I would love to use only local materials, to support local producers and for the sake of the planet but unfortunately most of the leather produced here is produced cheaply for other markets so more and more my leather is imported. I’m using bakers leather for Soles, insoles, stiffeners and welts at the moment. I picked up some beautiful natural calf skin in last September which has been a pleasure to work with.
There is a great old tannery outside of Melbourne which still uses bark from the Black Wattle tree to tan their hides. I mostly use it to create leather goods.
Kangaroo is an interesting leather. It is light weight and very strong. I would say however that it being thin, it tends to wrinkle. I don’t mind this at all in a casual shoe but it isn’t easy to attain to a high mirror shine with.
There is a vintage shoe collector I saw online who said of all his pairs, some over a hundred years old, only the kangaroo leather ones were not splitting through the joint with age.
Australia, especially Melbourne where I live, has a rich leather working history. Many immigrants arrived here in the mid 20th century with skills and a desire to take advantage of the opportunities in the new world. John Lobb come to Australia during the gold rush and made a name for himself making boots for the miners before returning to England and obtaining a royal warrant. You also have RM Williams, a famous country boot manufacturer who make an iconic whole cut leather boot.
There are still a few old timers around with lot’s of knowledge about all kinds of things but the industry has now gone. There is a big resurgence in local crafts and young people all over are getting into leather work among other things.
What was the most challenging project so far?
I’ve had many difficult feet to fit but the shoe that stands out was a boot with a spiraling design which required quite complex pattern making but I was please with the result.
How would you describe a typical day of a shoemaker?
I don’t know how other shoemakers operate. Most of them are in factories in China I suppose. I just make the quick ride from my house into the workshop, pick up the latest project and continue on where I left off. I drink a lot of tea which I think really helps.
What shoe would like to make in the future that you have not made yet?
Motorcycle boots. I really enjoy the challenge of making function specific footwear.
What shoe style do you prefer the most?
I still like boots. I like black and I like simplicity. It’s all in the lines and subtle details.
What are your favorite places to spend your evenings?
I like to unwind by shooting some hoops at the little basketball court up my street. I also love the cinema and the dark corner of my local bar with a glass of old red wine.
What is your favorite word?
Pohutukawa. It’s the Maori name of a tree in New Zealand where I’m from.
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)?
Passionate people. It doesn’t matter what about, I could talk about checkers with a passionate person and be interested.
What turns you off?
The pursuit of profit as an end.
What is your favorite curse word?
What sound or a noise do you love?
The tap of typewriter keys, my old Pfaff sewing machine ticking along and my motorcycle engine.
What sound or noise do you hate?
What profession would you not like to do?
I think I could find almost anything interesting. It’s the people that might be an issue.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“It is very hard to pick out favorites from the men’s shoe collection, I’m usually torn between those unassuming men’s shoes that have a great story attached to them or the really amazing one off pairs like the pair made by George Webb for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. We accepted as a donation a few years ago a pair of black leather Oxfords that under usual circumstances we would have probably said no to but they come with an amazing history attached to them. In brief they were bought by the donors father in the 1920s and then worn at his wedding in 1923. They were worn at many functions and loaned to the donor when he attended school dances in the 1950s. On the death of his father the donor inherited them and wore them at his own wedding in the early 1920s. He too wore them at many functions including those held at Buckingham Palace and Westminster. He finally donated them to the Shoe Collection because they had become uncomfortable to wear. So they look like a dull pair of shoes, but in fact have a great history to them.” Read full interview here :http://www.keikari.com/english/interview-with-rebecca-shawcross/