"People crave ways to learn artisan and heritage skills and have something cool to show for it. We have a range of shoemaking workshops to fit your creativity. People can use their hands and imaginations with our help to create their own one-of-a-kind pair of shoes. It is a way for people to treat themselves, spend creative time with family and friends, and escape the hustle-bustle of everyday life."
-Annabel, Owner of Colorado Shoe School
What makes Colorado Shoe School "Colorado Shoe School"?
Shoes are magical ways to combine both creativity, art, and practicality in one wearable package. Where else can someone hand create their very own wearable artwork for everyday life? We were enchanted by the artisan nature and rich history of shoemaking and wanted to help people build their own, so we created this one-of-a-kind shoe school in Colorado. Colorado Shoe School is dedicated to using recycled materials to spark students' creativity and help them create their own unique handmade custom sneakers, shoes, and boots. We have several decades of experience in costuming, fiber arts, and art design, as well as, wide expertise in circus, vaudeville, dance, and theatre arts as performers, costume creators, contraption designers, and builders.
Why should people visit Colorado Shoe School?
People crave ways to learn artisan and heritage skills and have something cool to show for it. Shoes have been made for thousands of years, and now you can make your own custom sneakers in just one day or spend 5 days making a pair that you have designed. We have a range of shoemaking workshops to fit your creativity. People can use their hands and imaginations with our help to create their own one-of-a-kind pair of shoes. It is a way for people to treat themselves, spend creative time with family and friends, and escape the hustle-bustle of everyday life.
Describe the perfect visitor experience for somebody visiting Colorado Shoe School.
Our school is located in a quiet village just outside Fort Collins where students can come have a creative escape! Students first encounter creativity and whimsy everywhere as they pull up to the school studio. Here they can let their imaginations run free beyond simply creating their shoes; learn heritage craft skills; and choose their leathers, fabrics, or unusual materials like a bike tire! You can bring in your own materials or show up with no plan at all, we are there to help coach and teach you so that you walk out with a piece of functional art on your feet. We like to say “you are making shoes that fit your personality”.
What is the story behind how you started Colorado Shoe School?
Colorado Shoe School was a natural evolution from the 20 years of creative work by both of us (Annabel Reader and Dan Huling). I earned a bachelor's degree in Contemporary Dance and Choreography from Unitec, Auckland, New Zealand, and Dan focused on Sculpture and Printmaking as he earned a BFA from Colorado State University.
We went on to work in a variety of art fields as costume creators, performers, dancers, and contraption designers and builders for our own companies and for large entities like New Belgium Brewing Co. and Cirque Du Soleil.
My costume work led me to begin to explore the art of shoemaking and in late 2017 Dan and I had a fate-changing opportunity to attend a Shoe School in New Zealand. After traveling the world as performers we were playing with a change in career and attending this workshop was the catalyst to starting the Colorado Shoe School.
What is your backgrounds? Tell us about yourself leading up to this point in your life.
I think my upbringing has influenced me hugely and follows this idea of “a life more lived, a life less ordinary”.
I grew up for my formative years in New Zealand, it was a childhood without a TV and a lot of time looking in rock pools at the beach. Both my parents were self-employed, Mum running a local art and book gallery and Dad as a civil engineer. We are a close-knit family of 7, born in 5 different countries and living in Indonesia for a stint then settling in New Zealand. My parents encouraged us to find out if we could build it, concoct it, experiment, discover, and look deeper into how things were made. Before settling in the USA I traveled extensively around the world, mostly by myself. Sometimes just to travel sometimes through work as a professional dancer and stilt performer.
My work in the last 10 years has often featured lots of costume work including for Colorado Opera, CSU, Theatre Aspen, and Cirque Du Soleil. As a dancer and performer, I know the importance of quality shoes and how the right design/material can help tell a story. I focus both on the functionality and methods behind shoe-making techniques, but the main drive for me is letting whimsy and fun lead me to a new creation. Dan’s had a similar experiential upbringing of exploring and making and travel when he was a busker performer. Both our career paths have required us to come up with creative interpretations of characters, inventive ways to design things, and build alternative dream worlds. We love creating and making things that have never been seen in this world before.
In what ways are you implementing sustainable practices into your business?
We use old clothing, fabric, discarded leather, source recycled tennis ball sneaker soles, and more to use in our shoe creation. The School also encourages green practices with the amenities and spaces we provide. We have repurposed old equipment, used recycled furniture pieces, and allow students to bring in their own keepsakes to use in their shoes. We frequently source from visit stores like CSU Surplus, Uncle Benny's, Ecothrift, Who Gives a Scrap and accept some donations of materials.
What challenges has your businesses had to overcome in relation to COVID-19? When presented with these challenges, how did your business remain resilient through these trying times?
We feel very fortunate to be creatives during these times as we think this helped us through this challenging time. Like so many we were closed for quite a while and had to apply for lots of relief funds to help make ends meet. We were able to pivot to mask creation, some sculptor creation, and future gift certificate sales. Eventually, we modified our sneaker and shoe workshops to accommodate smaller groups from households and families, wear masks and practice social distancing. We were also affected by the fires that devastated our area this past Fall, but had a great support system and luckily were spared by the fires. So being inventive and staying connected helped us weather the storm.
What do you love about the Fort Collins community?
Fort Collins is a community filled with lovely people who genuinely care about others. We have made so many wonderful friends over the years who help create a truly vibrant and meaningful way of life. The art scene here is filled with so many cool creators who are making important and meaningful art and are always ready to collaborate. We also love the overarching priority on earth-friendly, upcycling, and sustainable living.
What is your message to the Fort Collins community?
See new possibilities in old things. Recycling materials like leather couches, old high school jackets, and old gym floors can lead to not only a healthier world but also limitless possibilities. And allow yourself the chance to get creative with your hands, learn artisan skills to utilize in a modern approach, and most importantly use those parts of ourselves that do not get to play in our lives as often.
Colorado Shoe School
Address: 2829 N Co Rd 23, Bellvue, CO 80512
Hours of Operation: Various times