Today we welcome Kevin Rowley from The Little Shoemaker to our blog. The whole concept behind The Little Shoemaker, ‘TLS’, is to make lovely shoes that children want to wear and parents want to put their children in. Emphasizing on ‘hand made’ quality that projects a certain intimacy to the buyer, the shoes are intended to make everyone who looks at them get a lump in their throat. These shoes have not been anywhere near as factory, or a production line, not even another pair of hands. They are so unique that every pair differs from the next pair. If you look close, you can see how each stitch is created not by a machine, but by the hands of an artisan. Every part of the shoe shouts out ‘Hand Made’. There’s nothing synthetic involved in the process, nor in the materials.
Why did you start your brand?
I was working in Marylebone when my first daughter Momoko was born. I wanted to buy her very first shoes, and so I went looking for that special purchase. After a few hours it became clear my options were almost nil for British made kids shoes.
I eventually settled on a pair of cute little sandals from a famous French boutique. However when I got home and we were fitting them, I noticed a little label in the back telling me they were made on the other side of the world. To be honest I have no issue where they were made. However I do have an issue when they cost over £100. I felt the mark up was certainly unjustified, and this was when I had my ‘light-bulb’ moment. Surely there was space in the UK market for someone to make children’s shoes by hand in a time honored traditional way, just like they used to be made. And that’s how it began.
What’s your vision?
It’s quite simple, just to continue making shoes in a way that’s as sustainable as possible. And to continue having fun doing so.
What does your typical working day look like?
It can vary quite a lot, but it will always begin with coffee. I’ll usually start drawing the design on the last followed by cutting out and creating the pattern for the leather. Obviously this can depend how far along with the process I was the night before and how many pairs I’m actually making.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’ll start with an idea that can be a visual recollection of old shoes or perhaps a conceptual idea of how I want a certain shoe to be. The challenge then is to design the shoe on a last before transferring it to a pattern. This is followed by stitching the leather pieces together, at which point it starts to resemble a shoe.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I love the present trend that takes influence from vintage design. I’d like to think that it values the original ‘make and mend’ concept of yesteryear.
Who inspires you now and who has influenced your thinking?
My influence comes from far and wide and takes snippets from many areas of traditional and popular culture. I spent many years studying and working as an artist and you can see the obvious connection to my shoe designs.
What do you find to be the biggest challenge for a brand with sustainability at its core
Making sure all my products are reliable is an ongoing challenge. I buy all my materials here in the UK, but making sure my suppliers are sourcing their supplies ethically is certainly a challenge.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Nothing really, it’s all part of the learning curve.
What’s next for you and your brand?
To continue developing designs and allowing the brand to grow organically.
Is there anything you haven’t yet tackled, but will want to do soon?
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I was an artist before being a shoemaker.
What is the one book that you recommend people read?
Murakami’s ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicles’ Simply because it peals away the layers of a story.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting a sustainable brand?
Never give up.
Why should people buy from you?
There’s no factory processes involved. It’s all done by hand. Every part of the shoe is a memory of where I’ve been.
If you’re a sustainable brand and would like to take part in a Brand Chat interview, please get in touch.