Thursday, September 3, 2009

Douglas, Shoemaker

The shuttle from Visalia (CA) to Sequoia National Park not only provided us the opportunity to observe the scenery on the two-hour drive into the Park but also introduced us to Douglas, our driver.

During a short stop midway between the Park and Visalia, we learned that he is from Guatemala where he was a prominent shoemaker and had several celebrities as customers. He moved to Visalia from Los Angeles where he had established a similar reputation for making top quality shoes for Hollywood celebrities.

We were the last two people off the shuttle when we returned from the Park, and as we were getting off the van, Douglas asked, "Would you like to come to my home to see my workshop?"

"We'd love to. Thank you," was our reply.

Kate was not feeling well on the scheduled day to meet Douglas, and we were not able to reschedule because we were leaving the next day. So I met Douglas at his home and was led to his workshop--formerly his garage. The workshop seemed spartan based on my uniformed expectation.

In one corner were shelves of shoe lasts or forms, but there were few work surfaces and no shelves of materials from which to make the shoes.

I learned that Douglas has a small list of individuals and shops with whom he does business. Some will send him rough sketches of the shoe they want him to make. One sketch seemed, to me, to be really "rough." "Sketched" on the back of a manilla envelope (left) was all the information Douglas had to go on. However, with that information and the shoe size, he made the shoe shown in the photocopy.

The information on the copy and the attached material swatches were for the next pair of shoes.

Along with the drawings, customers send the material that they want in the shoes. In this example, the prototype was produced from the drawing on the right. Douglas will send this rough product or a photo to the customer for a final go-ahead.

Douglas' customers include Hollywood actresses whose names would easily be recognized, but I did not include them here because I didn't know whether he or they wanted their names noted here.

I noticed this form with the adhesive tape on it and asked about it. Douglas answered the question by demonstrating how he produces a pattern.

He begins by covering the last with adhesive tape. He then cuts out the pattern by removing the tape that will not be the material or fabric.

The tape segments that will make up the shoe are then placed on a heavy piece of paper with a border of varying width based on the material used and the amount that will be folded under and sewn.

These forms of tape and paper are then placed on the fabric and the fabric form is cut out.

Douglas grabbed a piece of scrap fabric and proceeded to go through some steps in the process. He cut out this portion and nailed and then glued the piece to the last.

He then cut out the heel portion, cut and sewed it to fit the heel, sewed a loop into that piece, and pulled a strap and buckle through the loop.

Just before I left, he showed me some baby shoes he had made.

Douglas wants to have his own store in Visalia in the near future. Here he would design and make shoes for custom orders. He is just waiting for his mid-teen daughters to learn about marketing and finance for a small business.

I believe this humble, soft-spoken gentleman will realize his dream.

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