Wootten specialises in bespoke leather shoes. The Melbourne-based company makes them by hand in its Prahran workshop and retail space. Clients interested in a pair of their own must first make an appointment, then choose leathers, colours and a design.
We love Wootten’s shoes for the same reason owner and shoemaker, Jess Cameron-Wootten, makes them: a commitment to handmade craftsmanship, and the understanding that good things take time.
Growing up in South Australia, Cameron-Wootten’s first experience with leatherwork came from his father, shoemaker Ross Wootten. Cameron-Wootten still has vivid memories of it. “I spent a lot of my early childhood years watching him in his workshop,” he says. “He was a real perfectionist. Enormously attached to the craftsmanship of working with leather.”
When his father passed away, Cameron-Wootten inherited his leatherworking tools and books. As an adult he began tinkering on his own projects, before deciding to continue in his father’s footsteps.
We love that he still uses many of his father’s tools. “It means a lot to be using them in my work now,” says Cameron-Wootten. “I still rifle through his old toolboxes and find things of his I can use. Given the traditional nature of handmade leather work, a lot of the tools of the trade have histories and stories that come with them.”
Chief among the prized possessions Cameron-Wootten inherited is a collection of vintage leathers. Wootten’s work uses a variety of leathers, including cow’s leather, calf, kid, kangaroo, crocodile, snake and barramundi.
"We try to source local leathers where possible, but there are only a handful of tanneries still operating around the country,” says Cameron-Wootten. “We work a lot with Greenhalgh Tannery just out of Ballarat. They've been operating since 1865 and have an incredible wealth of knowledge and resource there." In an industry rife with cheap mass production, we love that Cameron-Wootten’s skills are in demand. Wootten has made custom AFL football boots for players Shane Crawford and Aaron Sandilands. It fields regular specialised requests for golf shoes, and just recently finished a pair of ice-hockey skates.
One of Cameron-Wootten’s favourite custom pieces was a pair of 1950s high heels for Kate Winslet to wear in the 2015 film, The Dressmaker. “It was a really fun project,” says Cameron-Wootten. “The costumes in that film were phenomenal. To craft a pair of shoes to be worn with them was really gratifying.”
So specialised has high-quality, handcrafted leatherwork become, Cameron-Wootten admits he finds it difficult to recruit qualified employees.
“There is a lack of opportunity for training,” Cameron-Wootten says. “There is only one real shoemaking course offered in Australia, a tertiary course at RMIT where I studied. For people wanting to come into the field, it’s quite difficult to gain industry connections and access to equipment and knowledge.”
But it’s this attention to creating a specific, personalised product that makes Wootten’s shoes meaningful and rare. We love that it’s something Wootten won’t compromise on.
“What we make has changed a lot since we started,” says Cameron-Wootten. “The business has expanded and our team has grown. We’re happy with the size of the business now and we’d like to keep it this way, so we can continue our level of customer service. Keep it personal and intimate.”
Cameron-Wootten’s wife Krystina also works in the business. Two years ago she wore custom Wootten shoes – featuring vintage, 18-carat-white-gold-plated snakeskin – to the pair’s wedding. Currently they’re building a studio behind their country home in Gordon, Victoria, allowing Cameron-Wootten to further follow in the footsteps of his father.
“I’d say I’ve been properly pursuing leather work and shoemaking for over ten years,” says Cameron-Wootten. “I’m still honing my craft and continuing to build my skills everyday.”
We already thought Wootten could make the perfect pair of shoes. With Cameron-Wootten’s desire to constantly improve, we suspect an impossibly better pair will soon find their place on our feet.