Hi there! My name is Faye Sevilla Smith, and I’m a shoemaker living out of a suitcase with my professor husband and our 7-year-old son (it’s a very big suitcase!). We live in Philadelphia for part of the year, and Barcelona for the other part. My shop is called Sevilla Smith.
Before Sevilla Smith, I worked in the film industry for almost 20 years, dressing actors and traveling around the world. I always struggled to find the right shoes for the job: something comfortable enough for a 20-hour work day that was appropriate for fitting an A-list actor in the morning, then buying mudcloths at an African stall in the afternoon.
My life took a turn when my son was born prematurely during a work trip; that near-death experience made me rethink how I wanted to live. Then one day, as I was wandering around the medieval alleyways of Barcelona’s Borne neighborhood, I stumbled into a wonderful little shop filled with fabulous shoes. There was something about the shoes that was special, intangible. They weren’t trendy, flashy or luxe, but they had an aura about them that made them unique. I saw a small workshop behind the counter with machinery, zinc tables, and scraps of leather. Curious, I asked the owner, Niccolo, if he made the shoes himself. “Of course!,” he answered, to which I replied, “Would you teach me?” Amazingly, he said yes.
I began my instruction two days later, sweating and learning in Niccolo’s tiny workshop while a girl upstairs strummed Bob Dylan songs on her guitar. Day in and day out, he taught me everything he could, using hand gestures and drawings to combat our language barriers.
When I returned to the US, I jumped into shoemaking with both feet. I set a goal of making 50 pairs of shoes in 50 days; I told myself that if I could keep up with that pace, for that long, I would enjoy taking on this craft as my career. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure if my muscles could keep up, but I got stronger and stronger, more adept, and through it all, I found that I really loved making shoes.
My process today for coming up with a design is very similar to when I was working in film. I start with a character – often a friend – and think about her personality, style, wardrobe and life. From there, I think about the shoes she would wear and make sketches, which is a fairly identical process for costuming. Next, I draw out the design on a shoe last to make a pattern. The first prototype I make is always in my size (#perks) so I can test drive it for a while to see if it’s livable and lovable.
I spend three to nine months a year traveling and being inspired by everything – and everyone – around me. Being on Etsy has been absolutely instrumental in creating my business and connecting with a community of makers to share support and wisdom. Many of my shoe clients actually have Etsy shops, too (who better to appreciate handmade than makers themselves?), and most of my work aprons, stamps, clothes, and bags come from Etsy as well. The thing about traveling so much is that you’re inspired aesthetically, while simultaneously yearning to have less “stuff.” You start to appreciate simple beauty and become increasingly selective about the things you call your own. But most importantly, you always ache for comfortable shoes.
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All photos by Sevilla Smith.