Whether you spend your days keeping up with the latest styles and trends or simply purchase clothing for comfort and functionality, fashion is a constant and integral part of our lives. The fashion industry accounted for over 1.5 trillion US dollars worldwide in 2020 and footwear alone made up nearly 25% of that revenue. From sneakers to stilettos, or loafers to hiking boots there are hundreds of styles of shoes to choose from! But how often do you sit back and think about the hands behind the stitching of those shoes on your feet?
Today we’re taking an inside look into the world of shoemaking and sharing the story of our amazing customer, Leanne Corcoran, who turned her passion for footwear and design into a business – resulting in one of the most unique uses for a Studio Shed that we’ve seen so far! Introducing Leanne Corcoran, Owner of Leolo, a bespoke handmade shoemaking company that is based out of Seattle, WA. For those unfamiliar with bespoke shoes (which we admittedly were before our interview with Leanne), bespoke shoes are shoes designed, tailored, and made especially for a certain customer by a shoemaker. The bespoke method has been around since the 18th Century and involves a 220+ step process for a single pair of shoes!
As the owner of our first shoemaking shed, it’s no surprise that Leanne’s journey is as unique as her company itself! Leolo was officially founded a few years ago, however, Leanne’s path to becoming a shoemaker began when she was young. She started off by thrifting shoes, clothing, and furniture to redesign and her own personal touches to. She would even convince her parents to assist her with some of the reconstruction and to this day her mom occasionally lends a helping hand with her shoemaking! Leanne’s talents don’t cap off at fashion design, however. Leanne went to school for art and graduated with an MFA in painting, later earning exhibits in New York and Chicago. While painting was bringing joy and success to her life, she always knew that her true desires were to design and create custom-made shoes.
So how did she get there? We sat down with Leanne to learn how she turned a dream that seemed out of reach into a reality, as well as her process for creating bespoke handmade shoes, the inspiration behind her company’s name and aesthetic, and more. This is an interview that you won’t want to miss!
Q: When did you first become interested in designing and making shoes? What piqued your interest in this type of art form?
A: I was blessed to be raised by parents who encouraged me to pursue happiness above all else. I thought I had done exactly that by becoming an artist and exhibiting my work nationally. But then, in 1998, I read a newspaper article about a woman who quit her corporate job and purchased a shoe factory. For the first time in my life, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of envy. I love shoes. I love creating things. Why the heck wasn’t I making shoes? And, how in the heck am I going to learn this trade?!
Q: How did you first get started with your craft? Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?
A: Fast forward 20 years, I’m living in Seattle, running a design firm, and raising two children. The thought of making shoes never left my mind so I jumped at the chance to attend a sandal making workshop with a woman from Santa Fe at a local art school. I was hooked! About 9 months later I closed my design business and went to Santa Fe to study shoemaking with Jessica Brommer.
Q: How old were you when you created your first pair of shoes?
A: Ha! I was 47 when I made my first pair of shoes. You’re never too old to follow your soul's calling.
Q: Can you walk us through your process and techniques (from design to the final product)? What type of tools and materials do you use throughout this process?
A: The traditional bespoke shoemaking method is a 220-step process. With each step the stakes get higher, and without absolute presence, so do the chances of ruining the shoe. It takes about 40 hours to complete a pair of shoes.
1) Measure and trace the foot. 2) Find the appropriate fitting last (wooden foot form) and add/sand leather until the last replicates the measurements of the foot. 3) Create a pattern for the upper of the shoe. 4) Cut the pattern and soles from leather. 5) Punch holes in the upper, called “broguing”, then dye the leather. 6) Sew the upper together. 7) Form the sole to the last and let it dry overnight. 8) Attach the upper to the sole using a technique called “lasting”. 9) Add welt, shank, sole, and heel. 10) Polish!
Q: Do you have a favorite step in your shoemaking process? If so, which part is your favorite and why?
A: My favorite step in the shoemaking process is lasting the upper to the sole. It involves pulling the leather over the last and nailing it to the sole with lots of little nails. It’s super satisfying to manipulate the leather, which is surprisingly malleable, from this weird looking floppy leather thing into a beautiful shoe.
Q: Is there a pair of shoes that you’ve created for a customer that you are most proud of?
A: My shoes are custom made so I collaborate with my clients on design. I’ve always felt that shoes are a reflection of one's character, so it’s important to me that the design exhibits my client’s sensibilities. I love it when my client’s creations push my aesthetic boundary because inevitably the shoe reflects their nature. This makes me super happy!
Q: Let’s talk about your company, Leolo. When did you decide to turn your passion for designing and creating handmade shoes into a business? What was your journey like?
A: I realized two things very quickly on my shoemaking journey: 1) I would be making shoes for the rest of my life. 2) There is a lot of demand for high quality, long lasting (no pun intended), sustainably sourced/made, well-fitting shoes. There was very little effort behind turning my passion into a business. It just sort of happened.
Q: Is there a story behind your company’s name?
A: It came to me in a dream about a fierce lion that was being hunted and I was trying desperately to protect. It was a powerful dream because I think that's exactly what I’m doing in the design process; encouraging my clients to express their most untamed selves. Leolo; for the lion-hearted!
Q: What was your inspiration behind the style and aesthetic of your product offering?
A: I’ve always loved fashion, particularly when there’s a modern twist on a classic design. Growing up in a small town in southern Minnesota I lived for Elsa Klensch’s Sunday morning fashion shows on PBS. I bought my first pair of wingtips in the men’s footwear section of Shopko when I was in 9th grade. They were black, ill-fitting, and, oh so punk rock.
Q: I see that you have several customizable features available for customers to choose from when designing their pair of shoes – what is your favorite combination of these customizations? (style, top shape, toe cap, colors, and broguing)
A: My favorite design is a classic, pointy toe, full brogue, wingtip in a modern color. Especially, a monochromatic shoe where the upper and sole are the same color. And fully bespoke for the perfect fit!
Q: I can imagine that shoemaking takes up a decent amount of space, especially when customizations and so many color options are available to your customers! When did you decide to purchase your Studio Shed to convert into the Leolo Studio?
A: The math was simple. For the amount of rent I would pay in two years, I could own a Studio Shed in my backyard while increasing the value of my home.
Q: What model and size Studio Shed did you choose? Why?
A: I chose the 10x12 due to permitting restrictions in the city of Seattle. It was also the best fit for our yard. By using the awesome design tool on the Studio Shed website I was able to custom design the perfect space.
Q: How has your Studio Shed space impacted your craft/career?
A: More than anything, my Studio Shed has impacted my life. Even before the pandemic my Studio Shed has been a saving grace; a creative retreat and a place to do what I love. The space has housed, perfectly, all aspects of the Leolo operation. The space, the light, the cross draft from the well positioned windows when I am working with glues and dyes, the double doors that remain open on temperate days...it’s just right for Leolo!
Q: What area of your business has benefitted the most by having this dedicated space to work in?
A: I have access to my studio 24/7, so I’m able to easily balance work/life while remaining very productive. Not to mention my awesome commute, free parking, and immediate access to tea, coffee, and bourbon when needed.
Q: Do you have any big upcoming plans for your company?
A: I’m just venturing into leather bags and clogs. I hope to have a storefront with a line of ready-made shoes in the near future.
Thank you, Leanne, for sharing such an inspiring story with us and giving us a behind the scenes look into the world of shoemaking! You truly embody the lion-hearted soul that your brand represents, and we had so much fun learning more about you and your company. To see more of Leanne’s work or to start planning a design for your own pair of bespoke shoes, head over to Leolo’s website at www.leoloshoes.com! Need inspiration before jumping into the design process? Check out this season’s lookbook on her website or follow Leolo on Instagram at @leoloshoes.
Are you looking to take the next step to turn your dream into a reality? Studio Shed can provide the extra space you need to pursue that passion, hobby, or even a hidden talent that you never thought you had room for before. Whether you want a fully customized solution or are looking for a prefab, turnkey option, our team is committed to helping you create a space ideal for you! Get started with our 3D design center and create the perfect backyard space to bring your passion to life.