’s 10:00 in the morning I feel like I’m finished for the day! I’ve accomplished my goal. Or, if it’s 10:00 at night. Or, in the case of my wife’s shoes, I was up until 2:00 in the morning because she wanted to wear them while she was out of town. Once I finish a pair it’s such an accomplishment and they all have a place in my heart when I give them away.
<R> Say someone wants to invest in a handmade shoe. What is the cost and where could they put their investment?
<E> Some of the best hand made shoes are made by John Lobb in Europe and his pairs start at $1500. So, I’m not cheap but I’m not uber expensive. My shoes start at around $500 a pair for ready to wear. Maybe if I do get famous I could charge $1500 a pair! But at this time my goal is just to make a decent and good product at a reasonable price! All my shoes are personal. You can’t purchase online but you can use the website to send an inquiry and we can follow through with my interview process to begin an order. www.edwardsshoes.com. Alan Edmond is also a huge company but handmade to them is that a person takes it from this machine, to this machine. They don’t sit down and hand sew the welts, or use the hand method to last the shoe. They have machines that can take the hand process of lasting, which can take up to two hours, and do it in 20 seconds. There’s nothing wrong with that, but to me, it just takes the love out of the shoe. And because it’s my shoe, if it’s not exactly right I pull it out and start all over again.
<R> Tell me about your style.
<E> What I’ve been trying to do is create a style that is unique to me so when they see my style they will recognize that it is me. I’ve been focusing on is the middle between a dress and a casual shoe. I call the look “the mullet look” because it’s all business on the top with jeans! So I try to design my shoes that can be worn with a dress suit or jeans as well. I also explain to my clients that a factory shoe will last a year or so but mine will last a lifetime. I try not to go too crazy with my styles. I do have some crazy ideas but when you get super trendy on an expensive shoe you may not wear it for years and years.
<R> What are your clients like? And do they let you do your own thing?
<E> I have some clients that want a specific kind of shoe but most of them do give me creative license. They may say that they want a brown or black but don’t specify what leather or what shades or type. So I always have some artistic input! I try to do is stick with the traditional styles but make it my own. I may try to make the broguing flashier, or the pinking. I try to alter the style just enough to put my own little touch on it.
I also talk to my clients on the phone for an extensive amount of time. I’ll ask them what brand of clothes they wear, what they wear to work, how they dress. Because then I can getter a better feel for someone who wants more traditional or someone who would want something flashier. If a client is not able to come here I send them a link on the computer and we talk on the phone at the same time while they watch me draw their design in front of them on the computer screen. Then they get to see my ideas and concept for their shoe and approve it.
<R> Do people contact you through your website? Where do you find clients?
<E> Some of my clients have come from my entering a contest called Made in the South by Garden & Gun magazine. I’ll know later in the month for the final results and will be in Savannah for the results!
<R> Ok, there are some terms that I’ve heard that I’m not familiar with. “Welting” “Brogueing” “Lasting” and a term I read on your website “Bespoke.” Tell me about them!
<E> What “bespoke” means is a term for “individually crafted” or “custom.” I have two kinds of shoes. The custom shoes take 15-20 measurements of your foot and then I have a “last” which is a mold and sanded down to your specific dimensions. I make the shoe around that last and unless you order from me again, that’s the only time I’ll be able to use that mold. That shoe is obviously more expensive than the other shoe I make which is what’s called a “ready wear” – which is basically the measurements for a standard size. Welting is hand sewing a strip of leather attaching the upper shoe to the outsole. Brogueing is the decortive hole punches on the seam of the shoe.
<R> Tell me about your packaging!
<E> In each package I include pictures of the shoe making. I take four pictures throughout the process and include those pictures in with a care card for taking care of the shoes.
My shoes also don’t use any synthetics. Most shoes will reinforce the toe with a synthetic material and I only use leather. They use a glue with And the insides of mine are all cork because cork is natural and it naturally absorbs the moisture in your feet. They use plastic, I don’t. Any shoe that is being made in a factory is using a synthetic inner because it’s cheaper. The only thing that can be an issue with mine is because I don’t use plastic the steel shank in my shoe can make airport scrutiny machines go off! For a women’s shoe you don’t have to put it in but for all my men’s shoes I do put the steel shank in for reinforcement.
<R> What would be your one takeaway that you would want people to know about your craft.
<E> The most important part is that I’m trying to pass on the tradition of a dying art. There’s nothing better than to be able to actually make a product and to see one of my interns face light up when he understands a process. In a perfect world I would like to open up multiple locations of shops so even if one location was say, in Franklin and one was in Austin and the Franklin one was busy but the Austin one wasn’t they could still make shoes for Franklin and send them. But that way, everybody could still get that personal touch. So everybody would be able to get their feet measured, meet a shoemaker, and have that open environment to experience the handmade experience and see what’s happening. Even though it would cost more in machinery to have that instead of a factory, it would be an experience for the shoe buyer and that’s what I would hope my company could be.
I want to thank Eddy so much for letting me sit down and learn about the art of shoemaking! I wish him the best of luck in his business and if you decide to treat yourself to one of his works of art I would love to hear about it! raeannag(at)gmail(dot)com