Rachel treads a fine line

Rasu Leathergoods’ Rachel Ayland designs and makes these and other shoes to suit each customer’s feet and preferences.
Rasu Leathergoods’ Rachel Ayland designs and makes these and other shoes to suit each customer’s feet and preferences. Jay Cronan

WHEN Bangalow shoemaker Rachel Ayland sets out to make her handmade shoes for one of her customers, she is treading a fine line.

"It's a precarious craft, the shoes have to fit, they have to be comfortable, the customer has to like them and then you have to make two of them," she said.

Ms Ayland designs her shoes to look androgynous and timeless and is also an admirer of the RM Williams range of boots.

"I am very attracted to men's shoes and see my shoes as a sexy and edgy version of the RM Williams boot," she said.

Ms Ayland currently has about 100 long-term clients and builds a personal relationship with them as she creates their shoes.

"About halfway through the process of the making process the shoes start to take on the customer's personality," she said.

"Bespoke shoes like mine are guaranteed to fit perfectly and shouldn't have to be worn in.

"The shoes can also be repaired over and over and be kept for many years to come."

Ms Ayland fell in love with the craft of shoemaking at the age of 22.

"I love the medium of leather; it is a very forgiving material," she said.

"I am quite passionate about traditional crafts and want to eventually take on an apprentice."

After finishing a science degree in the UK, she moved to Wales and fell in with the alternative society that was there in the 1980s.

She completed her shoemaking apprenticeship there and then migrated to Australia.

When she arrived in South Australia she did further training with Bulgarian master shoemaker George Koleff.

"I was lucky enough to work with him and from there my skills improved enormously," she said.

"My whole standard improved under his guidance, it meant I could make bespoke shoes of a higher standard and a wider variety."

Ms Ayland moved to Bangalow in 1989 and initially promoted her business through the local markets.

"Bangalow is a bit of a storybook town and I fit in here really well," she said.

"The town is small enough so that a visitor could ask in town for the shoemaker and people would know who I am and where my workshop is located, whereas in somewhere like Byron Bay it's so transient that no-one would know me."

Ms Ayland is grateful that she stayed in the business long enough to see a resurgence of interest in handcrafted goods.

"People are really interested in tangible tradesmen-produced goods," she said.

"People really want authenticity and to see someone's hand in the making of an object."

She also sells through two local shops, Peace by Piece in Brunswick Heads and Crafted Collectibles in Woodlark St, Lismore.

The shoes cost $300-$700 and sandals from around $90. Contact Rachel Ayland on 6687 2255.

Topics:  bangalow business fashion footwear

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