The Hand Dyed Shoe Company

The Journey

In 2014, I was wading through the workshop floor at the end of a busy shift handmaking beautiful leather Chesterfields. Like most days, there was offcuts littered across the deck, destined for landfill.

As always, at 16:45, we began the clear up. We filled three large bin bags of small pieces of leather and began the walk to the bins. 

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I decided not to refuse the bags this time. I decided to put the bags in my car and take them home with me.

From Scrap to Crap

The Etsy Dream

With several bags of small pieces of leather stored in the small box bedroom of my house, I decided to start to play. The vision was that I could create small trinkets, wallets, key rings and phone cases from the offcuts. 

The leather, beautifully luxurious crust, I already knew from my sofa work would take dye and convert into stunning, unique patinas. 

So, I got to work. I bought machinary, tools and converted the room into a mini workshop.

I'm in Sheaven!

Now I'm excited!

I've never been educated in entrepreneurialism. But, I loved the idea of working for myself some day. In the Spring of 2016, as I drooled over another shoe brand - making patina shoes - my lightening bolt hit. 

I should make shoes!

The problem was, I didn't know how to make shoes, or if anyone would even be interested in my shoes!

So, without further ado, I began studying YouTube and speaking to local cobblers about the art of shoe making.  

The First Shoes

disaster!

I quickly realised I needed to work with professionals if I was going to make the standard of shoes I wanted. I couldn't create a business and produce at the same time. 

But, after investing initially with a workshop in Spain, I realised I had made a terrible mistake. The quality of the leather and the attention to detail was all wrong. I couldn't dye these shoes! I was scared, very scared, because at this point I was £8,000 in debt with the bank and the majority of that was invested in these prototypes. 

The supplier vanished and I did not know what I could do from here. The business was doomed before it had even began.

Yo-Yoing

Time to give up

By early 2016, I was really struggling mentally. I was now in debt and my idea was no further forward.

I'd spent some more money with another workshop in Italy only for the quality to fall short once more.

Meanwhile. I had around 80 pairs of shoes in my house and around 70% of them were nothing more than waste. But, I decided to use the ones that were least bad to get some feedback.

What happened next was incredible...

Who is the guy sitting in the river?

That would be me

I began taking the shoes I had out into public spaces to practice my patina techniques. The local press heard about this man popping up in strange places and they wanted to interview me.

I met a local journalist, and before I knew it, there was a two-page spread in the Northern Echo. The Shoemaker Extraordinaire. 

A former bookseller by the name of Colin Elrick got in touch and we met in a local café. Mr. Elrick loved my story and asked to buy a pair of my [redundant] shoes. 

He became my first ever customer. I retired to my car, called my wife and burst into tears. 

Hello Mr. Banker

The power of social

I'd dyed and sold a few pairs of the redundant stock I had by now. But my bank account was looking scary and I still didn't have a team to work with. 

As I worked my normal day in my day job, I received a message on LinkedIn, introducing me to a team of shoemakers in Portugal. 

It sounded great, but I had no money to even discuss samples or to think about heading out there to meet...

Back to the bank for another £7,000 loan. 

The Turning point

Obrigado!

When I visited the workshop in Portugal, I didn't hold much hope. I was there with little more than a bit of branding, zero expertise as a businessman and hardly a penny to my name, asking a factory owner to stop a production line and make me a single pair at a time for me in a crust leather so that I could dye the shoes.

I expected to be laughed out the place, but I wasn't. We struck up an instant bond, a friendship and they listened to me as my passion ran away. I explained my vision, my values and my ideas and together we developed a business plan over a prawn starter and a glass of sweet wine.

This moment, I instantly knew everything changed. 

Moving Day!

The Experience

In November 2017, I made to huge decisions. I decided to commit to a 12-month lease on a unit in a hidden away unit in an old courtyard of my local village. 

I began taking appointments from customers, who would travel many miles, to come visit me to see my craftsmanship brought to life. 

The second decision... I resigned from my job. 

There were many moments I didn't think I would reach this point but I felt ready. I had my studio and I was ready to grow my brand. 

Leaving, so soon..

At last!

As sales began to grow, space became a premium in The Courtyard and my ever so kind landlord tore up the lease and wished me well.

I moved the business to a much more grand, experience focussed home. Ushaw, a 19thC built former seminary - the perfect setting for my appointments. 

Raining Awards

And the nominees

Early 2019, just one-year after I left my employment, The Hand Dyed Shoe Company is nominated for several awards. 

Incredibly, we won the North East Newcomer of the Year Award before landing the title of Klarna's Smooothest Store in a showbiz bonanza in London's Covent Garden. 

This emotional, humbling moment will forever be one of the most incredible moments in our history. 

Tomorrow is

Today

I feel like this beautiful business is on the cusp of something great. My ambition is to create a company, a brand, that does incredible things for the world. I want our staff to love their jobs, I want our customers to love their shoes and I want to create a culture that inspires. 

Creativity, for me, is the essence of my blood and taking this brand from a furniture showroom, into the bedroom of my home before taking our own studio is beyond my imagination. 

But, in doing so, I'm inspired. My job now is to go as far into that imagination as possible and I hope you can be part of it. 

Thank you for reading. 

Who is Simon Bourne?

'The Shoe Guy'

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