Where Can I Learn to Make Bespoke Shoes?

Who should you study under? And where? How much should you budget for?

When I set out to learn shoemaking, I made dozens of calls abroad, sent countless emails, and browsed the web trying to find a quality shoemaker willing to teach me.

One of my first leather uppers

Realistically, 95% of bespoke shoemakers (especially the good ones) will refuse to teach you. Unless you happen to be a famous patina artist who can trade your skills for lessons, apprentices don’t benefit shoemakers until two solid years into the trade. Rather, apprentices consume time and resources — which most bespoke shoemakers who barely scrape a living — cannot afford.

And shoemakers who do offer intensive 10-day “courses” usually charge exorbitant prices. Shoemaking takes much longer to learn. But if you are already an experienced shoemaker, it’d be fine to refine your skills via private lessons.

Who tutored me? A reputable bespoke shoemaker named Perry Ercolino in Doylestown, Pennsylvania agreed to teach me. It was affordable and Perry privately instructed me after I moved to Doylestown. It was a great experience — I had my own master teacher with no other students. I learned more in those two months than a typical apprentice would in one year.

Another option: go to shoemaking school in Japan. You can enroll in the beginner course, then graduate to the advanced class. You’d also have to move to Japan. But you’d be learning according to the highest standards of shoemaking.

There’s one school run by Noriyuki Misawa called The Shoemaker’s Class. I spoke with and emailed Misawa who provided the following structure:

Trial course : 8 times = 8 days
Advanced course(1st pair) : 18~22 times = 18~22 days

You pay the admission fee of ¥20,000 (~$185 USD) and pay ¥5,900 (~$55 USD) for each class, plus material costs.

Decide which route makes the most sense for you. Not everyone can drop their lives and move to a different state or country. But you can accomplish these goals in stints and slowly work your way towards refined craftsmanship.

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