RACHEL CORRY | RACHEL SEES SNAIL SHOES | West Marin & Willamette Valley
Rachel Corry stumbled upon shoe-making through what she calls “a funny set of circumstances.” First, a serendipitous encounter with a charismatic clog maker named Jeremy Atkinson, at the Green Man music festival in Wales, back in 2008. She spent days talking to Atkinson, who makes traditional hand-carved clogs. “He remade my favorite sandals that I had with me,” she recalls. A year later, an electrical mishap at her Hayes Valley apartment in San Francisco resulted in a small fire that burned her entire shoe collection. But the catastrophe was not without a minor redemption. While sorting through the remains of her shoe casualties, Rachel discovered that she could now see the architecture of the shoes—their construction and their material layers. Inspiration struck despite—or perhaps because of—unfortunate circumstances. With Atkinson’s guidance via a long-distance correspondence, Rachel made her first pair of shoes, an adjustable, androgynous pair of Jesus sandals.
At the time, Rachel was working at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco’s Mission District while painting and making art during her off-hours, but she began crafting her own sandals and wearing them around the city. “I noticed that people were very excited about my sandals,” she says. She noticed that her shoes elicited a much stronger and more visceral reaction than her art ever had. Through two years of trial and error, during which she honed her craft by copying the forms of shoes she owned, spending hours at the cobbler distributor warehouses in the Bay Area, and working with broken shoes from vintage shops, Rachel developed her own line of sandals, heels, and other shoes.
Though the shoes are eye-catching for their modern, structural aesthetic and neutral palette—whites, nudes, and beiges especially—Rachel is inspired by the folk traditions of shoe-making: the moccasins of Plains Indians, the foot-hugging strappy sandals of Greek and Roman tradition. “Those are the shoes I love and get excited about,” the kind of shoes that are simple—and Rachel is adamant about the fact that anyone can make shoes. “I love teaching classes,” she says.
Her line of shoes, Rachel Sees Snail Shoes, is neither flashy nor frumpy. They are the Swiss muesli of shoes: simple, minimal, classic, timeless, and matter-of-fact. Each shoe consists of multiple leather pieces, cut with straight lines and simple geometries, with a sturdy leather sole. Some have buckles, others have ties. Most are casual and strappy, revealing equal parts skin and leather, suitable for warm weather and dry, sandy climates. “I don’t use a lot of hardware. I don’t like a lot of details. I leave edges sharp and clean, fairly plain. I make sure that my shoes are functional,” she says.
Though the shoes are eye-catching for their modern, structural aesthetic and neutral palette—whites, nudes, and beiges especially—Rachel is inspired by the folk traditions of shoe-making: the moccasins of Plains Indians, the foot-hugging strappy sandals of Greek and Roman tradition. “Those are the shoes I love and get excited about,” the kind of shoes that are simple—and Rachel is adamant about the fact that anyone can make shoes. “I love teaching classes,” she says, about the sandal-making workshops she regularly holds; both skill-sharing and self-teaching have been crucial to Rachel’s success as a shoe-maker.
After living in San Francisco for almost a decade, Rachel moved to Bolinas in 2013, where she settled into her craft. “I was in love with Bolinas—all the imagery that came along with it, all the stories, all the personalities that I came across. I loved the skies and the landscape. It’s my ideal town of all towns.” It was the first time she ever pulled away from the city, and because of the geographic isolation, she suddenly had the time and space to focus intensely on shoe-making and dedicating herself to her own cottage business. Though she never planned on leaving the Bay Area, her Bolinas stint was short-lived. Due to high rents and difficulty finding housing, she ended up moving to the Willamette Valley in Oregon at the end of 2013.
“In Portland, I can afford to be a craftsperson,” she says. “I have a huge basement. I have the space to make art,” she says. “And I can make a living.” Leaving the Bay Area for financial reasons isn’t a new or unfamiliar story, but it’s a particular narrative whose repetition confirms the difficult reality of urban survival for craftsperson or artist. One single move crescendos into a mass exodus, diminishing once vibrant creative communities. One single move adds to a growing spark, contributing to a thriving creative community. Wherever we are culture shifts, and so does the landscape.