Lou’s Shoes is an artisan leatherworking business based in Dunedin. Lou Clifton moved overseas to learn the craft of shoemaking and returned with aspirations to enliven the craft in New Zealand, where training and apprenticeships in shoemaking are no longer offered.
What do you make?
I handcraft leather infant shoes from my home studio in Dunedin. I draw inspiration from vintage footwear styles and my collection features Brogues, Penny Loafers and Gaiters, in miniature!
How did you get into your craft?
My background is in photography and illustration. I’ve always enjoyed the tactile aspect of photography, a lot of which has been superseded by computers. Eventually I decided to ditch the computer in favour of a more hands-on craft career.
My fascination with shoemaking began as a student living in Wellington, not far from an amazing bespoke shoemaker on Cuba St named Sue Engels. Her shop was very inspiring – she was surrounded by leathers, lasts and hand-tools. So, I experimented with leather at home, read and wrote letters and emails to shoemakers asking for advice, and found a shoemaking teacher in Australia.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I studied shoemaking in Hobart, Australia with Luna Boots. I’d had previous training in design and had also done a short fashion design course in preparation to study shoemaking. When I came home from studying shoemaking, baby shoes seemed like the logical place to begin my career.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I’m still relatively new to leathercraft and I get a thrill from mastering my tools. My new lasting pliers are my favourites. I got given them as a birthday present and they’re very shiny.
What inspires you?
Historical footwear inspires Lou’s Shoes, particularly a 1920s aesthetic. If I can imagine Lou’s Shoes in a Little Nemo illustration, then I know I’ve got the design right! I admire traditional leather skills and I love being able to talk shop with leather crafters in Dunedin.
Describe your workspace:
I have a large room in my flat as a dedicated workspace. I have a work table in the centre of the room, quite a few sewing machines and shelves full of leather. I live in an old Victorian mansion and my studio looks out over almost an acre of established trees. One the benefits of living in Dunedin is that eccentric mansions are still available for reasonable rent.
Your favourite childhood book?
I still love the twisted logic of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. And maybe the macabre and tragic bits of Hans Christian Andersen. And anything with an Arthur Rackham illustration in it.
I don’t have a hero although I do like the Surrealist photographs of Claude Cahun. Her photographs explore identity and were personal, introspective and intuitive at a time when many of her contemporaries joined collectives and wrote broad and encompassing manifestos. I think of myself as an individualistic sort of person, so I admire when others have a little faith in themselves and follow their intuition. I think it’s an important skill for small business owners.
If you were a crayon, what colour would you be?
I just bought a scarf in neon red to cheer me up during the dreary Dunedin winter. So neon red please.
Check out more of Lou’s designs in her Felt shop, Lou’s Shoes, and keep an eye out for her latest design – outrageous hot pink and leopard skin Gaiters – soon to be available on Felt.