About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

New Shoes!

This may not seem like a promising subject for a blog on self-sufficiency, but bear with me. Since changing my lifestyle, I've found that my attitude to things I buy has also changed. For a start, I buy things far less often, so each purchase is more of a big deal, which in itself tends to make me think about it more. But it's not really the extra thought that's prompted the change - after all, I could just spend the extra thought on looking for the best prices.

When I had a job, I sold my skills - mostly intellectual skills - for money, which I then exchanged for stuff. I was primarily a consumer. Now - note the blog title - although I still consume stuff (though less so), I am primarily a producer. This is what's prompted the change in attitude. Spending my time producing things makes me think much more about how other things are produced, too.

I often find myself considering whether to buy something or try making it myself. Very often, the question is, Why spend all that time making something when it's so cheap to buy? In more reflective moments the next question is, Why are these things so cheap to buy? Although efficiency is part of the answer - particularly with my lack of expertise, I tend to be slow, and there are economies of scale - I believe that most of the answer is exploitation. Even with much greater expertise and more efficient processes, no-one can produce things at these prices and still make a decent living for themselves.

I find myself forced to acknowledge that our prices are all wrong. We're paying far too little for most of the things we buy. The reason that things are available to us at such low prices is that people are working their socks off (if they can even afford socks) for pitifully low wages. Mostly this happens in foreign lands, far away and out of sight, so it's easy to ignore.

I don't want to be part of this system. I don't want to exploit people, wherever they are. It's not easy to hold this position at the same time as trying to live on a low income (though when you put it into context, really not that low), but I'll try. Much of the time I'll fail - I don't know much about the supply chain for the value ranges at the supermarket, for example - but at least I'll try, and hopefully I'll gradually move towards a point where I know where all my stuff comes from, and I'm happy that the people I'm buying from are getting a fair deal.

Now, back to the shoes. These are my old shoes:

Old shoes

They are simple, flat shoes for everyday wear. I like these shoes and would be happy to get them repaired if I could, but the moulded rubber soles are not designed to be mended. I have worn them as long as I could, but now holes in the soles are letting in water. And stones.

I went to shoe shops looking for a replacement pair and came away depressed. They were all the same mass-produced, disposable shoes that I'd been wearing happily for years, but didn't feel comfortable with any more. If I'm honest, I didn't much like the styles available, either.

I'd noticed a while earlier that a friend had posted a link on facebook to a local shoe maker, Ruth Emily Davey. Tempting, but surely very expensive (no prices given on the website, but...) I parked the thought, but found myself coming back to it again and again. Yes, it would cost a lot of money, but wouldn't it be great to have a pair of shoes made by a local craftswoman? I wondered how much I'd be prepared to spend. These shoes are designed to be repaired again and again, so I'm looking at a very long term investment. I typically spend £40 to £50 on a pair of shoes and they often wear out in a year. If I buy a pair that lasts ten years, I could go up to £500 (this calculation is skewed by repair costs, but then hopefully they'll last longer than ten years, too).

On impulse one day I went to Ruth's workshop when I was in town with a bit of time to kill. She usually requires an appointment, but she kindly talked to me there and then, measured my feet, and... I put down a deposit on a pair of shoes. Including adjustments to the pattern (my feet are size seven and a quarter, apparently) the final cost was nearly £450 pounds and for that I get made-to-measure shoes designed to fit actual feet. I'd always thought my feet were an unusual shape (wide at the toes and narrow at the heels) because standard shoes don't fit them very well, but apparently this is quite normal. Standard shoes don't fit anyone terribly well. Even the off the shelf samples I tried on that day were the most comfortable shoes I'd ever worn.

I had to wait a while because Ruth was busy with other orders, but a couple of months later my new shoes were ready. Here they are:

I have purple shoes!

They felt a little too big when I first tried them on, but that's because there really is space around the toes. They fit snugly over the arch and around the heel. The first day I had them, I walked two miles with no problems at all - no rubbing, no blisters. I really appreciated how comfortable the are a few weeks later, when I put on my walking boots. They felt hideously uncomfortable by comparison.

So, I now have a very superior pair of shoes made by a local craftswoman working in decent conditions. The fact that I paid more for them than Ian generally pays for a car is, I think, right.


  1. Knowing where the stuff you are buying comes from is one of the main reasons that I have changed my buying habits in the last year or so. I've started making bread from scratch, so I know exactly what is in it, I now get milk from a local organic farm, which sells it unpasturised, eggs come from my chickens, etc etc. There are still some things I want to change (making a better effort at growing food in the garden, etc) but I feel happier that our food is coming from sources that exploit animals/ people less.

    I would love a pair of custom made shoes- although at the moment I have several pairs of perfectly good shoes that are nowhere near wearing out. But next shoe purchase will be 'ethical' I hope. (Although I am not sure that there is a shoe maker anywhere near me!)

    1. I'd love to be able to buy milk directly from a local organic farm. Dairy is one of the things that bothers me.

      Ruth does offer a mail order service ;-)

    2. I'd noticed that...! Maybe when my shoes are worn out and I need new ones..

      The farm is great- the cows are kept for their natural life, and not dispensed with when their milk production slows.

      There may be something similar where you are- although apparently they are few and far between. And really it is not that local, about a 20 min drive. But it's near where I go horse riding, so possible to combine visits...

  2. I'm completely with you on shoes.
    For Christmas last year my parents bought me some (red!)knee high boots made by a lady who lives near me- http://elvestheshoemakers.co.uk/ They were nearly £200 but I've worn them almost daily both winters and they are so comfortable.
    For my birthday they gave me money towards 'Edith' shoes from Fairy Steps http://www.fairysteps.co.uk/products. Not made to measure like my boots, but handmade and again, so comfortable. I wore them almost daily during the summer! Cheap 'pump' style shoes I've owned literally fell apart after 3 months.
    I've lost the temptation to buy shoes from mainstream shops. I'd rather give my money to Donna or Ren (or Ruth!)

    I saw this online today. I haven't done it yet, but it calculates your slave footprint- might be interesting? http://slaveryfootprint.org

    1. Ooh, more lovely shoe makers :-)

      I saw the slavery footprint site reviewed a while back... here... and decided not to bother. The conclusion was, "Great idea, poorly executed." Shame.

  3. That's a shame about the slavery footprint. I'm not entirely surprised- I agree with EcoCat Lady's comment on the link that I've had similar issues with the carbon footprint calculators. I'm not perfect by any means, but the result always comes out waaaay higher than I think it should do.

    I guess most of these things, it's probably aimed at people who have no clue and so perhaps it may increase awareness. But if you're bothered enough to take that type of test, you're probably not that clueless...

  4. I bought a pair of boots fro Chuckles in Exeter ( http://www.chuckleshoes.co.uk/ ) having had the same thoughts about high street shoe shops - apart from the fact I very rarely find anything I like the look of superficially I am notoriously good at trashing shoes and they are just not made to last... and that's aside from the whole 'I wonder who made these' issue. As you say, the more you make things yourself, the more you think about how everything is made... I love my boots and they were relatively 'cheap' at £145 but they are a bit more rough and ready than your which are beautiful!! The difference with these boots is that they are made to be mended and kept so actually should work out to be much better value than the other pairs of shoes / boots I've bought in the last five years that I have comprehensively destroyed...

    I started doing the Slavery footprint but gave up after I realised it wouldn't be an accurate outcome due to there being no taking into account of second hand / home grown / locally sourced etc anything but it struck me as a potentially clever way of getting people to think about these things a bit more via an alluring premise - finding something out about yourself a la the tried and (ahem) tested personality test route. But there should definitely be a bit more emphasis on actual lifestyle change rather than downloading an app to help you change your footprint!?!.

  5. I love your new shoes! I hope they'll last you a full decade and then some. I am often tempted to buy the cheaper, shorter term item, and still do sometimes. I excuse myself by saying that I don't have much money, but the truth is that I do have enough to invest in longer lasting, better quality goods -- but often choose not to. For a long time, the most I had ever paid for a pair of shoes was $30! I go through shoes slowly, but I will definitely put more thought into what I buy when I need new shoes again.

  6. I really agree with your thoughts here. I changed (and am still changing) where I buy things from. I haven't yet sourced (really) local shoes. A close friend of mine is a saddler and he's made many wonderful leather goods for me (from bags & belts to phone cases & key rings) from his workshop at the house - but he doesn't make shoes. I'll keep looking....

  7. You are able to buy handmade shoes!!! My goodness, that is such a novelty thought for me. 100 Kudos+

  8. We certainly liked your observations (we linked from Ruth's site) on life in general and Ruth's talents in particular. Hope you're finding the mountains and the rainbows. Drop an email if you wish - RED has our address.


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