Louise Clifton is on a mission: to turn Wellington into a city of beautifully soled citizens. Her Shoe School does exactly what it says on the tin and is the only shoemaking school in Aotearoa. Louise opened the school in Dunedin in October 2015, and relocated to Newtown last October where she fast set up shop teaching this practise to others.
New Zealand's shoemaking industries were basically dismantled throughout the '80s and '90s, leaving a big gap for beautiful, Aotearoa-made shoes. Louise came across the craft almost by accident, during a stage of her life where she was looking for a new creative direction to head in. "I told myself that until I found a paying job, I'll just start shoemaking and see where it gets me… it's led to here, which is awesome." With an absence of shoemaking qualifications on offer in New Zealand, Louise studied a range of short courses throughout Japan and Australia to learn her craft. Ten years later, she is offering classes from her beautiful studio on Riddiford Street.
The sunny space, with its shop windows full of shoe lasts, examples of Louise's work, and big stacks of buttery leather offcuts in a range of shades, from dusty teals, pinks, deep reds and blues isn't the usual Newtown shopfront.
After the nearly total demise of New Zealand's shoemaking industry, a lot of the specialist equipment needed to create footwear was sold off overseas or scrapped. It's taken a lot of time and scouting for Louise to build her workshop again, but it means that most of the tools and machines have unique stories. Her tool board, hanging with rows of heel polishers, lasting pliers, shoe irons, heat guns, tack lifters and skivers (you're going to have to ask her what they're all for) are mostly antiques, and machines like her posting machine, "which is like gold for shoemakers," were kindly gifted to her by places like Otago Polytechnic. One man drove an old Singer boot patcher up from Invercargill in the back of his car to contribute to her growing range of pieces. Between the antique tools, the bins of beautiful textiles and the plants everywhere, the intriguing studio is drawing in hordes of curious Wellingtonians who want to learn a new skill and add to their shoe-drobe in the process.
Louise currently offers three workshops, which nearly all sell out. Her five-day shoemaking, two-day sandal, and one-day pattern courses are all designed to be entry-level and start with a morning of inspiration gathering, drinking coffee around the large wooden worktable and leafing through books and online sources to build a picture of the creator's ideal shoe. Louise also has plans to add a sneaker workshop and a class in making baby shoes to her offering.
The classes are fantastically unfussy and full of creative interpretation, and the shoes can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Louise isn't snobby about shoes. "I like trashy things too! I like looking at the construction of different pieces, and I buy a lot of ridiculous shoes I couldn't make myself."
She participated in a project called Frankenfoot, where she refashioned a new shoe out of many pieces of footwear destined for the dump. Her own practise is largely spent in pursuit of the mastery of different skills — manipulating the stretch of leather in different ways, hand shaping and hand sewing her creations. An immaculate pair of brogues sitting in the shop window, with layered star motifs rendered in smooth black leather were recently finished on an informal apprenticeship in Japan, and serve as the perfect testimony of Louise's work.