I went to Spain and visited a shoemaker who doesn’t make shoes.
Sevilla Smith makes hand-lasted leathers that are worn on the foot. They re-think and re-imagine the usual contemporary concept of the shoe; to walk into her workshop in Barcelona is like walking into a museum gallery more than a cobbler shop. I have long been curious about Sevilla Smith’s work and about Faye Smith, the thoughtful founder and designer.
One August, I found myself in Spain near Barcelona on a rock climbing trip. I snuck away from the mountains on a pilgrimage to see the Sevilla Smith workshop, located in the Old City section of Barcelona. It serves as a business office, shoe-making space, and a storefront by appointment.
Beautiful as they are, these shoes are made to be worn and worn well. To design the shoes, Faye draws on images and techniques both medieval and contemporary. Each pair is custom made using no toxic glue, no stiffeners, and little to no hardware. Most are packable for travel.
Founder Faye Smith is a business person, shoe-maker, traveler, and parent.
Faye learned to make shoes from a shoemaker in Barcelona after years working around the world in film costume design. When she considered making her shoes as a business, she tested her business idea and her physical stamina by making 50 pairs of shoes in 50 days. After the 50 days of shoe-making, she had a clear idea of what her pricing structure would need to be in order for the business to survive. She also had very sore muscles. She decided to pursue the trade.
Faye once walked 120 miles from Spain to Portugal in a pair of her handmade shoes.
Faye’s son helping to unpack boxes.
The shoemaker who taught Faye is no longer in business. I asked Faye why she thinks her business is growing while some makers struggle. “I’m very good at spreadsheets”, she responded. I have a feeling that Faye Smith is very good at a lot of things.
Sevilla Smith has a history of collaboration with other artists and makers. The leather in the background above is hand-painted by Nashville-based artist Emily Leonard and is used to make a small run of limited edition shoes. Emily, like Faye, has also worked with Nashville-based clothing maker Elizabeth Suzann.
Because her business has grown over the last few years, Faye has several shoe-makers on staff in Spain and the United States. Sevilla Smith shoe-makers have flexible schedules and some choose to work from home in order to enable work-life balance and parental duties.
Joe, one of the Sevilla Smith shoe-makers, was at work in the back of the workshop when I arrived. In August, the city fills with tourists and the citizens leave. Joe remained– at least in part, Faye joked– because “being from the UK, he is not so vacation-y”.
Joe seemed to be attacking the leather with a series of medieval tools when I arrived. It was stunning how such a pretty object arrived spotlessly though this violence. The shoe making and lasting process is physically tough, involving painstakingly pulling and nailing leather “at more than 75 points to create the beautiful shape of the shoe”. It reminds me of truing bicycle tire. I think I would suck at this.
After I said goodbye and left the workshop, I drove away from the city along the coast of the sea. I kept thinking of something that Anthony Bourdain said about Spain– that quality food was considered a birthright for everyone. The process of making the shoes reminded me of a well-cooked meal– quality ingredients from the right growers, simply and expertly prepared using the correct technique for the job. Nothing over-designed. Nothing to to hide behind.
I decided to get myself a pair of Sevilla Smith shoes someday and walk as far in them as I could.
Here are a few of my favorite Sevilla Smith Shoes:
I love books about walking and walkers. Especially these three:
What are your favorite shoes for travel? Where have you walked in them? I’d love to hear your story.