I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by how things are made. At 6, I made my first bicycle. I collected bike parts from dumpsters until I had everything I needed to piece it together. Using my dad’s tools to attach the tires, brakes, the seat, and the handlebars. I spent quite some time wrestling with getting the tires onto the rims. When it was finished I took it out to the steepest hill.
When I hit a patch of gravel at the bottom, the front tire bounced out of place and my hands and face were painted onto the concrete. A sharp rock cut about half an inch deep into my hand. Needless to say, I sat the rest of the day out. Later, when my dad heard the story, the thing he was most upset about was the fact that I used his tools without permission.
I learned two things that day. Tools are treasure, not toys. And, it was okay for me to try something on my own and make mistakes.
I spent the next several years building and taking apart anything I could. I made 18 treehouses. I made underground forts with elaborate tunnel systems. I took apart remote control cars and figured out how to attach the motors to Lego helicopters and cars I had made. I completed every beginning woodworker’s project: a work bench, a bird house, a toolbox. And my bike building got better.
Thanks to my grandfather who gave me my first set of carving knives, I discovered wood carving. It was then that my creativity exploded. Every boy loves knives, and when I saw that you could carve faces into pieces of wood I was hooked. I spent hour after hour doing that. I even sold my carvings to schoolmates. Santas at Christmas, roses at Valentine’s. Eventually, after years of re-sharpening the knives, they wore out. My 18 year old self discovered how much they cost and realized I couldn’t afford any.
You guessed it, I decided to make them instead. I found some scrap metal around the garage, cut it into the shape of knives and started filing the edges by hand. When they were finished, I was so proud of them (because no one had given me the idea, and I didn’t use a book to guide me) that I wanted to have something protective to put them in. Making sheaths for my knives was my first experience working with leather. It was a blast! My wood carving slowed while I spent time making wallets and zippo holders, you name it. At that time I told myself that I would eventually make a pair of leather shoes for myself.
Flash forward... I finally had the means to make myself a pair of shoes. I tried and failed. I took apart a pair of boots the same way I would an engine, so that I could methodically understand all of the parts. I tried again, and failed. I surfed youtube. I found very little, people were making moccasins, or other hand built pieces of footwear. I even watched promo videos of Gucci’s shoe factory. They were using giant machines and going very fast through the process.
I searched amazon for how-to books and found one originally printed in 1885, by John Bedford Leno, entitled The Art of Boot and Shoe Making: A Practical Guide. Since it was written so long ago much of the lingo was foreign to me. Not to mention that many of the pages were missing when they reprinted it. I learned a few things but still tried, and failed. The idea of making a shoe by hand was becoming a more mysterious and elusive thing and all the more alluring for it.
Finally, I discovered a school in Jerome, AZ that could teach me shoe making. I took two classes, one on pattern making and the other was making a shoe by hand. The tuition was just what I had in the bank at the time, so I said, alright,
it’s now or never.
After I completed the course, I walked away with my first pair of shoes! I couldn’t believe how challenging shoemaking was, even after I made my first pair. I was hooked. It had been a while since something had challenged me as much. I returned home, began purchasing the tools I needed and went to work. I knew that I wanted to make shoes for a living and didn’t want to just make what was already available. I wanted to make something that was unique, of the highest quality I could offer, and for a reasonable price (as most completely handmade shoes like ours start at $1000 in the US).
That is where the Standard Handmade story begins, as our first shoe, the "Premiere Oxford" was born.
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