People are turning to made-to-measure shoes, either as a necessity, or as a luxury. Daniel Charkow, a 17-year-old student at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, is a shoemaker and designer who wants to revive the ancient craft of shoemaking.
“I make my shoes as if I were a shoemaker in the early 1900s,” said Charkow.
Designing shoes since he was 12 years old, Charkow initially found his inspiration from singer Lady Gaga’s fierce fashion and bold choices.
“Seeing all of her insane fashion trends – especially the shoes – inspired me. My first goal was to mimic those shoes. I took my mom’s old shoes, cut them up and did whatever I could to change the form. I modified the shoes and tried to figure out different ways to put them back together. This brought me from designing shoes, to wanting to learn how to make shoes,” he explained.
Charkow pursued shoemaking at Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum and The Art and Sole Academy, under the guidance of master instructor Jennifer Alison.
“It was the most incredible thing: I made my mom a pair of high heels. I made a full shoe using raw materials from scratch,” said Charkow with excitement.
Charkow began to acquire different materials to make shoes, including a personalized foot dummy, which is the mold needed to make the shoe.
“I did another workshop and learned how to make desert boots, my first men’s shoe. I was introduced to new skills. It’s completely different to make a woman’s shoe than it is a man’s shoe. There are some transferrable skills, but I learned new techniques,” said Charkow.
By the summer of 2015, Charkow was 15 years old and was invited to work as an intern with the design team at Steve Madden in New York City.
“I got to learn the ins and outs of shoemaking. They ended up making a sample of one of the shoes that I designed. It was amazing to be able to design it on paper. This was the first time someone else made my design,” said Charkow with pride.
Charkow honed his craft on weekends and after school in the basement of his parents’ home. Eager to expand his skills, Charkow took a sneaker workshop in the summer of 2016 at the Brooklyn Shoe Space in New York and last summer, he participated in an internship at Aldo’s head office in Montreal. At Pedlar Stock, a private workshop in Hamilton, Ont., Charkow learned how to make a men’s dress shoe.
“This was a traditional, ancient type of shoemaking: everything was hand-stitched and custom-made. It’s called ‘bespoke shoemaking.’ It was the most intense course I’ve ever taken and insanely hard on the body,” said Charkow.
One of Charkow’s goals is to bring awareness to the negative impact the fashion industry has on the environment.
“I try to emulate this through my designs by making shoes out of waste. Trash can always be recycled. I designed and hand-crafted a pair of high heels made out of an unwanted, broken old chair with beautiful upholstery and wooden details. Though this chair could not serve its original purpose, it did not belong in the garbage. I took the chair and used the fabric for the upper of the shoe, the chair leg for the heel and the foam for the shoe’s interior padding. I believe if we can bring these views to large fashion companies, we can reduce our carbon footprint on the planet,” said Charkow.
“It’s important we appreciate this art and understand that it is dying – but that’s why I do what I do. I try to educate people, to allow them to appreciate it.”
Charkow is currently working on his first commercially available collection, which combines high fashion and recycled materials. Charkow Shoes range from $400 to $800 a pair. A single pair of his hand-made shoes can take some 30 hours to complete.
“I want to bring back the excitement of a beautiful pair of hand-made shoes. For years, the shoemaking process has been taken over by machines and production has been sent overseas. All of my shoes are proudly made in Canada, but I wish I could say the same thing about all the components. I hope that within my lifetime, I can be a part of bringing the fashion industry back to Canada,” concluded Charkow.
View Charkow Shoes on Instagram.