For much of human history, getting a new dress or pair of shoes wasn't a wham-bam affair. You had to visit a seamstress or cobbler and have these items tailor-made to you. Artisans who were masters of their respective crafts created bespoke blouses and jackets, hats and heels on the daily.
Seeing a milliner or cobbler in action in 2017 is a bit like stepping into a time machine and visiting that past world. These craftspeople take on roles that sit somewhere between artist and historian, reviving lost techniques and skills. Jessica Brommer is one such artisan-creator. The Santa Fe-born cobbler makes shoes, sandals, boots and other footwear under the title Hope and Industry Handmade at her studio in the Siler Road area, but before she was into shoes, Brommer was a painter and sculptor. "I have always made stuff," she says. "Always, always, always."
In the late ’80s, Brommer’s shoe fetish was sparked by cobbler Sara McIntosh’s shop on Old Santa Fe Trail, Sara’s Shoes. “I was always like, ‘I want to apprentice with her,’ but I was too chicken and I never approached her,” Brommer says. “And at that point I was really getting into painting.” She painted and sculpted for around 20 years, showing her work at Turner Carroll Gallery on Canyon Road and with local gallerist Linda Durham. But Brommer had a change of heart. “I sort of lost interest in the impractical nature of making art,” she says. So, she asked herself: “I don’t think I really want to be a painter—what am I going to do?”
Living in New York City at the time, Brommer attended shoemaking classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology. "The second day of the first class that I ever took, I was like, 'Oh my god. This is it. This is totally it,'" she says. "It's challenging, its precise, its practical. … It fulfills a lot of the same—I don't know—need that making paintings did." After taking classes, Brommer relocated to Asheville, North Carolina, and solidified her own shoe company under the title of Stalworth Shoes and Boots in 2012. The company became Hope and Industry Handmade in April 2016 when Brommer moved back to Santa Fe and opened her shop off Trades West Road.
Early on an October weekday morning, I meet Brommer in her studio. The industrial doors are wide open, and the autumn light poured in, bathing everything in a marigold aura. It smells of leather, which she says she doesn't notice anymore, and I think: Damn, that sucks, because it smells natural and really good in here. The shelves are filled with lasts (wooden forms that serve as the foundation in building a pair of shoes), rolls of blush and sand-colored leather and half-finished footwear forms. Vintage Singer sewing machines and samples of her designs cover large tables.
Wood-bottom heels ($185), mary janes ($425-$450) and oxfords ($475-$550) are some of the styles you’ll find at Hope and Industry Handmade. Each pair—which take around 10 hours to make—has classic lines and inspirations with current twists making them so cute and reliable, they’re the kind of pair you wear for life.
When Brommer started cobbling, she imposed a single self-restriction: She would only make men's shoes. Today, while she does make women's styles, many of her designs are still inspired by menswear. "When I was in high school, I would go to St. Vincent de Paul [thrift store] and find these really great men's shoes," she says, "and stuff the toes with tissue and wear them." Many of her designs are recreations of those thrifted pairs.
This gal's cobbling skills don't stop with her own designs—she does custom pairs too. "There's a lot of cool problem-solving aspects to it," she says, recalling a recent client who wanted to recreate a pair of English-made kangaroo leather boots he'd owned in the '70s when he was a hippie living in Las Vegas, New Mexico. "This guy is now in his late 60s and he's in the legislature, and he's been wearing these boots to his job for 40 years," she says. "They're completely falling apart right now. It was super-cool, because they were gorgeous boots."
The reincarnation required special work. "These boots were made on a really old-fashioned style of last," Brommer tells SFR. "So, I had to rebuild the last to make the boot on." The work paid off, and Brommer smiles widely as she describes a text from the client who, when he saw his reborn kangaroo babies, said, "They're perfect." She's also up-cycled sentimental items, like a Louis Vuitton diaper bag that was transformed into ballet slippers.
If shoemaking sounds like a ton of fun to you, you can learn to do it yourself in one of Brommer's classes. She offers a variety of choices, and you can find them along with her designs on her website (hopeandindustry.com). One option is a weekend-long sandal workshop, in which you make your own custom pair during the course. "Choose your own strap color. Choose your heel height," says Brommer. "People can come in and be really creative."All Hope and Industry Handmade shoes are made sans synthetic materials and with leather that Brommer hand-dyes herself. You can visit by appointment, and you should—there's an undeniable element of antiquity to her shop, and you get a sense of how truly handmade these products are.