Q&A: Meet the Designer Determined to Preserve the Traditional Craft of Shoemaking

Q&A: Meet the Designer Determined to Preserve the Traditional Craft of Shoemaking

Angela Scott’s heirloom-worthy designs—offering burnished leathers and hand-painted stripes—build on the legacy of handcrafted shoes in Portugal.

While some fashion brands are reinventing themselves during the COVID-19 crisis, Angela Scott is doubling down on her love for traditional shoemaking. The self-taught designer behind The Office of Angela Scott built a shoe brand from scratch just nine years ago, led by a desire to create a product that would support and empower women.

Now, amidst a world of change, including the recent loss of her beloved grandmother and a factory shutdown in Portugal, Scott’s new fall collection reflects an even greater reverence for time-honored traditions. Offering hand-detailed patterns and resoleable construction, her new shoe designs pull the past forward with styles inspired by the ageless beauty of women. Below, she speaks about her unconventional journey and how the brand has responded to current uncertainties.

The fall 2020 collection from The Office of Angela Scott honors the ageless beauty and strength of women. Shown here, the Mrs. Doubt Midheel features contrasting shades of leather with intricate brogue details. 

How did you get started as a designer?

Angela Scott: I always had a love for footwear but fashion school seemed unattainable, too expensive to afford on my own. I received a partial scholarship to the University of California at Santa Barbara and worked at a construction company to help pay tuition. I fell in love with the process of building. From the concept to the drawings and then seeing the completed structure—I was totally fascinated. But that's also where I learned I didn't want to be a woman running in high heels behind men, because that was me. I was around an all-male crew 99 percent of the time, and I felt that I had to dress in a certain way to be taken seriously. It made an impression on me, and I wanted to change it. 

Each pair of shoes are constructed by hand at a family-owned factory in Portugal using Italian leather and textiles. Skilled craftspeople assemble the components over the course of several weeks, adding elements such as a cork insole board, a dovetail heel, and leather outsole that can be re-soled.

When my husband and I moved to Dallas for his career, I went to work in public relations for Neiman Marcus, which resparked my love for fashion. At Neiman Marcus I saw a divide in the offerings for women in the way of flat shoes. In the mens department I would see these incredible lace up brogues and stunning dress shoes but none of the sort for women. Not being a ballet-flat-kind-of girl meant my other choices were stilettos or boots.

I started The Office of Angela Scott to offer women shoes that were equal parts beauty and function—shoes that made them feel and stand confident while they achieve incredible things in their careers. I wanted to take the same craftsmanship offered to men and recreate the designs in a way that would feel powerful and feminine for women. The brand is not about me as a designer, my name, or even our shoes. It's about the women that wear our shoes. That's why I decided to call it The Office of Angela Scott, because it represents all women. We are the office.

The fall 2020 collection seeks to strike a balance between unparalleled comfort and strength. Here, the Mr. Logan Oxford features a rubber lug heel and outsole.

Shop the Look
The Office of Angela Scott Miss Button Midheel
Extraordinarily comfortable and exquisitely detailed, Miss Button raises the bar for versatility. Miss Button is made on our Dude last. The Dude has just a hint of western flair with a ladylike vibe. The toebox is a bit pointier than the Austin and Barbara lasts.

The new Mr. Colin Monkstrap takes a very traditional style and reimagines it in a lustrous leather.

What is special about traditional shoemaking?

Handcrafted shoes honor tradition and family values. When people think of handcrafted shoes, they naturally imagine Italy, but Portugal has a long history of shoemaking as well. In my search for a factory that produced Goodyear Welted shoes, I had a moment of serendipity at a trade show in Milan when I met the patternmaker from a family-owned factory in Portugal. Two men stopped me inside a tannery booth to ask, 'Who made your shoes?’ We ended up with my foot on top of the table talking about the art of Goodyear Welt construction.

The Goodyear Welt—named after its inventor Charles Goodyear—is a labor-intensive feature of most traditionally made shoes and adds to the sustainability of Scott’s designs. The ribbon of leather holds together various pieces of each shoe and can easily be unstitched to replace the outsole. 

A few months later, I was on a Skype call with one of the factory owners, who didn’t speak a word of English, along with the patternmaker I met in Italy, talking about how they could produce our shoes. I now consider them my family, after six years. It's quite incredible: two generations of shoemakers. They have such passion for their work, and there's nothing more exciting than working with a team of people who love what they do. 

One of my fondest memories in the first year of production was walking into the factory and seeing the pride they had for producing my designs. The craftspeople were suddenly working with materials and colors they had never worked with before. Some would tell me, 'We were used to brown and black boots, then your designs came along.’ It takes a lot of skill to make these types of shoes, so it's really important to me that what they do is preserved. And now that fashion is going in the direction of sneakers and casual shoes, even fewer brands are making products this way. 

Each vegetable-tanned leather outsole is embossed with the brand’s signature logo as a testament to craftsmanship. During a two-week waiting period, the upper part of the shoe is shaped to fit a bespoke, hand-carved last. 

Who inspired your fall collection? 

The new collection was inspired by my grandmother and her ageless beauty. As she got older, I watched her wardrobe evolve to include the romantic colors of emeralds, sapphires, and rubies—which are all shades found in the new collection. My grandmother lived until 97, and until her last day, she wore pearls and had her nails and hair done. Women like herself, who grew up in the 1930s, never let go of those classic ways to honor themselves. For her, it was pearls, and for me, it's shoes.

For the fall collection, I took the concept of ageless beauty and added a modern, edgy twist. As we get further along in the journey of our brand, I am beginning to see a lot of older women wearing our shoes as well. The way they wear them is so inspiring to me. It's such a beauty to see gray haired women in their sixties wearing the designs so stylishly and classically. I think we all get inspired by those around us, and I'm certainly inspired by the people that I encounter. In fact, every shoe is named after someone I've met or heard of in a story.

The Mr. Bernard Hiking Boot is finished in black, croc-stamped Italian leather with a suede tongue.

Shop the Look
The Office of Angela Scott Mr. Evans Wingtip
Mr. Evans is made on our Austin last, one of our favorite lasts with an almond-shaped toe. Shaped with a woman's foot in mind, this silhouette has great feminine appeal. The cork insole is designed to mold to the shape of your foot for an incredibly comfortable fit.

The Mr. Harrison Boot is constructed in a hand-burnished, mahogany leather and finished with a metallic textile heel counter.

How has the brand adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic?

At the beginning of COVID-19, my team and I talked about doing more. I didn't have a knee-jerk reaction of let's do less, let's spend less. I had the opposite reaction. I knew that if we were having it bad, somebody else was having it worse, so we thought about how to pay it forward. We immediately started gifting shoes and made a $20,000 donation to Girls, Inc., which is a large nonprofit partner of ours.

We also supported our factory in Portugal by sending payments early to make sure they could stay in business during the shutdown. They’re a small family and we're a small company, but keeping their craft alive is really important to me. I believe that business shouldn't just be about the bottom line and how much money you're making. Business should be about relationships, and I now feel much closer with my suppliers and shoemakers.

What are you thinking about for the future?

Like most everyone, I look forward to the day when we can see each other again in person and on a larger scale. I am also thinking about how the brand can be more of a resource for our women. I'd love to offer tools and resources that make women feel confident—whether it's a briefcase to stay organized or desk accessories. As women, if we can support, honor, and build each other up, I think the workplace will continue to look different.

"We don't need more, we just need something that's better—something that's going to carry on."

Also, I was in Alaska recently, and seeing the beautiful glaciers that are melting made me think about other things I can do to encourage more sustainable practices. I left there thinking about how I can create designs that women will want to keep for a lifetime instead of over-consuming. 

I cherished getting my grandmother's wedding gown and several of her cocktail dresses when she passed away. I love the tradition of passing things down through generations. There's something so special in that.

For more details about The Office of Angela Scott fall 2020 collection, please visit their website.

Photo of Angela Scott (top) by Trevor Paulhus.


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