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Packing suitcases and closing doors…it is time to prepare the path for the next chapter of those Husbands…closing doors, opening new ones!

It is my last day in Bali, and I am enjoying a reasonably quiet moment tucked away in a cafe in the little village of Nyuhkuning. Situated on the other side of Monkey Forest with its population of confident and occasionally downright scary hordes of grey primates, here it is possible to forget the nearby Ubud madness for a little while.

It feels odd, acknowledging my final moments as a working visitor in Bali. Over more than 10 years I have been coming to this island and it feels equally familiar and utterly changed every time I have returned. What started as a classic first time tourist visit back in 2007 by 2010 turned into a much more utilitarian quest: working with a small group of Javanese shoemakers and a Balinese wood carver to make really nice shoes in really small numbers. Pretty straightforward one would think…

Well. What a ride I was in for!

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Ideal Husband FELIX – perceived by German Australian shoe designer and made by Javanese cobblers…heels by Balinese woodcarver…here displayed on Mexican embroidery when traveling in San Christobal, Mexico

I honestly lost track with how many makers I have worked over the last 8 years as again and again some Peculiarities made it necessary to pack up my samples and shift the whole affair over to yet another smiling and confident Maker of Shoes.

The only certainty I have: nothing is certain in the the world of shoes the minute you hand over your fate to those wizards of twisted logic and marvelous abilities to nonchalantly replace red leather with green leather without the slightest hesitation…after hours of animated discussion sitting on the floor of various workshops among what is effectively the makers home and seemingly reaching a perfect understanding, the comical effect of getting a completely different object of art than the shoe agreed on wasn’t lost on me…The crew from Monty Python would have had a ball. I, after incident number 386 not so much. Regardless, the German proceeded, and had the good fortune to find a more professional maker by 2015.

Alas, the honeymoon was short – and the struggle continued. Vital IDEAL HUSBAND signature design such as the back sole edge … well, sort of vanished. Sometimes. Meaning another shoe had to be made, another wave of anxiety joined the party. Other many time agreed-on features made for equally intriguing absences … and rather astonished cobblers who appeared to be bemused by the slightly frazzled German. Surely, a minor issue such as a colour change or some different length of tongue shouldn’t make such a difference? And why would a person requesting size 39 not be equally thrilled with…say size 41? After all, just numbers…and life is short…and all that. So another and another AND ANOTHER pair of shoes had to be made…highlighting the problems around my idea of ‘made to order only’. Not quite working, really…

Certainly some truth in there especially when viewed with the bigger picture in mind…in 50 years from now, none of this would matter let alone would be remembered…but in the meantime, my frustration around wasting resources and everyone’s time while sabotaging my mental sanity grew to worrying levels. Most of all, I felt an increasing unease about sacrificing animals lives with such an apparent haphazardly approach. Add to that arising questions around sustainability and circular economy, and I knew that it was time to re-assess. In other words: TIME TO STOP FOR NOW. Time to learn, to make new connections, and to get out into the world to find out more what is happening in our global landscape.

Random encounter along a rice paddy – pink cow perched on red motorbike observing the traffic…outside of Ubud.

In 2017, I had the great fortune being awarded a Churchill Fellowship investigating ‘Eco’ leather and the reality of the fashion and footwear industry with its impact on the environment. With the better part of a year’s research under my belt, in 2018 I left Australia for a truly remarkable experience. In five countries people of all ages and backgrounds made time for us to meet – everyone in their own way had a deep connection to our global search for excellence. I met a most inspiring bunch of individuals scattered around Europe and the UK and was in the enviable position spending time with highly skilled shoemakers, tannery experts and other leather-industry related professionals. Just writing about it brings back faces and moments – a truly precious time I will cherish for the rest of my life. For my complete report, click here

Jan Krol, an orthopedic shoemaker in his 80ies with examples of finished shoes – photo taken in Dongen, Netherlands. Still active, he is one of the few remaining skilled people able to produce a truly bespoke pair of shoes based on the wearer’s needs. He assembles around 4 pairs per week in his workshop he runs on his own.

I started and finished in Amsterdam and made my way around the Netherlands, the Uk, Germany, Spain and Italy before heading back to Australia with a heavy heart…and a massive challenge ahead: finding ways to make ‘Ideal Husband’ a ‘Made in Australia’ product. Ideally, I should have stashed the whole of Holland in my luggage and allowed it to unfold and re-settle in Australia…What was I thinking!! Coming back home without it…A small country like the Netherlands is home to an outstanding network of shoemakers and leather professionals all somehow connected and mostly in support of each other – with the needed resources and state-of-the-art machinery at hand. Traceable leather can be sourced and working relations with globally established big-time players like STAHL (based in Waalwijk) are happening – one can dream.

Hands down one of the best shoemakers I’ve ever met – outstanding skills honed over 30+years in the industry. A true footwear wizard…meet Rene Vandenberg.

My hot beverage has long been replaced by one of those delicious juices Bali has so lavishly on offer – and it’s time to grab my helmet, find my motorbike among the pile of artfully intertwined fellow vehicles (no doubt by now moved around 12 times for optimum usage of space) and to enter the traffic for a last visit to the wood carver two villages removed from here. I am about to collect another lot of hand-carved dragon and mermaid heels ready for their journey over the ocean into my Australian studio in Darwin joining the carved flowers and delectable skulls. While my decision to cease working with shoemakers in Bali is clear, I have every intention to keep working with this talented man…and the next chapter for my husbands.

Watch this space!

P/S – some months have passed since I’ve started writing this blog – and more updates are intended over the next weeks.

And keeping with tradition…after having checked out Mr VandenBerg, here is another shoemaker from the Netherlands…the next generation! Check out Amber Ambrose Aurele – a very busy woman who nevertheless made the time to meet and spend some time while in Rotterdam.

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Quirky red part of the flora in Bali – spotted somewhere around Ubud…x

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