ince we're coming down to the wire for you to enter the Multnomah Design Your Own Clogs Contest (the deadline is Sunday night at midnight so it's high time you turned those doodles you've been working on into something you can submit), it seems like the perfect opportunity to remind you just who the creative force behind this Portland, OR, based brand really is. I profiled owner Mark Casperson over two years ago here on ECHID, but then I had the good fortune of being able to visit his workshop and see the equipment and supplies that allow him to craft his amazing designs. If you're not familiar with this unique shoemaker, read on. And when you're done, follow the link at the end of today's post and read some more. This man is an artist! He can turn out a purely functional pair of shoes if he needs to. But give him a glimmer of inspiration, and he can make any footwear fantasy come true. Just look!
Featured Designer: Multnomah Leather Shop
(originally posted April 15, 2010)
The Columbia River begins its long journey to the sea in the far northern ranges of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Heading north, then south, then briefly east for a spell, then south again, it seems to be taking its own sweet time getting anywhere. Born in British Columbia, it gathers strength in Washington state before making its mad dash to the west and losing itself in the Pacific Ocean...defining two-thirds of the northern border of Oregon as it goes.
Such is life. A series of random turnings and apparently contradictory changes of direction that eventually lead us to a destination that somehow looks inevitable in retrospect.
In 1907, Oscar Auestad's own journey took him from his native Norway to the United States. Wending his way toward the Pacific, too, he eventually found himself along the banks of the Columbia River struggling to carve out a life for himself in this new country. He put his hand to one job and another without finding satisfaction 'til in the midst of The Great Depression he saw an opportunity in his own backyard. As a boy in Norway he'd learned to fashion clogs for the fishermen he grew up with. They loved the shoes for the way the wood soles helped keep their feet dry. There in Oregon, Auestad stumbled upon workers in a cheese factory who would likewise find benefit in the support and protection from the damp that clogs could offer. And suddenly he'd found his niche.
And quite a niche it was. According to a short article in a 1939 edition of the San Jose Evening News, "this quiet workman and his crew are whittling out by hand more than 3000 pairs a year." And the article goes on to praise Auestad who, thanks to "fickle fashion", has found himself "in on the ground floor of a new industry."
Advertisement from the September 17, 1941 edition of the Eugene Register-Guard
Flash forward 70 years, and the clog manufacturing company that Oscar Auestad founded is still going strong today. Auestad passed the factory on to his son, Oscar, Jr., who in turn sold it to one of his employees, Rudy Casperson, in 1964, who then followed tradition and sold the business to his son, Mark Casperson, in 1989. As Mark points out on the Multnomah Leather Shop web site, "We still make the shoes the way Oscar did in Norway, nailing them by hand over wooden lasts." And thanks to "fickle fashion", the shoes are still selling after all these years.
I e-mailed a handful of questions to Mark to find out more about his company and his distinctive shoes. But instead of just firing back his answers in order, he sat down and composed the insightful article that follows.
There is a long history of clog-making in all European countries. It may seem that now all of them come from Sweden (and now, of course, China) but there were many people making them in Norway, England, France, etc. Apparently any farmer (like my grandfather) typically had the tools to turn a block of wood into wearable wooden shoes in an afternoon as needed. Our founder, Oscar Auestad, was trying to make a living during the Depression and turned successfully to the trade he had learned as a young man.
There were never many clog-making companies in this country, although my father said that during WWII several ex-employees of Oscar's tried to make a go of it. I think that the mass production of clogs was really solved by the Swedish and Nowegian clog companies. We survive because we are different: we don't mass produce them and we offer individual fitting.
After my father took over the business, he chose the name Multnomah Leather Shop to help people find his store which was in the Multnomah Hotel at that time. Many places around Portland are named after Multnomah, the Chief of a local native american tribe around 1850. I like the name and customers seem to remember it.
Kelly clog in purple suede/purple metallic leather
All of us have had our own impact on the styles, however I decided to start the two-toned wingtip and other styles because I like somewhat classic looks for shoes and I thought we could make them work for the clogs. Customers have suggested ideas, too. I got an email from a dessert chef in Illinois who wondered if we ever made Saddle Shoe clogs. I told her I'd certainly try and that's why that style is named after her: Wendi J. I welcome ideas from customers, although of course not all of them are keepers. The Kelly style was worked out by my wife with some tweaking of mine, so she got her name on it.
The Thompson was named for a local customer who wondered if we could do the wingtip in a laced version. The Bertram was for a customer in California who wondered the same about our Captoe style. Do you have any clever ideas for a clog? The sole and enclosed heel look has been evolving over the years. Most all clogs had enclosed heels before the mass-produced Swedish clogs began arriving here; we feel that the enclosed heel makes a better and more secure fit. My older brother Dean helped work out the way to put the rolling point behind the ball of the foot so that it moves you forward with very little effort as you step.
The basic clog style, the "Classic", has remained nearly unchanged since 1938, with various decorative straps added. Some of the other styles that were hot in the 40's did not do well later and were dropped; we have made several sandal styles and may try them again if I get some good new style ideas for them.
Multnomah clogs are still individually made, hand-nailed and constructed of leather and wood (no plastic anywhere). Our heel piece (shoe people call it the counter) is a heavy piece of leather that will shape over time to match your feet. A plastic thermo-form counter in typical clogs won't change shape unless it gets over 280 degrees. We wet-last the leather over wooden lasts (almost unheard of today), which preserves more of the feel of the leather. We can make them for unique feet: wider on one foot than the other, or shorter on one foot, or even with a thinner platform for one leg for those who need spine correction built into their shoes.
We naturally get customers who can't buy shoes just anywhere. I recently made some for a lady in California who wrote back that apparently she had never had a shoe made narrow enough for her and was very grateful that we could. Of course, our clogs' durability is a large reason for their success; don't wait until yours wear out to get a second pair, it might be a while. We have a money-back or do-over fit guarantee, we want customers to get the right fit.
I'm proud that I've been able to add to the success of this unique business and bring my own style ideas to life. I know that global manufacturing is the current trend, but I'm happy to go on treating our customers as individuals. Not everybody wears a medium and not everybody wants Black or Brown.
Two additional things you should know about Multnomah Leather Shop. First, the smattering of photos I've posted doesn't do justice to the range of styles and variety of leather available. And if you're interested in ordering a pair from Mark, you definitely shouldn't limit yourself to the swatches on display on the web site. Got a particular color you'd like on your clog? Ask! I've been designing a pair for myself and Mark seems able to pick up any shade of leather or suede I'd like to use. And second, the sky's the limit. Here's your chance to think outside the box and draw outside the lines. I get the idea that Mark loves to create cool shoes. (And as proof he sent me a confidential photo of a clog boot style he's hoping to make available later this year.) So if you choose to step out of the mainstream and design a pair for yourself, you'll find a willing accomplice at Multnomah Leather Shop.
Read more about Mark Casperson and see his one-person factory on ECHID here.
And don't forget to send in your Design Your Own Clogs Contest entries by midnight Sunday!
[On my feet as I blog: skinny jeans set off these Claud clog booties from the UK's Love Label brand.]