Renée Macdonald

i. I work as a shoemaker making hand lasted, leather, unisex-styled shoes and boots. Up until now I have solely been making made to measure footwear: that is footwear made to the measurements taken from the feet of the intended wearer. I’m excited to be launching a new made to order service which means I’ll be able to make boots for those who are not able to visit my east Vancouver studio for measurements and fittings. Westerly’s new Made to Order collection will be launched this September.

ii. I do this creative work:
for the satisfaction of creating a product that has both practical and expressive attributes. The world has an over abundance of cheaply made, lesser quality products that end up in the landfill far too quickly. I see my work as an opportunity for people to have an option to move away from disposable products while also being able to adorn themselves in objects that they feel a connection to.

iii. Personal qualities that help me in my work are:
Perseverance, attention to detail, and the ability to exercise a wide skill set are personal qualities that help to do this work well. From design, to pattern making, to leather working, construction and finishing, the brain and hands of a shoemaker are always engaged when on the job.

iv. The greatest challenges around doing this work:
involve creating objects that both look good and perform well when still and when in motion. Feet are dynamic and shoes need to be able to follow and support them as they take their person through life.

v. Childhood hobbies:
One of my earliest memories is of my mom teaching me to hand stitch a little green velvet purse while she sat at her sewing machine and I sat across from her. I loved making things! Even at play outside as kids we would make little ‘brooches’ out of alder leaves and wild flowers and line them up as though they were for sale in a fancy shop.

vi. Creators who inspire me:
The first creative people I was inspired by were my parents. I grew up amidst a hive of creative productivity! Throughout my childhood, my dad was at work on our house constructing it from the ground up. My mom took her ‘spare’ time in her sewing room where she made most of our clothes, quilts, and things for the house. Occasionally they would conspire together to make some fantastic costumes too. Since then I gain inspiration from all kinds of creatives, but typically I am moved most by those working in the applied arts: wood workers, ceramists, leather workers, textile artists.

vii. Training that has helped me succeed in this career:
The five years I spent working as a shoe repairer was an integral part of my training to become a skilled shoemaker. Shoe repair provided me with endless lessons on what you do and do not want from a pair of shoes, both in materials and in construction. The opportunity to work with a vast variety of footwear and subsequently learn what they’re made of, how they work, and how they wear was very valuable. In addition to that, the time I spent working in shoe retail gave me insight into the complicated relationship between people, their image, and their feet.

viii. The biggest myth about this type of work is:
The stereotype of a shoemaker is an old man with nails between his teeth, but there are enough of us younger (and female!) shoemakers around these days that we’re starting to get away from that image.

ix. If you want to work in my field, I suggest that you:
come at it with self determination and a resolve to put in your 10,000 hours. The life of a self-employed shoemaker involves a strong work ethic and true appreciation for the product you’re creating.

x. If you want to see my work, go to: and come visit during First Pick at the Main Street Heritage Hall on September 16th & 17th. First Pick will be the first opportunity to see and try on boots from Westerly’s new Made to Order service, and they’ll be on the website in September too.


* Photos courtesy of Renée Macdonald


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