Living handcrafts in Sweden

Tailor made shoes

In Holgården’s old sharpening shop in Siljansnäs, the shoemaker duo Matilda Sandström and Younès Othman are busy working. They are the founders of the shoe studio HOL. Currently they are also working with a traveling process exhibition,حُول – handmade shoes, environmental ethics and mixed folk tales.

The idea and interest in making her own hand-sewn shoes emerged when Matilda got the role of shoe manager within Kersti Vitali Rudolfsson’s costume team at the theatre in Stockholm. Matilda had at the time already a degree in fashion at Beckmans College of Design but in order to be able to make simple repairs of the shoes herself, she attended an introduction course in shoemaking in Stockholm.

Matilda then introduced her fiancé Younès to the profession. A profession that to some extent resembled the previous work that Younès has engaged in the last ten years, industrial welding. Eager to learn and determined as he was, Younès also stuck to the craft. Today, both are certified shoemakers. With an apprenticeship in folk costume shoemaking in Rättvik and a dream of owning a studio, it seemed natural to give new life to Holgården where the duo now work with their handmade shoes.

What does shoes mean to you?

We have always had an interest in shoes as a phenomenon. Shoes is something almost everyone can relate to, as obvious as water. And at the same time, something melancholy lives over them as a phenomenon. We wonder at how they take shape after their person and the imprints they leave behind. For us, shoes are like poetry.

Which tools are important to your work?

Younès: I use knives in all their forms. The sharper and specifically the better and easier it will be to work. I want quality tools and I like to rebuild them so they suit my own needs.

Matilda: Like Younès I also use knives in all their forms, but sharp knives scare me a little too. In addition to knives, lasting pincers are important tool for me. Younès and I have different favorite tools, what a tool helps one to achieve and how they feel differs from user to user.

When choosing material, what’s important to you?

Leather is close to our hearts. The reason behind it is because animals have been part of our lives since we were born. Both here at Holgården and in Tunisian Bou Merdes where Younès spent his childhood summers. Respect for life and all living things, and the care of the whole animal. As long as we eat meat, the loss is indefensible, and so big.

We think of slow processes, of animals that have lived well and long (which can be seen in out materials; we are not afraid of insect bites, scars and old age). We use hides from artisan tanners and small industries near us. When the rest of the world aims globally for cost efficiency, we instead take a step back. We like to think “Do it again, and this time do it the right way”. We adapt our product to the materials characteristics instead of forcing nature.

What inspires you?

Cultural history, with special focus on the history of our own families. There is a difference of 4000 km between them. We want to highlight similarities and erase differences in fairy tales and legends, old objects, approaches, craft techniques and symbolic language. Music is also an important component of that concept.

Matilda and Younès are dreaming of eventually locate their business to the south in Portugal or Spain every six months in order to be able to work outdoors as much as possible. The goal is to find their own way into the global artisanal fashion scene. As artificial intelligence takes over many jobs, Matilda and Younès see the benefits in the power of the human hand and factor.

The duo is currently working with a traveling process exhibition, حُول – handmade shoes, environmental ethics and intertwined folk tales. The project has been awarded Region Dalarna’s latest cultural scholarship for professionals. The exhibition can be seen in Morakniv Concept Store in Mora between 29 November and 31 December.