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News & Events

The Art of Shoemaking

Shown in photo: A pair of 100% original Amara Hark-Weber shoes along with some scrap fabric and tools used in her process.

Amara Hark-Weber is a unique cordwainer (shoemaker). She’s based out of St. Paul, MN, where she makes unique, custom shoes for her clients. Each pair is made to fit a specific foot, and she never makes the same pair twice. One of the ways she does this is by creating a new pattern for each pair of shoes. She will usually start from scratch on a new last that she creates to fit the exact size for each client. She draws her design inspiration from customer consultations and historical footwear.

The students of the Design and Leadership Symposium got the privilege of Skyping with Amara last week, live from her studio. The story of how Amara got involved in shoemaking is both surprising and inspiring. While in her undergraduate studies, Amara suffered an unfortunate car accident, leaving her unable to do some of the taxing work required in many of her classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Amara had always had a strong interest in fashion and shoe design and decided to sign up for a shoemaking class in which she was able to do the required work.  She was able to apply design concepts that were important to her, to shoe forms.

From there, Amara went on to study under many talented shoemakers including DW Frommer, Janne Melkersson, and Marcell Mrsan. Amara talked a lot about how this type of craft, like many, is a learning process that one may never truly perfect. She realizes she is in the beginning stages of being a shoemaker, and she enjoys every stage that she is at, not trying to rush herself to perfection but learn from her mistakes, successes, and experiments along the way.

Although many people may not know the art of shoemaking, our class got a firsthand look at the steps and processes Amara, a master craftsman uses. Her first step is that she always starts with a foot. Since every foot is unique, she creates a “last” to the exact size and measurement of the foot. A “last” is a 3D wooden or plastic mold that a shoe is constructed on. While developing the last, Amara determines the heel height and if it will be a shoe or a boot. She considers closures, whether it be a zipper or slide on or laces. Once the closure has been decided, then she places the seams and design lines and considers leather choices. She determines the desired fit and ease, and makes a test shoe.  After client approval, the final shoes are built.

Amara does this for every client, every foot, every shoe. Amara is living proof of a labor of love. She is constantly learning new techniques and pushing the boundaries of her craft. Amara loves trying things that are considered difficult or even impossible. One perfect example is her one seam shoe, which she proudly holds up in the photo below.

Shown in photo: Amara and her 1 seam shoe, and our team (left to right) David, Jenna, Allison, Cara
Shown in photo: Amara and her 1 seam shoe, and our team (left to right) David, Jenna, Allison, Cara

Amara was a breath of fresh air for our Design Symposium class. She taught us that hard work does pay off in both happiness and in our everyday work. We thank her so much for spending time showing us her studio and her practice. From now on, we will all notice a lot more about the detail, craftsmanship, and time put into the shoes that we own and wear on a daily basis. It was an amazing opportunity for us all to see someone being successful doing what they love. Hopefully we will all own a pair of Amara shoes one day.

Check out Amara’s work here! http://amaraharkweber.wixsite.com/harkweberstudio

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