Crafted with art and sole

By Henry Budd

Shoemaker Andrew McDonald puts heart and "sole" into his work. A single pair of his handmade shoes can take more than 40 hours to make. And the 46-year-old does not mince words about just how difficult it is to produce a custom-made pair of shoes.

"It is hard work, it is physically demanding and it’s time consuming," he says.

"Not only does a shoe have to look good, feel good and last – it has to perform a function: it has to be able to get you from A to B."

These days, the old craft of shoemaking in Sydney is a cottage industry, and all the designers know each other.

Each of the designers has a niche in the market and McDonald specialises in high-end men’s and women’s fashion.

"You have to make shoes that are going to fit the trend of the season," he says.

"You can’t make shoes that women are not going to want to buy, or guys for that matter.

"It has to be cool, and if it is not cool forget it. But at the same time you have to blend in your own style or signature."

McDonald has also designed shoes for many of the big-budget films that have been shot in Sydney, including Wolverine, Superman and the Star Wars trilogy.

He splits his time between designing his next range and doing fittings with customers. He also outsources some of the shoemaking process to a few trusted master craftsmen.

"I have a guy who does all the upper machining – all the stitch work you do on top. I can do it but I have a guy who is quicker and cheaper," he says.

Many of the people McDonald uses and learns from are older craftspeople who have made shoes all their lives but are now approaching retirement.

"It is becoming harder and harder for me to find people to learn from," he says.

"I’ve been doing this for 17 years and, seriously, I will reach my peak when I turn 60."

McDonald tried his hand at a couple of different professions before he found his way into shoemaking. After two years of training to become a general nurse, he embarked on a career in photography.

"One of the commissions I had was to photograph a guy who was making shoes in London and I thought, ‘This looks like a very interesting thing he’s doing’," he says.

"I came back to Australia and went back to TAFE to learn how to make shoes.
"I was still doing a bit of photography but slowly and surely the shoes [took] hold."

In 1996 he won a Churchill Fellowship to study with craftspeople in the UK and France.

"The best part about it, and the part I get the least amount of time to do, is design," he adds.

The Daily Telegraph

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