“I always had an interest with fashion and with mum being an artist, I also really enjoyed art,” says Myra Spencer. “But with shoemaking, it's something I just fell into.” Genetic inclinations to creative fields aside, it was the practical element of creating a final product from start to finish that really drew her into the shoemaking business. “I think I am lucky because I know if someone is happy or not, whereas in the visual arts it is sometimes a bit separated in that sense. It's not as easy to get real and honest feedback for your work.”
Following this impulse, Spencer enrolled at Brunswick’s RMIT TAFE campus for 18 months. From opening to lining, stitching and skiving, beading, lasting and finally finishing, a woman's work there was never done. And even less so when the wave of orders from friends saw the launch of Shoes by Myra soon after.
This one-woman business makes male and female shoes to order, completely bespoke. Endless hours bent over a large desk in her small workshop translates to meticulously crafted and individually designed shoes. From the material of the sole to the colour and type of leather (even down to personalised themes such as fish, a request from one of her more eccentric types), clients get what they want.
Spencer understands the difficulties of fashion and believes that shoes are a chance to make a statement. “People take more risks with their footwear and feel more in control of getting away with something a little bit outrageous,” she says. “I also think footwear is a breath of fresh air for some women. You don't need to worry so much. I mean let's face it, sizes are pretty generic and a wrong fit doesn’t cut as deep as having to go up a size in jeans!”
Her manner is endearingly honest and enthusiastic and makes you feel as though anything is possible. Like any quality product, it begins from scratch and “there's always room to experiment.”
Despite the skills shortage being a serious obstacle to many sectors within Australia, trend tides indicate a newfound respect for the handmade. “There are a lot of young people like myself coming out of RMIT, which is really great because I think people in Melbourne really appreciate one-off designs, Spencer says. “[But] I wish the old shoe makers and factories were still around today so that we could learn from the masters. It is so difficult once you finish studying to get any more training in Australia [in a professional environment].”
The reality of the situation is taking the ambitious craftswoman to Ars Sutoria in Milan, to gain what only time and experience can bestow. “Experience, experience, experience! First and foremost, attending Ars Sutoria school is a chance to learn the art of pattern making, but it is also an opportunity to meet people in the industry and visit shoe factories at the centre of traditional shoe making.”
Hopefully, her experience will help enhance Melbourne's shoe scene. Toes crossed, potential collaborations with the experienced Italians will bring drool-worthy collections back to the feet of an equally discerning, Southern Hemispherian market. Until then, Shoes by Myra presents anyone with the unique opportunity to conjure their dream shoe. One that can make its own unique footprint.