As specialist handsewn shoemakers James and Deborah design and make custom-made men’s footwear for private customers around the world. This year, they are breaking into the ready-to-wear market with a series of British-made shoes under the Carreducker London label. As guardians of the trade, they also run popular shoemaking and shoe pattern-making courses in London and New York. Their classes at Cockpit Arts, a creative studio hub that just celebrated its 30th anniversary, have been a major inspiration for aspiring shoemakers from as far afield as Australia, India, Singapore, the USA and Chile.
We caught up with one the founders for an inside look at what they have been working on.
Sublime: How did your love of designing and making shoes begin?
James Ducker: I started learning shoemaking in 1992 in Barcelona and then, when I moved back to London, I got an apprenticeship with John Lobb in St. James’s Street. Deborah also did an apprenticeship, but it was funded by QEST (The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust). We met while training with the same master shoemaker.
S: How did this evolve into co-founding a company together?
JD: We kept in touch after our apprenticeships, both doing our own thing for a few years. Then in 2004, we decided to found CarréDucker. We felt that the challenge of running our own business was exciting and that there was room for a newcomer to find a niche in the market. We design a more modern shoe, focusing on colour, texture, proportion and line. Customers come to us to have something distinctive created for them and for our expert advice.
S: Were there any other designers or companies that you met along the way, who became an inspiration to you?
JD: All of the heritage West End brands are an inspiration; their skilled craftspeople are totally dedicated to producing quality shoes. We have received so much support from other industry experts. Shoemakers are a friendly bunch!
S: Your company has received attention for your focus on sustainability. Can you tell us more about your mission statement?
JD: At Carreducker, we always try to use vegetable tanned leathers and leathers that are tanned in the most sustainable way. One example is the leather we use for our insoles, which is pit tanned in Devon. It’s an ancient tanning process which takes over a year and uses local cow hides, locally coppiced oak bark, and is so clean that the run off can be washed back into the stream. We also try to make all of our footwear repairable, so that they will last up to 20 years.
S: Today you are also teaching shoemaking classes? Was this an organic progression for your company?
JD: We both used to teach at Cordwainers College, which became part of the London College of Fashion. When they dropped the handsewn shoemaking short course, we decided to continue it ourselves. So we set up our intensive shoemaking courses – we now have four in London and one in New York. We also run a pattern making course twice a year, and run shoemaking evening classes twice a week at our Cockpit Arts workshop.
S: As well as teaching, you are doing other projects on the side that were funded by Kickstarter campaigns. Has this been a positive experience?
JD: We funded the Winkers project using a successful Kickstarter campaign last year and we will be running another in May to fund the Barkan Desert Boot project. We love crowdfunding because it gives you the freedom to start new ventures while maintaining control of your business. We also like the fact that you can be found by a new audience who will either buy into what you are doing, or not. It is a great leveller.
S: From all your company’s achievements to date, what has stood out to you as the thing you are most proud of?
JD: Our biggest achievement is making customers happy by making stylish shoes that fit them correctly and are, therefore, comfortable. It is really satisfying when they come back and re-order. In addition to this, we have been part of exhibitions around the world, including the Royal Academy and Lancaster House during the Olympics.
S: What upcoming projects do you have on the horizon?
JD: We now have four strands to the business and will work to grow each one: the bespoke shoes, the ready-to-wear shoes, the shoemaking school and our 'Tool Shed'. The Tool Shed is our e-commerce platform for selling shoemaking tools and materials, which grew from our blog and now contains hundreds of short ‘how to’ photo essays about shoemaking. These are exciting times for the business and we are looking forward to growth over the next few years.