In a world of instant gratification and fast fashion, there’s something to be said for the small-scale artisan carving out a small but dedicated corner of the market. The challenge with artisanal production, however, is the high price associated with the craft.
For Jamie Nelson, footwear designer and founder of Nelson Made, her passion for unique footwear pushed her to break the mould.
“My husband had asked me a question,” recounts Jamie. “‘What would you do if you could do anything you wanted?’ I thought, ‘I’d hand make shoes again.’”
Having majored in sculpture at the Elam School of Fine Art in New Zealand, with a portfolio that “often walked the fine line between fashion and art,” Jamie says, “footwear was a natural progression for me, as it’s so architectural.”
So upon graduation, Jamie moved to Melbourne to study footwear production, where she quickly made the transition to full-time work with Preston Zly. There, she found herself hand-making shoes in their small-scale boutique.
“I then went on to study a Masters in Fashion Footwear at London College of Fashion, and have been designing for Australian retailers ever since. Most recently, I’ve designed for Gorman, Country Road, and Kmart.”
It was while designing footwear for these well-known brands that Jamie was trying to figure out how to design her own bespoke shoes. But like most unique hand-made items, the process was laborious and time consuming.
“And then it hit me. Customisable sandals. Designed to be modular so they fit together easily and are affordable.”
Jamie’s idea was – and continues to be – a completely innovative model of footwear manufacturing. It brings unique considerations into her business equation so she can be sure that her partners are able (and willing) to work her way.
“One of the most important things about launching a startup is finding the right partners to work with, like suppliers and contractors. I had to learn how to find the right people to work with, and how to share my vision with them, and how to support them so that they can do their best work for the brand.”
With these manufacturing partners, Nelson Made’s customers are able to design their own dream pair of sandals, designed and assembled in Melbourne.
“Each pair is truly special, as individual as each of our customers. We value quality over quantity, and our model of making only what is ordered helps us do our small bit for the planet.”
Alongside their do-it-yourself offering, Nelson Made also features seasonal ready-to-wear collections, and often collaborate with other artists and designers. They follow the same made-to-order model as her customisable pieces.
“I find a huge amount of inspiration when working with other designers and artists. Working with others is one of the best ways to keep your ideas fresh and you often end up designing something that pushes both parties forward with their design practice and aesthetic.”
Her latest collaboration is with Eliza from Melbourne-based homewares label Mosey Me.
“The project was an absolute joy to work on and we had so much fun. Eliza designed the prints and we designed the shoes. We worked with local textile printers Next State who do small runs of digital prints and are a really great company to support – lovely people. The collab collection consists of four pairs of sandals and they have been so well received – it’s been really exciting for us.”
Inspiration, says Jamie, is everywhere, and it’s often found right in front of her.
“I’m also really inspired by my friends, who are super strong women, and always stylish in their own right. Another area I draw from is architecture, interiors and textiles from the modernist era. I love art and craft, and am always finding ideas from exhibitions, publications and online.”
Her latest collection, for example, is inspired by the minimal abstract forms found in mid-century modernist art, drawing on the vibrant colour palette of the period: “burnt orange, lemon, and ceramic off a base of misty pink and oatmeal. Prints are joyful, and display a nod to ’50s vintage that’s infection and fun.”
So what would Jamie say to someone who wants to break the mould?
“Start when you are not ready! If you wait and wait for the ‘right time’ you might miss your chance, so just go for it as you can always learn along along the way. No business is perfect when you start out, but you can always make adjustments if you need to.”