Stepping up footwear industry in Australia

10 Feb 2023

Stepping up footwear industry in Australia featured image

Queensland bootmaker Jennifer Harper Burnett has recently travelled to Europe, Canada and the United States to investigate footwear design and manufacture techniques, including 3D printing of footwear, made possible by her Winston Churchill Fellowship.

Jennifer studied ‘lasts’ – a “last” is the foundation of footwear, like a mould, and something that shoes are made over. Despite how fundamental lasts are to shoemaking, Australia’s last supply chain is inconsistent and unreliable. This inconsistency when sourcing lasts prompted Jennifer to apply for a Churchill Fellowship.

“I felt frustrated that Australian’s footwear manufacturing sector hinged on such an inconsistent supply chain that lacked essential knowledge and equipment.” said Jennifer while discussing their Fellowship.

“Designing lasts is like making footwear – a skill that can only really be developed over time. Beyond basic shape considerations, it’s an intuitive, nuanced craft best learned alongside a master craftsman, who can provide feedback and help finetune.” said Jennifer while discussing the importance of travelling to deepen their knowledge and expertise.

“Restricted access to knowledge, and the general scarcity of last designers and producers, presented significant barriers to creating a local solution to address last supply in Australia.” said Jennifer.

“Jennifer’s report details a wealth of knowledge and gained experience afforded by their Fellowship. We are excited to see Jennifer’s contribution to the Australian footwear industry.” said CEO of the Winston Churchill Trust, Adam Davey.

Jennifer’s Fellowship included attending a lastmaking course in the United Kingdom and conducting interviews across the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States to learn the fundamentals of last design and production, and to investigate how the highly skilled, life-long craft of lastmaking can be learned.

In addition to Jennifer’s own work as a bespoke bootmaker, Jennifer intends to also share Fellowship learnings and experience to give back to the Australian footwear industry, as well as work with RMIT towards these goals as well as being an industry practitioner that Australian footwear manufacturers can discuss and resolve last design problems with.

Jennifer’s report recommends investigations into Australia’s potential to manufacture lasts; improving the already world class RMIT Custom Made Footwear course to better support students and teachers; as well as creating a national body for shoemakers.

lasts for shoemaking

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