Hilde Levin has got the perfect solution for her shoe fetish, she now makes them herself!
Cabinet designer turned shoemaker, Hilde experienced empty nest syndrome two years ago and decided to indulge in one of her fashion passions… shoes. But not buying them… making them. And it is not your ordinary shoe either, Hilde makes traditional espadrilles. “Probably the most comfortable shoes on earth,” says the petite bubbly woman. “And my feet have never been so happy!”
It was not really her intention to start a big business, but suddenly she finds herself flooded with orders and will soon have to expand.
“It all started two years ago when my twins left home to go study. I had been an upholsterer and the cabinet designer in my husband’s cabinet business and suddenly I had more time on my hands. No more being chauffeur, cooking big meals and weekend activities and I needed something to do. And then I walked into a tiny shop in Pretoria that sells real espadrilles. I have always had a shoe fetish. I even made shoes for my dolls and then my friends’ dolls. I have a cupboard full of shoes, but when I saw the espadrilles, I was hooked.”
Hilde started doing research and discovered an espadrille soles supplier in Spain and ordered a couple of soles.
“I’m hooked on espadrilles… my feet have never been so happy!”
“And then I hunted for fabric. It was such fun, but then I had the fabric and the soles arrived and I did not really know what to do,” she laughs. “The soles were there for a while. I just looked at them. And I then I couldn’t find any patterns for the shoe uppers! With my upholstery experience, I can make patterns and I decided to just do it myself. Believe me, I had a lot, and I mean a lot, of trial and errors! It took a lot of experiments and investigation into how sandals are made.”
A year later, she had made 50 pairs and she decided to try out a market in Johannesburg. “I sold the lot, and I got orders for more. I couldn’t believe it. Overnight I was in business, intended or not.”
Her daughter, who is studying fashion design, started posting her shoes on Instagram and the interest was overwhelming. “Here I was still thinking I don’t know what I am doing, and people loved my shoes. It is wonderful.”
At the moment Hilde and a worker are making all the shoes. “I buy, cut and sow, do the administration and in between design cabinets for my husband’s business, but he has a surprise coming,” she laughs.
The espadrilles’ soles are made of Espardenya grass and stitched in a traditional way that dates back centuries. “It allows the feet to breathe and is a natural shock absorber. It also takes the shape of your foot. It is the most comfortable shoe imaginable. And it is not all casual. I have also started making wedge heel espadrilles. I regard it as a health shoe. I’m getting rid of my cupboard full of other shoes.”
Each pair of her espadrilles is unique in design and all the materials used are biodegradable. “In other words, an eco-friendly shoe.”
She has now opened an online shop and is also planning to venture into hats. “I just love it. It is so good to rediscover my creativity that was on the back burner while my children were growing up. I have a strong suspicion I will have to expand soon if the orders keep coming as they currently do, but I am excited about this new venture in my life and I really love my shoes!”