For most people, wearing a pair of shoes is a pretty basic process. You put your feet here. You start walking. That's it. What more could there be to it?
A lot more, apparently. And from what I've seen of the shoes from Mohop, it's worth it.
Annie Mohaupt, the designer/owner of this line of unique wood soled sandals, is the woman who elevated the simple, one step, shoe donning experience into a truly rewarding, creative art. At first glance, the current crop of Mohops are a little surprising. They may seem like the Oakland, California, of the footwear world: there's no shoe there. But look closer on the Mohop web site (or her companion pages over on Etsy), and you quickly realize that these styles are not so much minimal, as flexible. Along the sides of each beautifully sculpted wooden footbed are a series of elastic loops.
Place your foot between the loops and lace it into place with one of the assortment of ribbons that comes with each order. The ribbons hold your feet securely to the sole. The elastic loops insure that the ribbons give a little as you walk. When Annie first explained to me the way her shoes worked, I immediately had one of those "why didn't someone think of that sooner?" moments. So clever. So simple. So effective. And yes, so fashionable.
So why didn't someone think of that sooner? One reason may simply be that shoe makers are usually shoe makers. But Annie originally studied to be an architect. It was a career she loved for the creative experience of building things with her own hands. Unfortunately, school doesn't always prepare one for the tedium and paperwork of life in a corporate office. After years of working at a desk, she realized she needed to get back to making things again. Out of the blue, she was inspired to try her hand at crafting shoes. And once her first batch of Mohops started selling briskly at a Chicago craft fair, she knew it was time to hand in her resignation and throw herself fully into this new career direction.
One other thing to mention once you've wrapped your imagination around the "tie it yourself" concept: Mohops is all about variety. Annie offers her shoes in three different heel heights: low, mid, and high. With three different toe shapes: Susanna (square), Leila (rounded), and Maryam (pointy). In two different widths: regular and wide. In three different kinds of wood: cherry, maple, and walnut. In women's sizes from 5 to 13 (complete with downloadable templates to make sure you're ordering the right size). Accompanied by your choice of eight different sets of ribbons (five unique ribbons per set). How's your math? That's over 19,000 different possible combinations.
But there's more! You can start tying your Mohop ribbons with the basic crisscross pattern over the foot that most shoelaces follow. Or you can download one of the step by step .pdf files to treat yourself to one of the 7 tried and true alternative lacings. Or browse your way through the gallery and get a glimpse of another two dozen ways of making these shoes your own. I think we're well past 100,000 permutations at this point. (Don't worry. There won't be a quiz later.)
Suffice it to say, if you thrive on having a unique pair of kicks on your feet, Mohops are for you. Anne has done her best to provide a truly satisfying shoe selecting/fitting/wearing experience. But I'll let her tell you more about it.
ECHID: I'm tempted to start by asking how someone makes the leap from architecture to shoe designing,...but then it doesn't seem like such a big transition when I give it some thought. You're still designing for comfort, ease of access, load bearing, and distribution of weight albeit it on a smaller scale. How did being an architect prepare you for designing shoes?
MOHOPS: Yes, you're exactly right. I often see clothing and other products with a certain minimalist and/or geometric quality described as "architectural" - but I feel like shoes are truly the most architectural objects aside from the built enviroment. Unlike furnishings, shoes protect from the outside environment; unlike clothing, shoes must be weight-bearing. I feel very "at home" designing shoes. But being an architect isn't just about design and engineering; on a day-to-day basis, it's really also about project management, and those are the skills I utilize the most while running my business.
ECHID: What other past passions led you to the path you're on now?
MOHOPS: Growing up as a 4-H country kid, I loved making all sorts of arts and crafts from a very young age. My biggest passions were drawing as well as designing and sewing my own clothes. My mom was a very DIY-type person - she was always taking things apart and fixing them. I grew up thinking that power tools are a girl thing!
ECHID: You got started making shoes so you could have something to sell at a craft fair. How did you happen to choose shoes at that point? Wouldn't candlemaking or painting ceramic tile have been easier?
MOHOPS: Yeah, there are a lot of crafts that would have been much easier. But the truth is, I didn't feel that architecture was the best career for me... I really, really wanted to be able to spend my days designing and making stuff. I didn't want to make any old stuff, though - I wanted to make something that would sell so well that I'd basically have no choice but to quit my day job and follow the cash that was rolling in from my craft business. I spent weeks thinking about what to make, and one day "shoes!" appeared in my head, and I knew that was what I had to make. However, I'm still waiting for the cash-rolling-in part.
ECHID: What was the turning point when this craft project turned into a full fledged shoe company?
MOHOPS: The turning point was within first hour selling shoes at that first craft fair, the Chicago Renegade 2005. I'd spent all summer working on prototypes, and as I was finally setting up my shoe display at the fair, a line started forming outside the tent. I was selling shoes as fast as I could turn around, and at that point I knew I had a hit. The following work day, I let my boss know that I would be leaving in about 6 weeks. I knew that I wouldn't be able to make shoes and still keep working even part time.
ECHID: Your early press coverage features shoes with a spikier heel. These days you're working more with wedges. Why the change?
MOHOPS: My earlier shoes were inspired by skateboards - they were composed of plywood with graphic screenprints. Those shoes were made by gluing and molding the plywood, then drilling and attaching a separate heel. It was all very labor-intensive, but resulted in a fairly simple-looking shoe, and I basically just got tired of that method. I started working on a wedge style by carving solid blocks of wood with my bandsaw. Those turned out to be even more popular than the plywood shoes, so I eventually phased out the bent ply style. I now use a computer-controlled cutting machine to create the rough shape of the shoes, based on my own 3D models. This method allows me to create a contoured footbed like traditional clogs, with arch support and concave cups at the heel and the ball of the foot, so they have that orthopedic feel that we all love about clogs.
ECHID: How hard was it to perfect your shoe design? Were there a lot of false starts? Or did you have it basically figured out from the beginning?
MOHOPS: It was soooooooo hard to perfect my shoe design. It took about a year and a half for me to create a pair that I could walk 100 miles in (my goal from the start). I'd walk a few miles in a pair, then something would fail, so I'd make a new pair with the first problem fixed, and something else would break. The entire shoe design - every single material and production method - is the result of thousands of hours of trial-and-error. Almost nothing from the initial prototypes made it to the shoes I produce today. In hindsight, I understand why apprentice shoemakers spend many years working for a master before heading out on thier own. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started!
ECHID: How secure are your sandals on the foot? The elastic loops on the side allow for a snug fit that has some give to it. Do they give the wearer a greater confidence when walking than she'd have with a slip on wooden sandal or slide?
MOHOPS: The shoes can be worn securely on the foot, or more loosely, depending on how one likes the shoe to fit. I like my lows to be very loose, like a slide, but tie my higher shoes pretty snugly - it's nice to wear higher heels that feel supportive in the right places, but don't pinch anywhere. The elastic loops provide a nice amount of give no matter which way they're tied. My initial prototypes did not have the elastic connection (patent pending!), and the ribbon ties cut into my feet almost immediately - pain is a great motivator for invention! Since then, I've never gotten a blister from my sandals because the elastic always saves the day.
ECHID: Tell me something about your own love for shoes? Was there a favorite first pair of sandals or wooden shoes that has stayed in your imagination over the years?
MOHOPS: I was always the shortest kid in my class, and I first fell in love with clogs when my mom allowed me to get a pair in the third grade - that extra 1.5" was very empowering! My love of clogs was renewed when I lived in Denmark for a year between high school and college. Clog heaven... although there, they were considered chore shoes, and were available at the Danish equivalent of Farm-n-Fleet. I wore them all the time anyway, and brought some home with me.
ECHID: Have you ever spotted one of your shoes "in the wild"? How did you feel when you saw someone wearing one of your styles?
MOHOPS: I have a couple times, although I know other people who have much more frequent spottings (I still don't get out of my studio much). I remember the first time: I always watch people's feet - not so much to check out their shoe style, but to analyze how their feet move as they walk. I was noticing from afar that this girl was wearing a pair of high-ish mules very well, with a nice long stride and rolling gait. As she got closer, I thought they were really cute shoes... then I realized they were Mohops! And then I got all misty.
ECHID: What do you hear back from your customers? What's your favorite compliment?
MOHOPS: I hear back from customers nearly every day - they'll send thank-yous by mail, via email or phone, by commenting on my Etsy feedback page or posting on Facebook. I have the nicest customers in the world, it's amazing. My favorite compliments are when they say my shoes are the most comfortable they've ever worn - I know it's impossible for that to be the case for everyone, but when someone is unfortunate enough to have feet shaped similarly to mine, they will have found the best shoes in the world for them. I also love it when they tell me how many compliments they get on their shoes!
ECHID: What are you most proud of as a shoe designer?
MOHOPS: I'm proud that I haven't given up, even though were many days when I didn't know if I'd ever figure out how to make the shoes I'd dreamed of making. And if I can be most proud of two things, I'm also proud that my shoes make people happy. :)