Isobel Schofield did not intend to be a clogmaker. But when she quit her corporate design job in 2012 she set out for something new and the soul searching led her to making clogs. She chronicles this journey in a blog titled the Creative Sabbatical (that is quite funny) and leads you right up to the point of deciding to launch her own line. Isobel has come a long way from learning the arduous craft that is shoemaking, building a business, and a brand. She now has a successful company she runs out of San Francisco where all of her clogs are handmade. What’s so charming about BRYR, which means, ‘to care’ in Swedish, is how sincere the story is and how this is reflected in her products.
You’ve been a shoemaker for a couple of years now – what inspired the drastic career change from the corporate world?
When I was in my 20’s, the idea of becoming a design director working at a major US brand seemed like a pipe dream. But after working steadily towards that goal my whole career, when I actually reached that milestone I found something was missing. What I was doing with my life was not in line with my values. Instead of presenting to VPs or flying off to Korea at the last minute to fix a production problem, I wanted to actually make things with my own two hands.
What can you tell us about your learning process and art of shoemaking?
I think that everybody’s process is very individual and there isn’t just one way to do something. The key is working out the way that is right for you. I took a couple shoemaking courses, but most of what I learned has been hands-on in my own studio. I think you have to be very open when you’re learning something new, and come at it from the mind space of a beginner. As Malcolm Gladwell put it, “Practice isn’t the thing you do when you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
During this journey, what did you learn besides how to make a clog?
I’ve been interested for a long time in the idea of Flow, and how it affects our experience of happiness and contentment in our daily lives. When I started on this journey, one of my goals was to create a daily studio practice. I had come from a background in sculpture, and was really interested in how other creative people built their own creative habit. Now, I feel very lucky to have a job where I can turn my computer off, and lose myself in the process of making for at least a couple hours a each day.
What makes BRYR clogs unique?
BRYR is very grounded in our modern California heritage. We source all our leathers from tanneries in Northern California, and gravitate towards strong and supple hides that age beautifully. We make every pair by hand, in small batches using traditional solid wood bases and the best American leather. We often create limited edition runs, which are numbered so you know that they are uniquely rare and special.
I admire your approach to hand-making, with care, each pair of clogs – but how time consuming is this? Do you have a team that helps with large orders?
Our approach is slow and steady and that’s how we’re growing. We always keep an eye on our capacity and always make sure that we can fill our orders while keeping our standards to the high level we believe in. It takes time and care to make shoes by hand, but we believe it also shows in our final product.
Where do your shoes retail?
We sell direct on our website and we’ve partnered with a small group of like-minded brick and mortar stores across the country. Our retail partnerships are very important, and we love working with them to develop exclusive styles.
With a small team, how are you marketing your brand?
Our marketing is all grass-roots, and we try to keep our connection to our customers direct through social media like Instagram and Facebook. We’ve also had fun lately collaborating with bloggers on limited edition styles.
Have you discovered any specific commonalities among women who wear clogs?
I’m really inspired by the women I meet through BRYR. They come from many walks of life, but I would say that the common thread is that they are smart, creative and independent. Last fall, I started a blog to highlight the people I’ve met and ask them about what’s important to them.
How do you dispel myths that clogs are only for the non-stylish?
I think, when ManRepeller listed clogs as one of the 5 must-have things for Spring 2014, the cat is out of the bag, clogs are back.
Where do you see BRYR in the next 5 years?
I see us steadily growing and opening a studio space with a store component in San Francisco.