Inspired by dreams, fairies and all things fun and fantastical Ren is making whimsical, comfortable, and always creative, shoes and accessories deep in the woods of Devonshire, England.
Iced Vovo caught up with Ren to find out more about her passion for leather, shoemaking and maybe even a little about the fairies…
Q: I read where you started Fairysteps in 2002 what was the impetus for starting a shoemaking business?
A: I’ve dreamed of making shoes since I was 12 years old, but it wasn’t until our family started home educating in 2002 that I decided to just go for it, and have a go at making our own footwear for the family. It made all of us feel that a self-learning journey was ahead and that the sky was the limit. I chose to teach myself shoemaking!
Q: Were you are shoemaker prior to setting up Fairysteps or how did you get into working with leather?
A: No I wasn’t, in fact I had never worked with leather before. I did a weaving apprenticeship on leaving school in an old mill that housed community run workshops. In the workshop next to ours was a leatherworker, who made veg tanned belts and pouches and upstairs was a shoemaker. As it happens it turned out to be the same shoemaker I had seen at a local craft fair aged 12! I was in fact sandwiched between leather! I would creep up the steep mill steps to the shoemakers’ attic workshop when she wasn’t there and look and dream and inhale the wonderful aroma of the hides. I can see now that the seed was sewn many years ago.
Q: The designs are very whimsical and some are fairy-like, was this always the intention with you setting up the business or how have the designs evolved?
A: I pride myself on offering original designs with a quirky edge to them but it did take me a while to have the confidence to express my designs properly and fully. Initially I held back and in the early days often tried to follow ‘traditional’ handmade styles. This was never very successful or rewarding for me. Only when I made that leap of faith to make those dreams real did things really pick up! It was around Midsummer in 2005 that I made my first fairy inspired style and I was overjoyed that people loved it. TITANIA was an instant hit and it gave me the confidence to make more. I design shoes in my head just before I sleep… literally making every stage of them meticulously in my head. I then make drawings and notes in my journal the next morning. When I can find time, I then draft patterns and make them real.
Q: Because of increased demand I know you have taken on another “Fairy/Elf” to help you make the shoes, is there any plans for further expansion or are you trying to maintain the bespoke nature of the shoes?
A: I’m really lucky to have such a supportive family. My biggest help is my husband who has been a literal rock throughout the whole journey! He recently took on all of the shoe soling process which is very time consuming. My eldest daughter also helps part time when she can. I’ve had to think very carefully about the future and how big I can let Fairysteps grow. Fairysteps is me, and because there is only one of me, I’m thinking that I will have to keep the bespoke nature of the business as it is – small, friendly and very exclusive! I may just have to have a longer waiting list… Plus I’m currently redesigning my workshops to make them super efficient.
Q: Can you explain a little about the process you go through in making a pair of shoes?
A: I recently worked out that there are over 22 stages in making a pair of Fairysteps. Starting with that important initial conversation with the customer, and finally sending that exciting email to say that they are finished and in the post heading towards their new owners. We have two workshops: one for making the uppers, and one for finishing the bottoms. I spend nearly all of my working time in the uppers workshop, pattern drafting, marking, cutting, preparing, sewing, finishing and finally packing orders.
Q: Most of your shoes are made to order although I noticed there are a few ready-to-go pairs on your Etsy shop. What is the most important information a client needs to give you when ordering a pair of shoes?
A: Measurements are vital! We need the length and width of customers’ feet to make sure we can assess size correctly and ensure the best fit we can.
Q: Can customers come to you with their own design ideas or variations on your designs?
A: Sadly we no longer offer that option. It’s just that it takes so long and keeps me away from concentrating on the order book. As much as I love creating peoples visions I’ve had to be practical and realize that I only have so many hours in the day.
Q: I read on your blog where you still get excited about finishing a pair of shoes even after now making hundreds of pairs – What do you love most about making shoes?
A: O my! I love every part of it… but especially the fact that I get to play a part in other peoples journeys all over the world. I know that they will wear their Fairysteps for many years, and on many adventures. Their feet will be safely cradled within shoes that I have made. And at the end of a long and tiring day, they will finally take off their shoes to sleep, happy to pop them back on in the morning. I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel.
Q: It’s not just shoes that you have in your collection can you tell readers a little about some of your other goodies?
A: The accessories are my creative treat! I don’t offer them as made to order specifically to let me have free rein on the design of each and every one! I’m very fortunate… lots of people like them.
Q: Do you have a favourite item in your collection?
A: I do… My favourite shoe style is the CLARA. I’ve never worn anything so comfortable on my feet ever and they go with anything and everything in my wardrobe. I’m rather partial to my CLEMMIE bag design too… I see other women watching mine covetously when I’m out and about!
Q: What new designs/items are you working on?
A: I’m currently working on a new boot style called SQUMP. If I’m happy with the prototype I’m hoping to offer this as a custom style ready for next winter.
Q: What else have you in the pipe-line for Fairysteps in 2013?
A: If we are very lucky, then a whole year ahead of beautiful boots, shoes and bags!