A Sandal Maker

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I don’t wear sandals, but if I did, I’d want to get mine from Barbara Shaum. Shaum is something of a legend in the trade. She moved to NYC in 1951, having just come from a small town in central Pennsylvania, and picked up the leatherworking craft by apprenticing for a sandal maker named Menalkas Duncan. Three years later, in 1954, she opened her own leather goods shop in the East Village, and has been there ever since. In fact, her history there goes back so far that she was the first woman to ever be allowed in McSorley’s – the oldest bar in America, and one that used to disallow women from entry until they were sued in the 1960s under the Civil Rights Act for discrimination.

Sandals are one of the few kinds of footwear that can actually be handmade. Most Western shoes require a machine of some kind. So, even if the welting is done by hand (which is rare), the uppers are almost always sewn together by machine. Sandals on the other hand, can be produced from nothing but simple tools. First a pattern is cut from a tracing of the customer’s foot, and from that come the leather parts that form the base of the shoe. That base needs to be shaped, so the leather is soaked and then hand molded, before being laid out to dry. The leather straps are then cut, dyed, and attached to the sole through a series of holes and ties, depending on the design. Finally, the edges are sanded down and burnished for a finished look.

Prices aren’t cheap. A pair from Shaum costs anywhere from $385 to $600, which makes them too expensive for what I’d want to use them for – wearing around the house on a hot summer’s day, while listening to records, reading a book, or just hanging out in the backyard. For slightly more affordable prices, you can check out Jutta Neumanna.b.k., and Kika. All three apprenticed under Shaum, and have gone on to open similar leather goods stores in New York City.

Shaum unfortunately doesn’t have a website, but she will take remote orders if you contact her. I imagine you just need to send a tracing of your feet. She also has ready-to-wear shoes available at Sid Mashburn.

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