|All photos by Yasmine Ganley|
Having studied and practiced shoemaking in Melbourne, Julia Thompson has since been treading her own successful grounds. Her most recent venture sees her designing both men's and women's footwear for one of New Zealand's biggest fashion brands, Zambesi. Her aesthetic is simple; clean lines, mostly black with longevity at the forefront of her designs. Each pair is handmade on traditional 'old school' shoemaking machinery, carefully crafted by the country's finest shoemakers.
Read on as Thompson tells us in her own words about the creation of her very own, self made 'OLD BOYS CLUB':
I’ve been told that I have an old soul, so I guess it’s kind of fitting that I’ve created an ‘old boys club’ of shoemakers. First I met Ray, then Bruce who introduced me to Tony, who put me in touch with Paul, and then there is Steve, Les, Dave and finally Eugene.
Ray: I met Ray in Melbourne; he was my tutor at RMIT where I studied shoemaking by hand. He’s not really part of the club these days, but I’d call him an honorary member. He was a great tutor, total hard case and pretty willing to let me experiment and do things a little differently from the curriculum. My time in Melbourne gave me a really solid foundation, I learnt the whole process of making a shoe completely by hand from scratch and it has proven to be invaluable. I experienced first hand just how complex shoemaking really is.
Bruce: He's another classic Aussie—we had some good yarns old Bruce and I, mainly taking the mickey out of each other’s respective homeland. He is a last maker, one of the oldest in Australia, still full of passion for the craft. We met when I ventured out to his factory to look at some second-hand lasts he had for sale. He could see my passion for shoes and when I described my desire to make shoes back in New Zealand he was very encouraging and pointed me in the right direction. Since then we've collaborated on a few projects. I consider Bruce a founding member.
Tony: When I got back to New Zealand I cold-called Tony, Bruce had given me his number and assured me he could help. Full of ideas, and with blind ambition, Tony helped me get the integral club together, joining the dots so to speak. We work together every season now; he’s my bottom stock guy.
Tony is good fun, always trying to accommodate my ideas and wants. His typical reaction is to roll his eyes and say “designers”, we always crack up, but he always strives to find a solution to my designs. I love rolling down to his warehouse and scouring the aisles of materials in search of the perfect component or the right combination of materials. When the job is done, and his delivery arrives; the best thing is opening the boxes to see the 'MADE IN NZ' stamp on the bottom of every sole. It makes me proud that Zambesi's shoes are made here.
Paul: (aka Clark Kent) Really help me set the wheels in motion (thanks to Tony’s introduction). Paul is my Executive Director, the founding member that I'd be lost without. At times when people said it couldn’t be done, it's too difficult, or too costly, Paul was backing my vision—ready to go and keen to
build something up again. Some of my favorite times when producing shoes, are the afternoons spent in Paul’s garage. Solid Gold cranking on the Radio the sound of compressed air and the smell of glue the shoes come together. I’ve spent hours in that garage, watching, learning, clicking and boxing the shoes up. I get this amazing sense of accomplishment when I drive home with a car full of beautiful shoes, straight from the craftsmen's hands.
Les: Another fun chap, he is always good value and we always have some sort of running joke. He has been ranking my “frequent flyer” miles ever since we started doing business together… I think I’m up around silver these days. Les could almost be considered the secretary, purely because of his record
keeping, on our frequent flyer competition. Les embosses all the insoles with our Zambesi stamp, and he too has been with us from the onset.
Eugene: He is a recent addition to the club, but I feel he really completes the gang. And he’s probably the most hard case of them all. Super talented and super knowledgeable he has such passion for the craft. I feel like I get 'schooled' every time I work with him. He can be a hard task master, tough, but fun and not afraid to say 'how it is'. He will pick up my patterns…”no, it’s wrong, do it again” then go to rip them up, but he never does, he just laughs; “I almost had ya!” with a wink in his eye. Rolling into Eugene's operation is like being sucked into a vortex, greeted by Iron Maiden (one of Eugene’s workers rocks an Iron Maiden t-shirt under his apron) and Sally, Eugene’s closer. (Her name isn’t actually Sally, and he calls me Jenny… all part of the role you play when you walk through the door) it’s where ANY idea is possible and his knowledge can make it happen. In the short time we have worked together I have learnt and improved so much. Mainly with my patternmaking, but I have also practiced my craft, hand-making prototypes under his masterful eye. Eugene says he is going to write a book one day, and for my sake, I hope he does!
With the decline of the shoe manufacturing industry in New Zealand over the years, I feel lucky to have met and established this 'old boys club’; every member is as passionate and excited about making shoes as I am. And the best part of it is that we always find a way - Yes! we can make that, it can be done. All of our beautiful Zambesi clothes are made here in New Zealand, our shoes are too, and these days that is a pretty mean feat, I reckon.
Written by Julia Thompson and Yasmine Ganley. Photos by Yasmine Ganley. Thanks to Noah Butcher.