James Roberts of Melbourne, Australia makes footwear and leather goods by hand, using methods and tools much the same to those used a hundred years ago. His shoes start at $800 AUD (about $790 USD), with boots and custom work going much higher—and he has a waiting list of six months plus. Numerous other leather-workers ply their trade on Etsy.com’s online marketplace, crafting custom shoes, boots, and bags. There, a pair of custom-made men’s or women’s shoes can command $500 a pair, and bags draw $100 on up.
In this age of mass production, shoes come cheap. Why the interest in bespoke, even in such a down economy? For many, it’s about quality and luxury. “Handmade shoes are now in the realm of luxury goods when they were once the only option,” says James. “So to keep the profession alive, I strive to make the shoes fit that small luxury market and thus raise the quality and craftsmanship of every step in the process that I can.”
James uses all leather for his shoes’ uppers, linings and soles and stiffeners, he hand-sews the shoes, and he dyes his own leather. “A day in the workshop is hard work. I usually have a few different tasks that I aim to get done that day. Sometimes it can take all day hand- stitching the soles on.” He spends anywhere from 40-70 hours making each pair.