Kangaroos aren’t usually associated with bespoke footwear. Yet according to Melbourne-based craftsman, Theo Hassett, leather from the iconic jumping marsupial is "one of the strongest around." Originally from New Zealand, Hassett relocated to Melbourne six years ago and a chance meeting with James Roberts at the launch of the latter’s Captains of Industry space led to the creation of Roberts & Hassett, a leather footwear and goods brand that tailors each piece perfectly for the customer.
“We source locally as much as possible,” says Hassett from his studio inside the inner-city Captains of Industry space. “We encourage kangaroo leather for our uppers. It has great character and is beautiful to work with.” Leather tanned with local wattle or oak is used for the soles while the insoles, heels and stiffeners are made from a range of leather hides. Customers can even request specific type of leather, which will be sourced for them if possible.
While Hassett undertook a shoemaking course at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), he states that both himself and Roberts—who has recently moved to regional Victoria—are largely self-taught. "James was well on the way to being a scientist before his shoemaking hobby took over his life. Most of the traditional techniques that really make our shoes stand out are self-taught through the wonderful resource that is the internet. We owe a great debt to those who take the time to share their knowledge and pass on their skills to a new generation.”
While Hassett possesses the high level of modesty antipodeans are renowned for, his work boasts a plethora of fans, each happy to pay a minimum of $1,200 (AUD) for shoes that gracefully merge individual style with unique fit. "I really enjoy being a bespoke maker because I get to make a new design for each customer and that process is the most rewarding part,” says Hassett. “I’m not sure how much I would like to make the same pair over and over again. Measuring people’s feet and getting an exact fit is the challenging part and can take a number of fittings. Once we have achieved that, the final pair takes about a week of solid work. We hand-sew welts to our shoes and also sew on the soles by hand. Both practices are time-consuming, but unbeatable in terms of quality.”
In addition to the variety of his work, Hassett admits the creativity required to problem solve is one of the craft’s biggest draws. “I make shoes because I decided I wanted to live a creative life and I love the practical nature of them. I’m now addicted to the process and always look forward to my days in the workshop. My most challenging project so far was a pair of very dandy-esque button-up boots in white leather with green suede. I was petrified of staining them and the fit had to be perfect to the millimeter, as the buttons had no adjustment. I came to shoe making after trying out a few different things. I had a lot of encouragement from close friends and family. I used to work in the building industry on and off since leaving high school and those skills have also come in handy, in a general sense. I’ve always liked to make things.”
As well as being inspired by "design blogs, the internet, design generally and creative friends including Welfe—who I am working on a leather goods collaboration with," Hassett draws on the energy of his adopted city. "I’ve lived and worked all over: New Zealand, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and the US. Melbourne is my favorite place. The people here are genuine and very encouraging. The crafts here are well-supported and the quality of life is amazing. I’m not sure many other places could sustain my lifestyle so well."
Hassett admits his decision to work as a craftsman in an industry known for fast, low-cost products can be daunting at times, yet he wouldn’t have it any other way. "I certainly don’t expect to be a millionaire making shoes, but I think if you do what you love things work out. They have so far."
Images courtesy of Roberts & Hassett