Queen of shoe-making

Louise Clifton is Wellington’s leading shoe-maker and teacher passionate about the sustainable fashion movement and considers herself a part of the ‘maker culture’ wherein the DIY philosophy is embraced. Good talked to Clifton about her sustainable shoemaking, the latest trends in the shoe industry and why she loves what she does so much. 

What made you get into the shoe business?

I first began making shoes in Dunedin 10 years ago. I couldn’t find work and decided this was my chance to learn shoemaking – something I’ve been curious about since a teen, obsessively saving for my first pair of Doc Martens.

When I began it wasn’t possible to study shoemaking in NZ, so with nothing to lose I sold some of my belongings and travelled to Australia to train. So determined was I to set up a workshop of my own, I launched a small business making baby shoes (a simple place to start) and used the profits to buy antique shoemaking equipment. I brazenly told everyone I could I wanted to be a shoemaker. Which led me by good fortune to being invited in 2015 and 2017 to intern in Tokyo with a Master shoemaker.

As I established my workshop and learnt more about the industry I realised that for shoemaking practice to survive and flourish in NZ a school of shoemaking was needed. As, with the exception of a precious few manufacturers, NZ’s shoemaking industry largely went offshore in the 80’s and 90’s. 

You offer vegan alternatives in your shoe school – what does this involve?

I’m helping a student make vegan shoes right now! She’s making the uppers from linen, which is a very strong and durable fabric, and the soles from cork and rubber. While leather has amazing stretch properties which make it an ideal material for shoes – it’s not absolutely necessary. I’m very much looking forward to some vegan leather alternatives, such as pineapple and fungi becoming easily accessible.

What are your other favourite eco-friendly fashion labels?

Kowtow and Little Yellow Bird.

Who inspires you in your line of work?

My very first tutor Luna Newby of Luna Boots will always be my chief inspiration. She is a patient, generous and highly skilled teacher. She also isn’t very loud – I’m not a loud person at all. I found the gentle way in which she made room for people to explore their own learning path hugely inspiring.

Shoemaking schools – I Can Make Shoes (UK) and Brooklyn Shoe Space (USA) inspire me daily. Both are women-run schools that make shoemaking inclusive, accessible and fun. Which it should be.

What type of styles of shoes are the most popular that you see? And materials?

My students adore brogues (decorative punchwork). I think it’s popular because it’s a decorative style associated with handmade shoes. Of course, if I had my way we’ll ALL be wearing flatforms, and mine highest of all!

A lot of students start their Shoe School workshop thinking they’re going to make a sensible pair of black or brown shoes – but confronted with the candy coloured array of coloured, textured leather, most leave with a something a little brighter, more dazzling.

What do you predict the next shoe trends will be?

I’ve just started one-day sneaker workshops, which is a tiny miracle! If anyone is interested in learning more about Shoe School – creating sneakers, sandals, shoes or collars they can come along to Maker Faire, talk to us about what they could make, feel the materials and sketch their dream pair of shoes.

Louise will be at this years inaugural Maker Faire Festival in Wellington on Sunday 4 November at Queens Wharf, Shed 6 and Capital E. Attendees will be given the chance to sketch their dream shoes on school shoe templates with Louise’s assistance and feel the materials, tools and leather used in the courses. All-ages are welcome. Tickets $9 adults, children free from wellington.makerfaire.com/tickets/

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