Custom Territory is an ongoing design research studio that explores the role of the shoemaker in a circular economy where shoes can be redesigned, remade and reused in infinite loops, using locally available materials and expertise. The goal of Custom Territory is to transform the linear shoe industry into a local territory where the boundaries between shoemaking, designing and wearing can blur.  The Custom Territory Studio develops in collaboration with Ambiorix, MIA-H, The School and MOOI.

Custom Territory prototype combines traditional Ambiorix shoes with locally sourced industrial waste (Rubber and PVC).

Custom Territory researches how the role of the shoemakers evolved from past to present, to explore how this role can evolve into a future. Before the industrial revolution the shoemaker represented a craftsman who makes footwear using natural materials like leather and wood held together by laces and glue. He or she is both designer and producer. The production process is time consuming but produces qualitative and unique footwear. In our fast paced economy there is almost new room for this kind of service anymore.

Shoemaker Toni Taloni in his workshop, Picture by Boumediene Belbachir

Industrialization led to machinery that enabled large scale production of qualitative footwear. The industrial model distinguishes the shoe designer from the shoemaker. The designer designs standardized shoe models such as goodyears or moccasins. The shoemaker is a factory worker who makes these models at an assembly line.

Ambiorix is a footwear manufactured in Tongeren (Belgium) who deploys the assembly line principle.  Unfortunately their sense of quality is an exception rather than the norm.

Industrialization forces the individual craftsman to reinvent his craft. He moves his focus from making towards repairing. The value of this strategy can not be underestimated. He services increase the lifespan of a shoe. Because of his personal interaction with his clients he can also adapt the shoe towards the physical and personal preferences of the shoe wearer.

The combination of synthetic materials and injection molding allow cheap production of athletic footwear. These innovations give birth to a globalized sneaker industry that uses smart marketing to turn shoes into symbols of person style and identity. Because low production costs it is cheaper to buy a new pair than to repair them. The sneaker industry feeds a throwaway culture where designers create temporary trends, shoe wearers buy into these trends and companies make and sell products without taking their environmental impact into account. Despite alarming reports about pollution, resource depletion and inhumane working conditions the linear system still prevails. In this system there is no room for individual shoe makers or repairers. 

Again the shoemaker is forced to reinvent his craft and develop alternative strategies. By limiting his focus to a local territory the shoemaker aims to reduce the ecological footprint of shoe production. Like a chef who challenges him or herself to only work with local ingredients he looks for locally available resources that can be used for redesigning, remaking and reusing shoes. This limits the design possibilities but also provides opportunities to create a local design language. In contrast to the uniform design generated by the globalized sneaker industry.

A Custom Territory also provides new opportunities to blur the boundaries between shoemaking, designing and wearing. The shoe workshop can become a space that invites wearers to step outside the role of passive consumer and into the role of designer and maker by remixing sneaker components into custom creations.

Custom Territory workshop @ Mooi Festival 2018, video by Senne Van Der Ven

The future of the shoemaker is still unclear but he can experiment with different strategies to reinvent his craft. He can create an engaging retail environment that offers shoe weares the unique experience of becoming part of the design and making process. The shoemaker can reposition into a community of designers, maker and wearers that develop their own design language. Custom Territory will continue to research these strategies by organizing pilot projects in collaboration with makers, designers and wearers.