9 Things You Wish You Knew about Shoe-Making

THE MIND OF THE MAKER BLOG SERIES

From Singapore’s Only Few Female Shoe Makers, Lisa Teng
From Singapore’s Only Few Female Shoe Makers, Lisa Teng

Being a shoe-maker is no easy feat, especially here in Singapore.

While most of her peers were starting their careers, Lisa Teng made a bold step to learn a whole new art form after she graduated from fashion studies in Singapore. Yes, Shoe-making!

Moving to the UK on your own to pick up a whole new course? And in shoe-making?

How many of us would dare pursue a niche career which naysayers deem has little investment value?

It all started when Lisa was inspired by a shoe-maker during her studies and she just knew this was something she had to do.

It’s been six years since she’s embarked on her shoe-making adventures – and she has completed a three year foundation course, a one year period dedicated to designing her own collections, and two years of Masters studies – also in shoe-making and an apprenticeship learning a comprehensive suite of crafts.

Lisa’s 2012 ‘Tidy Up the Commotion’ collection was inspired by a series of photographs by Swiss artist Ursus Werhli featuring an artistic interpretation of deconstruction. Likewise, Lisa’s collection reflects how a classic silhouette can be created through, the opposite, reconstruction. Image courtesy of Lisa Teng
Lisa’s 2012 ‘Tidy Up the Commotion’ collection was inspired by a series of photographs by Swiss artist Ursus Werhli featuring an artistic interpretation of deconstruction. Likewise, Lisa’s collection reflects how a classic silhouette can be created through, the opposite, reconstruction. Image courtesy of Lisa Teng

I’ve got to say, when you talk to a true-blue “maker” like Lisa, you discover a number of things. Some of which I hope will surprise you too.

Her shoes are made using a variety of methods from laser cutting to 3D printing. Her philosophy is about being resourceful. And challenging traditions.
Her shoes are made using a variety of methods from laser cutting to 3D printing. Her philosophy is about being resourceful. And challenging traditions.

1. Beyond leather crafting, it takes a little bit of engineering and carpentry knowledge to make shoes. Most importantly, you gotta understand how a foot works!

Making both men and women’s shoes are not as easy as one thinks. A shoe designer needs to consider the structure of the foot, and other factors like weight distribution. And surprisingly, making men’s shoes are slightly more complicated – there’s a whole different set of factors and details to consider.

2. Children’s shoes may look easier to make, but they are actually much harder because every component and detail is a few times smaller. Lisa’s first project at school was to make a children’s shoe collection.

A sophisticated weaving technique using leather strips, part of Lisa’s 2012 ‘Tidy Up the Commotion’ collection. Image Courtesy of Lisa Teng
A sophisticated weaving technique using leather strips, part of Lisa’s 2012 ‘Tidy Up the Commotion’ collection. Image Courtesy of Lisa Teng

3. The first step of learning how to make a pair of shoes is to learn how to draw shoes. Shoes have a completely different type of silhouette compared to those you learn to draw in fashion school.

4. It is possible to make a pair of shoes without machinery. Give Lisa a normal work bench, a sheet of leather, some simple sewing tools, knives and maybe a small drill, and she would be able to make you a cool pair of hand-sewn shoes!

Lisa’s 2015 ‘Altra’ (pronounced as Ultra) collection is based on the biomechanics of the foot. Strong geometrical forms in the design transform both the silhouette of the foot and the way the wearer walks. The name was inspired by the concept of “alteration” which suggests how this shoe alters the wearer in subtle ways. Image Courtesy of Lisa Teng
Lisa’s 2015 ‘Altra’ (pronounced as Ultra) collection is based on the biomechanics of the foot. Strong geometrical forms in the design transform both the silhouette of the foot and the way the wearer walks. The name was inspired by the concept of “alteration” which suggests how this shoe alters the wearer in subtle ways. Image Courtesy of Lisa Teng

5. You don’t get taught everything at school. You will hear makers say this pretty often but most of the time there’s some kind of innate ‘curiousity’ in them which triggers self-learning. Even though Lisa studied the basics of shoe-making, she taught herself the properties of leather and leather-crafting in order to really make a shoe.

From Lisa’s collection ‘Tidy Up the Commotion’, this pair of heels requires a combination of woodworking and leather working! Image courtesy of Lisa Teng
From Lisa’s collection ‘Tidy Up the Commotion’, this pair of heels requires a combination of woodworking and leather working! Image courtesy of Lisa Teng

6. Shoe-making goes beyond learning a single craft or tool, you’re always learning. For example, Lisa had to master various crafts and techniques during her 3 month apprenticeship with the One Makers Group. She learnt how to use various machines and tools, various crafts like wood-working, laser cutting and 3D printing (just to name a few), and even product design fundamentals! This allows her to create pieces that break convention.

This is an example of Lisa’s work where she had to expand her shoe-making skill sets. The purple tones in the leather was hand-dyed while the studs below the shoes were attached using a trial and error method! Image Courtesy of Lisa Teng
This is an example of Lisa’s work where she had to expand her shoe-making skill sets. The purple tones in the leather was hand-dyed while the studs below the shoes were attached using a trial and error method! Image Courtesy of Lisa Teng

7. Sometimes you just gotta make-do with what you have. Lisa’s strength is her resourcefulness. Because Singapore isn’t the best place to get all the materials you need, there are always ways to upcycle items or use alternative materials like zips or even an old pair of leather gloves to make a unique pair of shoes.

8. Gender neutral inventions could be a thing. Lisa is currently working on a pair of mechanised wings made out of wood and leather. Although it doesn’t enable one to fly, it certainly moves on its own when you wear them! The idea came about when someone commented that many inventions were too masculine and seemed like a series of toys for boys! She was thus inspired to create a slightly more feminine kind of invention – mechanised wings.

Lisa’s all-leather Magic Card Holder with the ability to flip open and close both ways. A simple mechanism Lisa translated into leather. Image Courtesy of Lisa Teng
Lisa’s all-leather Magic Card Holder with the ability to flip open and close both ways. A simple mechanism Lisa translated into leather. Image Courtesy of Lisa Teng

9. Diversification is the key to success! According to Lisa, a maker these days should always explore making different types of products, rather than just sticking to one specialty. From hat-accessories and leather bow-ties to snazzy leather straps for aprons, leather footballs and mechanised wings, Lisa is still busy exploring the world of making!

9 Things You Wish You Knew about Shoe-Making

If there’s one thing we really admire about Lisa, it is her ambition to start her own business in making bespoke shoes one day.

Today, she is as much a maker as an entrepreneur, constantly expanding her horizons in both her craft and the people and projects she explores.

Want to meet someone as inspiring as this? Come down to The Centrepoint’s Maker’s Festival, from 11 to 30 October, where Lisa will be teaching leather crafts surrounded by other talented makers keen to share their craft and creativity with you too!

Click here for more information on Leather Cardholder Workshops at The Centrepoint. Hint, hint, you might be lucky enough to receive a complimentary DIY Leather Kit as well!

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