There are few other indicators of a lovely heart than the act of caring. The recipients of care, whether persons or objects, become uniquely beautiful. Isobel of Bryr Studio, has taken the opportunity to care for herself which has only encouraged the care of her craft. In fact, the word “Bryr” means ‘to care’ in Swedish. The one-of-a-kind shoes that Isobel creates support the name of her business in every way.
After multiple years working for a major retail company as a design director, Isobel decided to take a big break. Although, she had reached such great achievements as a designer, she realized she wasn’t really making anything anymore. Much of her time was spent attending meetings and mentoring younger designers. A feeling of complete creative burnout took place, which kick-started her ‘creative walkabout’, as Isobel calls it. “At this point, I gave myself permission not to be a designer or maker anymore. I was like, alright, maybe I just want to become a lawyer or something crazy like that,” Isobel reflects with a smile. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she was meant to create. She still really wanted to design but in a smaller more immediate way.
“I always say that I accidentally started a [shoe] company,” Isobel admits. Stemming from an undergraduate sculpture degree, she has a tendency to enjoy 3D design and working with various media. Making shoes was something she had always been interested in, so she began exploring ways to get her hands involved in the trade. Via an online search, Isobel found a quirky shoe school with a passionate teacher near Sedona, Arizona. The students’ work portfolio showcased shoes that were more like a work boot “shit kicker” style instead of dressier shoes, aligning more with Isobel’s taste. A week of one-on-one instruction with her fantastic teacher jump-started her skill-set.
Isobel frequents leather warehouses that have existed in Sonoma since the turn of the century.
Once the leather is brought back to the studio, it’s brainstorming time. She gets inspiration from specific colors of leather, drawings, and bits and pieces of what she has seen online. Isobel still sketches but very roughly and usually begins handling the shoe immediately to get a better feel. If she only designed and outsourced production, there would be less room for tweaks to improve the shoe. Simply put, there would be less care. Instead, Isobel is able to improve upon the lines she merely drew by physically seeing the leather come to life in her hands as she builds on the base of the shoe. This is what makes her happy.
“There are also a lot of people in this world who receive satisfaction from actually making things, diving into that one-on-one relationship with the object you are making.”
Not only does Isobel intentionally think about the design of her shoes, but also intentionally wears them herself. She observes which style she wears for certain occasions and which style she gravitates towards wearing the most. This immediate experience influences her production of shoes. There are a few Bryr styles that will consistently remain on the website. Then, there are a small batch of styles that are exclusive. Once they are out of stock, they are gone and Isobel will move on to designing a new style. She believes this is a privilege of small business. A craftsman is able to choose to do new things and keep the creative fire burning. “Small makers can compete in this world because what we have the ability to do is be really nimble and make new fun design. When big companies make one style, they have to make thousands of them. But small businesses can do something new. The customer knows they are getting something special. And I think they like that.”
“there are people who are creative in a designer way, who are cerebral about ideas. But there are also a lot of people in this world who receive satisfaction from actually making things, diving into that one-on-one relationship with the object you are making.”
“Small makers can compete in this world because what we have the ability to do is be really nimble and make new fun design. When big companies make one style, they have to make thousands of them. But small businesses can do something new.”
Isobel’s first moment stepping out onto her own was filled with excitement, but she was not shy in admitting that it was also terrifying. She relays advice to budding craftsmen by suggesting to have savings built up to support you for a year. If you have some financial security in the uncertainty of new business, there is freedom to explore through trial and error. Her encouragement, however, is that we are currently living in a great time for the renewed maker in our society right now. There are amazing tools to help with the backend parts of the business, such as making your own website and accepting payment transactions.
Isobel shares with us that “there are people who are creative in a designer way, who are cerebral about ideas. But there are also a lot of people in this world who receive satisfaction from actually making things, diving into that one-on-one relationship with the object you are making.” It is obvious while speaking to Isobel about Bryr and her craft that she has found peace in the decision to leave the corporate world. For her personally, the jump has been truly rewarding for her creative energy and self-discovery. As believers of the craftsmen resurgence, we are attracted to Bryr, a business that is not just trying to be authentic, but is the real deal.
“My fantasy is that I’ll still be around in 10 years and be a brand that stands for something and that is still making product that is beautiful and well-made. That is what my hope is.”
We desire the same for Isobel. This is the time and place for such care to be put back into products for us to use and love.