Fast Fashion That’s Anything But Throwaway: A Visit To The Sandal And The Craftsman

Italian leather sandals made before my very eyes down the street from my house? Oh yes please...
Publish date:
June 14, 2013
fashion, Italy, sandals, handmade, craftsman, shoreditch

When you were a child did you have to go to Clarks to have your feet measured in that special slidey machine for your shoes? Well my visit to The Sandal and the Craftsman was a bit like that, except instead of having to take home clumpy little school shoes, I left with a pair of sleek, elegant handmade Italian sandals and rather than having to choose between boring old burgundy and navy*, there was a rainbow of leather straps on offer, from neon yellow to emerald green.

The Sandal and the Craftsman is a roving pop-up shop that's the brainchild of friends Francesca and Anita. They grew up on the coast in southern Italy – where handmade sandals are a speciality of towns like Positano, Sorrento and Capri. Francesca had her first bespoke pair made for her when she was five, and it was that special, personalised quality that she wanted to recreate – with an urban edge – over in London.

The first pop-up was on Redchurch Street and the current one is on Rivington Street (right at the Old Street tube end, just behind where the Foundry used to be) until June 23rd. You can track their movements on their website or Facebook page to see where they’ll be appearing next.

So there are three different styles to choose from – 001, 002 (both of which cost £110) and 003 – which costs £60 and is the style that you can have made to your own colour specifications. All three have beautifully fine, light Italian leather soles which are double-stitched rather than glued like many sandals are.

I picked tan for the main straps of my sandals and a neon orange strap to go round the back of the heel (because I had a straw Marc by Marc Jacobs satchel with a neon orange shoulder strap and I am a matchy-matchy saddo.)

Shoemaker Thomas is the ‘craftsman’ of the brand’s name and he measures your feet on the leather soles, marking precisely where to place the nails and straps. Then he bashes and scrapes and does all sorts of fascinating things with these vicious-looking tools to put the sandals together (the soles are handmade in Italy and shipped over for the final construction.)

My current obsession, Diana Vreeland discovered the brilliance of Southern Italian thronged sandals while she was staying with Mona Williams on the island of Capri (where I’m going for my holidays in July, wheeee!) where she saw them on the feet of the locals. She brought them back to America where she popularised them as a chic, casual day shoe.

I'm going to be wearing mine with Capri pants (obviously!), rolled-up white jeans and sundresses, if or when the summer actually decides to start. I love the contrast of the classic, timeless tan leather with that little fluoro flash that you catch as the foot is in motion.

We are thinking more and more about where our clothing comes from and who is really paying for the cheap, fast fashion that has become so ubiquitous in recent years. Slowly but surely, brands are appearing who are offering an alternative – clothes that have a clear, transparent provenance, but that aren’t so expensive that they’re only accessible to the rich.

I think £60 is a very reasonable price to pay for a pair of handmade Italian leather sandals that are fitted to your precise specifications and customised in your colour of choice – and all before your very eyes in fifteen minutes.

This is the antithesis to throwaway fashion; watching something being made in front of you that you'll be able to keep for a long time, puts fashion firmly back where it should be - in the hands of the craftsmen who put love and skill into every stitch and nail. If you can track down the pop-up as it continues to move around London, do pay them a visit - and keep an eye on the Facebook page for updates about a more permanent home for The Sandal and the Craftsman.

*Oh who am I kidding I freakin’ LOVE boring old burgundy and navy.