The footwear industry is grounded in a deep sense of tradition, history, and patriarchy remaining largely unchanged for the past decade. For this reason, shoe-making can often be seen as an unteachable and difficult skill. Last week we met Amanda Overs, the founder of I Can Make Shoes, a shoe-making school in London that is challenging the footwear industry by allowing people from all walks to be able to make shoes at the comfort of their homes. Here is Amanda’s story.
Amanda grew up in Australia. When she was just 19 years, out of an obsession towards high-heels, she decided to start taking shoe-making classes and try to understand whether or not she could be a shoe designer. ‘I could not draw and I was not too creative, I just wanted to see what it was like to design shoes. But soon, I realized I loved working on them, and making the craft became my favorite thing’ Amanda says. ‘In Australia, I learned how to make shoes in a completely different way compared to what we teach here [at the school]. How I learned and how university students learn, is based on the use of heavy machinery. If you don’t have access to it, you can’t make shoes.’ Amanda continued on working and developing her skills for two more years in until she decided to move to London in 2010.
‘After I moved to the UK I could not make shoes anymore because I did not have access to the machinery and there wasn’t a book that would teach me how to make shoes at home’ Amanda says. Nonetheless, Amanda didn’t want to give up her passion. She set out to develop a specific shoe-making process that would allow her to make shoes at home. ‘I started to make notes on how I could make shoes at home with modern materials and minimal utensils. I wrote down a list of instructions and started doing countless trials’. Once she was able to define a consolidated principle, she decided to test it out to see if it was easily accessible to others. ‘I did the first workshop at home with some friends but never thought anything about it at that time’.
Amanda’s first workshop was a sandal-making course taught from her home in East London. ‘I was in my early twenties and there was no way I could afford for a studio space. Luckily my house had a front room that no one used. I pushed the couches back and set up a big workroom.’ Considering the good response she got from her very first attendees, Amanda decided to continue developing and offering workshops. ’I would post about the courses on twitter – when Twitter was just becoming a thing – and people would write me back asking when was the next one. In the first year, we did 5 workshops.’. Quickly, her home-based operation became too small, leading her to find a place that would better suit her new needs. In 2011, she moved to Hackney Downs Studios, marking the official beginning for I Can Make Shoes as a shoemaking school.
It was also in 2011, that the school started receiving a lot of press coverage. ‘We were invited along with fifteen other brands to sell our products at the ASOS Market Place. They gave us six months to prepare enough stock of shoes and we were sold-out in 24 hours after the launch.’ Amanda recalls. ‘They were doing a lot of PR around those fifteen brands they were launching with, giving I Can Make Shoes a very good placement in the market, especially given the early stage in which we were.’ Eventually, the dynamics of sales were driving the learning focus of the school towards a production-oriented organization. ‘[for this reason] we left ASOS to focus back on our workshops. Still, we are very thankful to them and the kickstart they gave us’.
In the following years, Amanda started expanding and detailing the offering, creating more courses, hiring more teachers and growing the student base. Soon, she created an international partnership with the Brooklyn Shoe Space to teach some of her classes in New York. Her Hackney Studio eventually became too small and she moved to the current space in Bethnal Green [seen in the pictures]. Today, the school runs 8-10 courses a month and offers private tuitions to students that wish to learn about the craft at an even more professional level. Amanda’s approach to teaching is completely honest: ‘We haven’t perfected [teaching] but almost. After every big course, we sit down as a team and discuss what worked and what didn’t. When someone comes to our class and says I want to make a certain type of shoe, we tell if it is really hard for the first goal. We also never forget that people have not done this before and there is no stupid question. People are here to learn and some aspects can be a little tricky so we are very patient teachers.’
Amanda’s plans for the future is to continue teaching more students and empowering them with a skill they can use for their entire lives. ’What gives me fulfillment is that shoemaking is so empowering. People will always need shoes and the craft will always exist. I have a skill that I can use for the rest of my life and earn me money in one way or another. I want to give this sense of empowerment to my students.’ Besides, Amanda believes I Can Make Shoes will soon be offering courses online in order to grow in a much faster and broader way. ‘80% of our students fly to London just to take our course. So that’s why online/youtube videos could be the next biggest way to spread the love.’
This year, I Can Make Shoes is completing a decade and to celebrate it the best way possible, there is a book coming out. ‘It feels like the biggest accomplishment ever, the whole business would not exist if I didn’t wish there was a book explaining how to make shoes at home.’ The book is currently at the proofreading stage and will soon be a tool for everyone across the world to learn to make shoes at home in an unintimidated and hands-on approach.
I Can Make Shoes’ courses are all suitable for beginners and thought by six different amazing teachers in East London in an unintimidated and friendly environment. The courses are for everyone – really. Whether you are looking for trying something new, considering starting your own business in footwear or just making new friends, I Can Make Shoes is the place for you. Read some of their incredible success stories here.