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If The Shoe Fits, Spend $5,000 on It

Ashland Prepares for the First-EVER Footwear Symposium (in the United States)

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Photo by William Shanor
Photo by William Shanor

It turns out that most of the shoes that Americans wear are not made by elves that sneak into cobblers’ shops in the middle of the night. Nor are they even made in America. Most are mass-produced in China (more on that later), yet there are still fine shoe-craftspeople here in the U.S.—even in our Rogue Valley. William Shanor of Bonney and Wills School of Shoemaking and Design in Ashland has repaired and made shoes for almost 50 years, and now he and his wife, Julie Bonney, are hosting the first Footwear Symposium June 19-21.

The Symposium will feature Marcell Mrsan of the Accessory Department of Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, who is known as one of the world’s leading shoe-crafters and who Shanor describes as a “master.”

“It is an honor to be associated with him,” Shanor says. “If you have seen Schindler’s List—He is Liam Neeson; I’m Ben Kingsley, the support guy. Our personalities work well together. When he comes into a room, the room changes; I come into a room and make sure all the chairs are straight.”

From “exotic hides like kangaroo leather” to sewing machines and parts, Shanor assures that the event will equip novices, experts or just “people who love shoes and want to learn more” with the materials and the knowledge they crave. Check out the full schedule and registration details at foowearsymposium.com.

Shanor says that the lack of a governing body for footwear creation in the U.S. leaves us behind other countries known for their fine shoe craftsmanship, like Italy. He is part of a forum that now boasts 6,000 members that is calling for a formation of a guild in the U.S. that sets a standard for shoemaking in our country.

“I was in the repair trade for many years, and I didn’t have to deal with OSHA—there was no training required,” he says. “We want to create a certification for shoemakers. We are helping with the professionalism of American shoemaking. We say you’ve gotta up your game. You have to be tested against your peers and show your work. You can’t just put up a sign that says ‘Master Shoemaker’.”

So yeah, this Symposium is kinda a big deal.

Around 100 people are coming from all over the planet—New Zealand, England, China, Vietnam and even six local shoemakers.

“People are hungry to learn this stuff,” says Shanor. “People who are into shoes are not like people who are into clothes. When people catch the bug, they become very dedicated. Anyone can make a shoe, but it is difficult to make a beautiful shoe. Everyone knows a beautiful shoe when they see it, but they don’t always know a piece of garbage.”

Shanor has been repairing, making and teaching shoes in Ashland for 43 years—repairs clocking in at 600,000 and creation at around 2,000—though he says it took him 40 years to open a school.

“As a rule, shoemakers don’t make a lot of money,” he says.

Though custom footwear from artists like Lisa Sorrell run around $5000.

“Once people see how they are made, they think $5000 is a bargain,” Shanor says.

But back to China.

“The Chinese make 70 percent of the shoes in the world,” says Shanor. “People pooh pooh them, but they make the most and the best in the world, though they mostly are not handmade. The Chinese can duplicate anything and they can do it better than anybody. There are whole cities dedicated to shoemaking in China. They are also thieves—they can make a shoe tomorrow that was just unveiled in Italy today. They are brutal; they have no shame. They are incredible copiers.”

Shanor even tested his claims about China on a children’s shoe he designed.

“I found them at Wal-Mart for $7 a pair. I took them apart and made a pattern, which cost them only $80 instead of the standard $800. Also, all the chemicals they use, we wish we could have.”

Shanor’s final words of wisdom, “If you want an absolutely stunning shoe, go to Italy, but China is eating them alive. It is too bad.”

Shanor only owns two pairs of shoes. He says, “I’m not a shoe horse, like a clothes horse.”


Footwear Symposium

June 19-21

Ashland Hills Hotel, 2525 Ashland Street, Ashland.



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