Make Shoes at Art & Sole

Posted: Nov 19 2014

Canada's Very First Shoemaking Has Opened And Is Taking Its Workshops Across The Country. We Sat Down With Designer and Founder, Jennifer Allison.

Art & Sole Shoe School


“It’s funny because whenever people ask me what I do they always look down at my feet and I’m always wearing the rattiest pair of shoes."

As most people know, shoes can tell a lot about someone; but for shoemaker Jennifer Allison, how a person makes a shoe is where her interest lies. Allison has just opened Canada’s very first shoemaking school, The Art & Sole Academy, in Toronto, and unlike your ordinary design school, Allison’s offers classes and workshops for those interested in learning the art of shoe design, only. We took a moment to get to know more about Allison and the academy that has us all head over heels.

Jennifer Allison Art & Sole Shoe School 

TCC: How did you get into the business of shoe making?

JA: I studied Fashion Design at Ryerson and my first job out of school was as a shoe designer at Aldo. (When) I moved to Montreal, I kind of learned on the spot. I learned all about the process of shoe design just by working and traveling to places like China and Brazil, and working in factories. Then I worked for a variety of shoe design companies in New York, but I really missed the handcrafted process, which is what drew me into design in the first place. So I looked for a mentor who could teach me, and I found some in New York who taught me the trade. I thought it would be a good idea to bring this craft back to Canada; there aren’t any shoemaking schools around, and that's what launched the Art & Sole idea. I chose Toronto because it has a special place in my heart. I feel like it’s where I grew creatively and built a home base.


TCC: After you graduated from Ryerson, what was it that really drew you towards designing shoes over all other fashion?

JA: I always had an interest in shoes, but I never knew how they were made because it’s a mysterious sort of trade. When I was a child my favourite movie was The Wizard of Oz -- I was obsessed with her red ruby slippers, and would make my parents go on a hunt for a pair of my own. So looking back it all makes sense, but it all fell into place unexpectedly. I always thought I was going to be a dress designer, but what I’ve been able to do is apply the techniques of apparel into shoes, which makes my work a bit more unique.


TCC: What is the process of shoemaking at the academy like?

JA: What we’ve done with The Art & Sole Academy is really break it down, and open up the art of shoe making to the general public. So I’ve created different techniques with using tools you can find around your house or without having to use heavy machinery. Our easier classes that don’t require professional tools include shoes like sandals, moccasins and baby booties. The more complicated styles are ballerina flats, pumps or high heels.


TCC: How did you develop this technique to make footwear without any industrial machinery?

JA: I’ve kind of combined everything I’ve learned and focused on being resourceful, because shoe-making tools are very expensive. From my travels in factories in China where they are only using heavy machinery, I wanted to figure out how to bring that to a simpler level. Where you could use tools you find at a Home Hardware or Canadian Tire to get the same job done, just on a smaller scale.

Art & Sole Shoe School 


TCC: What advice would you give younger designers starting out in this industry?

JA: Find someone who can mentor you, and practice makes perfect! Experiment as much as you can and go outside of the boundaries. At The Art & Sole Academy we’ve created our own way of doing things and I think more people should start thinking outside of the box and not be afraid to give it a try.


TCC: If you could make a pair of shoes for anyone dead or alive, who would it be?

JA: I would like to design for Marilyn Monroe because she’s just the epitome of classic style and sex appeal. She can really hold her own in a pair of pumps.   


TCC: What is your favourite pair of shoes that you own, or have made?

JA: My favourite would be a pair of handmade moccasins I found in this little boutique in my hometown (I think they inspired this handmade shoe-making dream) that are so comfortable and so Canadian. I mean, what’s more Canadian than a pair of moccasins?


TCC: Since this Academy has just opened, are there any other exciting projects or additions you can share about the future of Art & Sole?

JA: Our first workshop was October 17th so over the next few months leading up to the holidays we will be holding workshops in different Canadian cities. But in the New Year we are hoping to find a more permanent studio space and settle down in Toronto. We want to then start offering more complex workshops such as mens shoe making, which we have had a lot of interest in, and private tuition for people who want to launch a shoe business and want to personally consult with us. Be sure to regularly check our website for any new updates! 


(Article contributed by Lindsay Sganga)
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