It all started with an innocuous pair of red shoes and a pair of scissors. This was a pivotal moment for RED Shoes designer Ruth Emily Davey. She recalls,
“I have always been into shoes, especially red ones. I used to collect them when I was growing up. When I was about 17, I cut the soles of those red shoes as I liked a more rounded shape of sole and made some sheepskin uppers to sew on to them.”
Was this an immediate catalyst for becoming a shoemaker? It wasn’t until Ruth’s path crossed with renowned shoemaker Alan James Raddon who made her his apprentice. Having just completed three years at Art college, Ruth was unsure about what path to take and was considering eschewing university in favour of a more practical, hands on career path. She met Raddon at a gallery opening where they talked and there and then, Alan offered Ruth a Saturday job. Ruth recalls that it was love at first sight with her now favoured material of choice – leather. ‘It took me a little while to decide I was going to be a Shoemaker, I immediately loved working with leather. I remember the first time I walked into Al’s workshop with all the tools hanging up in neat rows, with rolls and rolls of colourful leather and I felt immediately at home.’
As a young, creative 18-year-old, her apprenticeship with Alan helped Ruth hone her creativity into a useful skill. She recalls,
“Slowly over the first few months I began to realise, with shoemaking you have to devote all of your energy into each of the tiny little processes which unite into a perfect end piece.”
Fast forward to the present day and Ruth’s brand RED Shoes continues to thrive. Her shoes not only are stylish, but they are ergonomically designed to fit the shape of a foot. With the average person taking around 8,000 steps per day, a comfy pair of shoes is a must. Ruth explains: ‘They are narrow at the back, curved to fit your arch and wide at the front to allow for your toes to spread into their natural form. If you put your foot next to your shoe, then it should be the same shape otherwise you are definitely wearing the wrong shoe.’
Comfort and style are not mutually exclusive when it comes to wearing a pair of RED Shoes and Ruth enjoys designing the aesthetics as well as the practicalities. She says, ‘We begin each pair of shoes by taking initial measurements of the feet which determine the fitting pairs we will need to try on. Then comes the exciting part of trying on every design and size possible to get exactly the right fit. Once we have completed the fitting, it’s time to decide on colours and leathers, fabrics, finishes, stitching, laces, brogue details and the list goes on.’ She considers shoes to be an extension of our personalities but that wholeheartedly that the ethos is always function over fashion.
Bespoke with my shoes
Whilst there are several ‘off the shelf’ options, customers can choose to customise their RED shoes. ‘Giving customers that choice is very important to me. The entire process for creating a bespoke pair of shoes can take anything between 3-12 weeks depending on waiting times’ Ruth explains. The product line is based on three core styles – boots, shandals (which come in three different designs) and her shoes, which are available as a Mary Jane, buckle, lace up or brogue. Whilst she doesn’t have a favourite style, she admits she does have a certain affinity with the ‘Shandal’ as she has seen how this has helped improve customers mobility.
Ruth has won several accolades along the way including being awarded the Balvenie Young Master of Craft, being named as a QEST Scholar and a fellow of WCMT. ‘It’s been such an amazing journey to be honest. I never expected to win several awards, but one thing led to another and here we are! The Balvenie was a real game changer for me.’
How does Ruth see the future of shoe making and crafting in general? She is concerned that these key skills may be lost and believes that apprenticeships that support these skills are becoming increasingly rare these days. Can this be remedied? Ruth hopes so but says that ‘more support from the Government and within is required’ to teach key crafting skills.
The future is looking bright for Ruth and for RED Shoes but looking back, could she have stepped into a different path if she hadn’t attended that art gallery opening? Who knows. Ruth sums it up:
“When I look back on the whole journey, I realise it’s been full of serendipitous moments like that.”
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