Pill Box residents I CAN MAKE SHOES can help you do just that. They've moved from Hackney Downs to Pill Box in Bethnal Green in order to accommodate their students, their sewing equipment and all their shoes. Amanda Overs, who started the business, tells us about how she’s grown it without any investment, going Stateside and how she envisages transforming I CAN MAKE SHOES into an accessories empire.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am originally from the Land Down Under and have been living in London for almost seven years now. I try to take a few months out at the end of each year to skip the worst of the English winter and soak up the Aussie sunshine. To most people’s surprise, I love flat shoes! But I’ll also use any excuse to get myself into a killer pair of heels.
Tell us about your business and how you got started.
When I moved to the UK I didn’t have any access to the shoe-making machines that I had been taught how to make shoes on, so many of my skills became redundant. I didn’t want that to be the end of my career in footwear though, so I spent a good part of three years developing new methods of making shoes with modern materials and new techniques, so that I could make good-quality shoes from home without any heavy machinery. This is how I CAN MAKE SHOES was born. The shoe-making industry has always been quite closed and my method has opened it up to makers and crafters all over the world. We now hold weekly shoe-making courses and sell shoe-making kits, supplies and step-by-step shoe-making eBooks.
Where were you based before? Why have you decided to move into Pill Box?
We were based over at Hackney Downs, but after two years we needed more space and actually really needed to cater for some of our students who were less local. Being at the Pill Box right by Bethnal Green station on the Central Line was a big plus for us. We loved the studio space and the prospect that if we need even more space Workspace can accommodate our growth. I like the idea of expanding without having to change our address.
Business-wise, what are you most proud of?
I guess I am most proud of the fact that my partner and I built the business from the ground up without any investment. We had no more than a few odd buttons and an old piece of string in our wallets. So it has grown completely organically and people have responded incredibly well to our vision.
What have been your biggest business challenges?
Reining it in when I have to. The success of the business really comes down to the organic growth from the start. I get really excited about new ideas, when I am right in the middle of implementing something else that is new. So I really try to slow it down and make sure that every new stage is done properly.
Where do you see I CAN MAKE SHOES in a year's time? In three years’ time?
We've opened up a part-time studio in Brooklyn, New York, so hopefully over the next few years it will be full-time and self-supporting. We’ve also got I CAN MAKE BAGS and I CAN MAKE HATS on the cards, so there’s plenty going on to keep us busy.
There are more and more women running their own businesses. Do women business owners get any special treatment (good or bad)?
I like to think not. I obviously can’t speak for woman in business everywhere, but I don’t like to focus too much energy on that kind of thing. The footwear industry is very heavily run by men, but I just do my own thing. I teach shoe making the way I wish I had been taught in the first place. It’s a good sign for me that 90 per cent of my students are women and they like that I am opening up the industry for them in a non-daunting way.
If you weren’t in charge at I CAN MAKE SHOES, what would you be doing? What do you think the rest of your team would be doing?
I would still be making something; I find the process of actually making something with your own two hands very therapeutic. I think I can speak for the whole team when I say that we’d all still be crafting away at something… Or maybe gardening…
Who would you ask (dead or alive) to be a dream member on your board of directors?
Tamara Mellon, co-founder of Jimmy Choo and basically a shoe-business genius!
What are the most important things for you in an office space? What's your office luxury?
Windows are very important for me as I don’t like feeling as if I'm sitting inside a box all day. The biggest luxury for us is to have everything we need in one room. All of our supplies have a home on a shelf or in a cupboard, and the sewing machines are all lined up and ready to use. I can make shoes in half the time just by having easy access to everything I need.
Find out more about I CAN MAKE SHOES