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I made this

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In the rush of the nine-to-five, which is fast becoming the eight-to-eight, everybody wants everything yesterday. But what ever happened to the good old ways? Should it really be out with the old and in with the new, or are some things worth holding on to? In this series, we look to those who are shucking cookie cutter solutions in favour of something a little more personal. In the spotlight this month is master craftsman and shoemaker, Andrew McDonald.

“The art of making shoes by hand using traditional handcrafting techniques is in danger of disappearing,” warns master craftsman and shoemaker, Andrew McDonald.

“Apprenticeships and technical course are not available. In Australia the craft is dying out. In Europe, the tradition lives on.”

The death of this now rare-breed of craftsmen can be blamed on economies of scale – mass offshore production ensures these craftsmen can’t compete on a price level, even if the quality is not comparable.

“My business averages between 350 to 400 pairs per year,” says McDonald. “Most factories produce this many pairs of shoes in an hour. The more you think of it, the more this type of consumption is unsustainable and nonsensical.”

Price isn’t the only consideration.

“When sourcing materials I like to know who I am buying from, where it came from and how it was produced. The more I understand about my materials the more confident I am about the quality and production of my shoes.”

McDonald says the quality of the materials impacts the comfort and durability.

“It is in my interest to know the provenance of my materials and the methods used to produce them. For instance, have ethical organic farming principles been used in the growth and production of these materials?”

When buying shoes, it is important to consider the real cost.

“The higher price tag will discourage the customer who is buying on price,” says McDonald. “This person is not concerned with ethics does not have the time or has never considered the processes involved in making shoes.”

An average pair of McDonald’s shoes to your measurements will set you back about AU$2000, and will last the better part of a decade.

Before opening his workshop, nestled in Sydney’s Paddington, McDonald was awarded the Churchill Fellowship in 1996 to study under Master Shoemaker, John Lobb of London. McDonald is now running shoemaking courses to encourage others to learn the age-old craft, and accepts those with no prior experience.

“The main reason for running the shoe courses was to provide an opportunity for others to make shoes, without the bother that I went through.”

As an added incentive, at the course’s closure, students will have designed and made their own pair of shoes.

Last word

What is important to consider when buying shoes? McDonald says to opt for shoes that are made from all leather.

“That is, leather sole insole lining and upper. These will be the best quality. Try to avoid synthetics and technically advanced materials with advert spin.  You will have to look hard and pay more but you will be a happier person for it.”

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