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Wootten

Wootten

Like all good cordwainers, Jess Cameron-Wootten has an impressive beard, a penchant for crumpets and is following in the footsteps of his father.

“Dad was extremely committed to making everything to the absolute highest quality,” he says. “It sounds like a cliché, but anyone who spends two whole years of their life handcrafting a small house from stone and wood must have some dedication.”

Jess is the leather craftsman and head cordwainer behind Melbourne bespoke shoe making company Wootten. His father, Ross, learnt the craft in the 1970's from expert Bulgarian shoe maker George Koleff in South Australia and is remembered not just as a fine shoe maker, but as a consummate people person as well.

Jess grew up surrounded by the quirky language and delicious smells of his father's dying trade. Now he has his own red brick workshop in Prahran filled with his father's old lasts (wooden foot-shaped moulds) and an exotic array of animal leathers to meet the needs of an increasingly niche market.

“I'm told it smells wonderful, nostalgic and of leather... I can't really smell it anymore,” says Jess. “But everyone else enjoys it!”

Harnessing the spirit of the 'slow movement', which began as a one-man protest against a fast food chain in Italy, Wootten's focus is on sustainable, timeless fashion . This mainly manifests itself in the form of custom made leather shoes - although not just your everyday tan brogues. Think electric blue monk shoes, classic derbies and fold over boots available in every colour of the Neapolitan ice cream rainbow.

Among our favourites of Jess's creations are his leather machinist aprons. Originally designed for the baristas at a friend's cafe on Little Bourke Street, Wootten's handmade leather aprons with their English brass fixtures and sensible shoulder bracing have become something of an underground cult. Durable yet lightweight, they're perfect for the workshop, kitchen and garden – though one man bought one solely to wear while he polishes his shoes.

But it hasn't always been blake stitching and soling. Jess graduated from Monash with a degree in industrial design and had a brief stint working as a designer in the automative industry before realising that he wanted to carry on the family legacy. He returned to university to study shoe making and approached Peter Cordwell, who was the owner of orthopedic and sports shoe maker Custom Fit, in 2008.

Jess flourished under Peter's tutelage and went on to take the reins of the business. Custom Fit became Wootten in 2012.

Just like Dad, Jess believes in the importance of a proper chin wag with his customers – though he says the traits that remind him most of his father are that he's particular and dedicated to the job at hand.

And his dedication seems to be paying off. Aside from the usual stream of orders for bespoke accessories and shoes, Jess is working on a few pieces for inclusion in the 'Melbourne Now' exhibition to be held at the National Gallery of Victoria at the end of the year.

We think his old man would be pretty pleased with that.

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Check out Jess's leather cushions, laptop sleeves, booties and aprons.