The Little Shoemaker

Interview with a local craftsman written for Viva Brighton magazine:

Kevin Rowley moved down to Brighton from Doncaster to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. But after graduating with a degree in Fine Art, and going on to finish a postgrad in London, he found himself unable to leave his part-time job at a shoemaker’s in Marylebone. “I needed to work while I was studying, London being what it is,” he says, “so I took the job with the idea of staying there for three months. But I stayed 16 years…” Even after he’d found a teaching job in the Brighton Uni art department in Hastings, and moved back down here to live, he carried on commuting several days a week. “I thought that moving to Brighton would force me to quit the job in the shoemaker’s, but I liked what I was doing so much that I kept it on for a few years more – and lost about five grand a year getting there!”

Eventually it became clear that shoe-making wasn’t just going to be an interim job for Kevin. “I think the irony is, I spent so many years trying to get away from what I eventually ended up doing that I realised what I was doing was what I liked doing. I stopped making art about five years ago, simply because I realised the shoes are kind of the art I’m making now. If you’d looked at my work in the gallery in London and you look at my shoes, you could see they were done by the same person.”

He bought a little shop in Lewes, tucked away off the High Street, and has been based there for the past few years. “We knew Lewes quite well,” he says. “We got married there years ago, so when this shop came up it seemed like the best thing for us. It almost felt like coming home.”

The first shoes he ever made sit on the windowsill: a tiny pair of faded suede sandals that look like they’ve seen plenty of adventures. “I made them about eight years ago for our daughter. Now she’s this big,” he says, pointing to a much bigger pair on the counter, waiting to be soled. “When I first started, I was only making up to child’s size four but now my eldest is a grown-up size two, so as our kids have grown, so has our shoe range. Now I keep getting asked, why don’t I make sandals for adults? So we’re experimenting at the minute with trying to make some larger ones. In theory, this time next year we may have launched a grown-up range.”

So it might not have been the career path he expected, but did Kevin’s creative roots set him up for a successful career in shoe-making? “Working as an artist taught me problem solving,” he says, “and it’s all about feeling your way and trying to figure out the best way of doing something. It’s like anything – you’ve got to kiss a few frogs first. And I’ve made some ugly shoes. But that’s the way you learn: by making mistakes.”

The Little Shoemaker, Courtyard Shoe Repairs, Lewes.