(Have you read my first post in this series local craftsmanship: Satchel leather handbags in the Power of Passion series?)
This awesome and inspiring designer is creating beautiful handmade leather shoes. A South Carolina native, SCAD graduate and Italian shoemaking-educated young man has created a high-end brand of shoes for men and women, selling online and in select stores in Savannah and New Jersey.
I contacted Michael Mack on a whim*, and he was SO gracious to take the time to both talk on the phone and also answer my million questions via email. Here's the Q & A. Please take a moment to visit his site and if you make a purchase, don't hesitate to mention that you heard about him here, at moss & honey.
Michael Mack of Michael Grey Footwear responding to questions from moss & honey:
What's your background (where did you grow up and how did you end up in this field) and what motivated you to create your own brand of shoes? I graduated from the Savannah College of Art and design with a bachelors in industrial design. I grew up in South Carolina, and as a young kid I was always very interested in building and creating things. I did a lot of sketching and drawing through the years growing up which led me to a career in the arts. I started at Scad in architecture my first year before switching to industrial design the second year. After graduating from Scad I immediately begin designing for other companies. The experience I gained in six years from designing for various brands let me to feel it was possible to start my own line.
How are your shoes different from other brands? (They look beautiful and high-quality, obviously they are miles apart from store brand shoes. I just wanted to hear from you, as the creator.) I would have to say what makes my shoes different than other brands or two specific things. Most importantly I don't look to other brands for inspiration to find out what they are doing with the market is doing and then base that on my collection. I find that in doing things that way it's very hard to come out truly original. The second thing that makes my brand different than others is my unique passion for Footwear. I've invested years of my life not just learning how to design the product but also learning how to make it, living abroad in Italy for a year and learning how to hand make shoes as well. All of these things really help me in creating my designs, and being able to realize them quickly and exactly how I envisioned them.
3. How did you achieve your goal technically and what resources helped? (connections/people, campaigning, education, travel, etc.)? We did crowd funding on Indiegogo.com. We also put in as much of our own capital as we could. In addition to that we did small investments with friends and family and angel investors.
Of these factors, which was the most essential to creating your unique brand, and why - education, experience, talent/skill, passion/motivation? I definitely have to say that all of them are equally important. Without one it is impossible to do the other (for me). They are so closely intertwined that I just am not able to decide. For me, my upraising lead towards education, in which I used the talents that I've been given in school to develop into a professional. And after school, getting the experience was key to really learning the industry and finding out how things work before starting on my own.
Who were your biggest supporters? My wife is my biggest supporter. She has been so supportive in every step of this process and it would have been impossible to do this without her there every step of the way. (awwwww... So sweet.)
What does a typical work day look like for you? A typical workday generally consists of waking up and making a list before I get started on anything to find out what I want to achieve that day. I'll then check emails and start on some sketching or designing of concepts for future collections. Many times these designs will never actually see the production line but it's always good to keep forecasting into the future to see where it's possible for your mind to go.
How often do you travel overseas for your business? At this point in time I'm usually traveling overseas on business every 3 to 4 months. I usually stay 2 to 3 weeks and then back to New York. Sometimes I stay abroad for a month, but it's not common. I know how important it is to be successful in the workplace, but it is also extremely important to be present at home and spending time with your family. It's really no fun to be successful when you have no one to share it with and support you. (Good for you, Michael.)
Lastly - what advice do you have for other artists/entrepreneurs struggling to bring an idea out into the world? Make it clear what you want to achieve. You can start as simple and as basic as just writing it out on paper. Once you've done this don't get overwhelmed or do too much at once, break the project into small pieces that you can handle, and that way you can steadily be moving to achieving your goal seeing progress all the way there.
Thanks Michael! It was a pleasure talking to you and I wish you continued success with your shoes.
* On a whim - i.e. in my brave (or foolish) way of contacting misc designers/artists out of the blue, and hoping they'll be kind enough to answer my questions and give me of their time. I'm always curious/intrigued to hear about the vulnerable process that is unique to each individual entrepreneur, as they create something from nothing, that then benefits/contributes to the world around them. (Contacting people is a risk, and many times I've been ignored, or even worse - rejected for my curiosity, as you might have read here. I do understand that not everyone has the time, or patience, to pause their work and address my questions/reaching out. Just because I'm interested, doesn't mean I deserve to be addressed. And I get that. BUT, when I'm able to create a relationship with another artist, and hear how they journeyed to the place they are now - I am filled with awe and inspiration. I hope you will be too.)