As part of our special Month of the Man features, BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Theodore Green, a self-taught shoe artisan. In the age of immediacy and mass production, Green has taken his talents to produce custom-made shoes. The 37-year-old Boston native discusses how he started in the trade, difficulties of the craft, and advice for other young creative professionals.
BlackEnterprise.com: Shoe cobbling seems to be a dying art. How did you get interested in it?
Theodore Green: I have always been an artist. In 2002, I went on a trip to Italy. I left one morning to find some coffee and found shop workers building shoes. There were shoes everywhere. I saw them and figured that I could replicate that. … For many years after, I [researched] how to do so. I read a lot, researched, and talked to older people in the industry. My research took me from Boston to New York to Idaho—and that’s how it all started.
Have you always worked in the fashion industry or is this a new passion?
My education is in fashion, and I was a dressmaker [in the past]. Those dressmaking skills translated into footwear. I’m an artist and have always found new mediums to explore, from painting, to illustration to sculpture to drawing for myself.
In a world where mass production is the name of the game, why go into custom-made shoes?
Well first, there is a small group of people who purchase custom footwear. And they appreciate the personal experience; They get to show their individual style and taste. I also go to a lot of craft shows. I’m still new in the business. So when one customer is pleased, they tell their friends and their friends tell their friends— it’s a word of the mouth movement really. With [shoes being] handmade, the customer have the luxury of service. Not only are you serviced, I also try to make your ideal piece of footwear materialize just for you. The creativity and luxury are special.
What’s the most difficult or frustrating aspect of the shoe cobbling process, and what is your favorite?
I actually enjoy every part of the process and was very aggressive in learning every step. However, I would say one difficulty is the tools and finding the instruments to get it done… I have to either make my own, improvise or search. This is such an old trade that some of the materials are just hard to come by. Another [difficulty] would be time. It’s a very hands-on, labor intensive process. But, the reward of seeing your creation completed is worth it. It’s a nice reward. I love the creative aspect and not knowing where I’m going to go [with it] until it’s finished. I also love the smell, touch and feel of the leather; and, seeing it go from raw materials to a constructed piece.
What advice would you give to young professionals, especially those who are getting involved in niche crafts and are still learning?
One, research all that you can. Two, love what you do. Three, be as proficient as you can in your area. And four, enjoy what you’re doing. Everything else should fall into place after that. If you’re an artist like me, keep putting yourself out there for people to see what you’re doing. There is also a certain amount of discipline and ingenuity that go into it as well. There’s always going to blocks in the path, but there are ways to offset limitations and to keep going.
For more on Theodore Green and his luxury shoe collection, visit TheodoreGreen.com.