I have a thing for shoes. I worked in a shoe store when I was in my teens where my paycheque rarely made it home. So my feet got all tingly last weekend when I tuned in to CBC Radio’s North by Northwest and heard host Sheryl MacKay interviewing an artist who made shoes by hand. Renée Macdonald came from a family who made things; her father was a carpenter, her mother a seamstress. She loved shoes too and decided to do a workshop across the line in Washington state that would teach her how to make her own. After the workshop she played around with shoemaking. Then she decided to get a job in shoe retail to understand footwear from the customer perspective, how they fit, how they felt, the emotions they evoked. Let’s face it, people can get pretty emotional about shoes. My knees actually buckled when I saw a pair of rockin’ red stilettos in a store window one evening.
Renée kept at her craft, but decided she had more to learn so she got a job in a shoe repair shop. It was there she really understood how shoes are put together, how they wear, and if and how they could be put back together. Now when she is crafting her feats of foot, she asks herself, “If I design the shoe this way, will I be able to repair it?” She believes every shoe should be repairable. She is not planning for obsolescence, encouraging customers to toss out the shoes after a year and buy a new pair. She is not designing from cradle to grave, leaving someone else to figure out what to do with the waste, or forcing customers to add another layer of leather to the landfill. She is designing from cradle to cradle, taking into account the full life cycle of her product. She is contributing to the restorative economy as author Paul Hawken would say. This is the kind of full systems approach that progressive companies are taking now, whether they’re making shoes or carpets.
If you missed Renée at the Eastside Culture Crawl, not to worry. You can check out her works of art on her company website, Westerly Handmade Shoes.