In an industrial part of Williamsburg backed up to the sets of a few TV shows sits the studio of Michael Grey Footwear. Looking out over the vast Brooklyn landscape Mike bangs away at presoaked leather sole. Each nail is hammered in one by one with rhythmic precision. Every imperfection is human perfection that only comes from a hand made shoe.
The deep intense smell of leather evokes so many ideals to me like nostalgia and quality. Maybe it’s the fact that growing up my Dad owned a leather goods store, or was it the first time I went to Italy and saw real hand crafted sandals being made, I don’t know. I have just always had an attraction to leather goods, especially mens shoes.
Funny enough we learned about Michael Grey Footwear from a post on Instagram by Glen Wallace of Savannah College of Art and Design. Not only were Mike’s shoes very attractive, we also happen to be alumni, from different years. This prompted us to reach out, and he invited us to his studio for a chat.
What influences you in your designs?
The designs are inspired mainly by the influence of the vintage barbershop , and tools of the Surgeon . A fact that many don’t know is that the barber and the surgeon were one in the same in the beginning days of the barbershop. A precise hand is what linked the two crafts together. I’m influenced by the tools that the barber would use. Wood combined with stainless steel, bristle brushes, lather, hot towels , and the love of the craft.
I see you collect barber ephemera, can you tell us what that means for you and your designs?
I’m always on the lookout for vintage barbers tools. The tools are a constant reminder of the craft for me. They can easily place me in that time period. I find it a great source for font ideas, and color combinations in the packaging of the tools as well. I like to take subtle details from the tools to use across the line as well.
Let’s talk about work ethic. Making shoes is not a quick process, so what drives you to create such a labor intensive item?
I have always loved to make things by hand. I grew up seeing my dad make and repair just about anything you can think of. So it was natural for me to take to craft work. Industrial design was the vehicle that led me to footwear design. I enjoy the steps of the process and being able to see the designs move from paper to tangible object in just a matter of days! There is just something that we all love about shoes.
If you could wish for one thing that is handmade to come back in fashion, what would that be?
On a more craft level I would like to see last makers come back into the picture. Most shoe lasts are made from plastic these days. It’s definitely a craft that intrigues me. I would love to learn more about it. (A last is a mechanical form that has a shape similar to that of a human foot.)
Where can we send people to find your amazing footwear?
Thanks so much for the great interview and allowing us to photograph you and your work space. You can follow Michael Grey Footwear via the social media outlets below. Make sure to check out the Instagram feed, there are some awesome videos of the shoe making process.