“Now that I have other teachers [working] out of this space, I thought I should not call it my own space,” says Keiko Hirosue. “I should have a communal space.” Brooklyn Shoe Space sits near the corner of Bedford Avenue and S. 5th Street in a building occupied by a growing number of artisan workshops. It’s owned and operated by Hirosue, a Japanese transplant and professional shoemaker with 10 years of experience.
Since quitting her job in May, Hirosue has focused all her energy on turning the sunny little loft into a multi-use workshop. The studio is filled with heavy, secondhand machinery, wooden shoe forms called lasts, scraps of leather and shoes that Hirosue designed, but most of the space is taken up by a sizable worktable, perfect for those in dire need of room to work on their projects.
Premium membership at Brooklyn Shoe Space costs $375 per month and includes unlimited access to the workshop, classes at discounted rates and limited storage space. For the less experienced, Hirosue and other instructors offer a number of classes, including an introductory course on the theory of shoemaking that will set you back $40. Students learn how to choose lasts, the complete anatomy of a shoe and the best places to buy materials—Hirosue also operates Brooklyn Shoe Supply, a shoemaker supply company she started in June.
The $575 moccasin making classes, which take place over the course of two days, is a great introduction to the shoe arts (the next one is scheduled for Jan. 20-21). And for those interesting in putting their introductory lessons to the test, there’s an intensive, six-class pattern-and-shoemaking workshop for $600. Every student leaves with their own bespoke pair.
“I was taking classes at F.I.T. and found out about Keiko,” says Nicole Shwirtz, a Brooklyn Shoe Space student by night and digital marketer by day. “Making shoes and bags is what I love to do, but not what I’m paid to do.”
Many students tend to fall into shoemaking, including Hirosue herself. She moved to New York in 2003 and planned to enroll in law school, but when that didn’t pan out, her then-boyfriend, now-husband, encouraged her to take shoemaking classes like she’d always wanted to. She ended up taking 10 classes with shoemaking guru, Emily Putterman-Handler, and catching the shoe-crafting bug.
“I wore the shoes I made and [people were] like, ‘Where’s that from?,’” Hirosue says. “I made them! It was so nice to be able to say that.”
In 2009, Hirosue started her own company, K* Shoes, but found it too difficult to manufacture locally and on a medium scale. That’s why she hopes to eventually turn Brooklyn Shoe Space into a mini-manufacturer where small-time shoemakers like herself can create sample productions, prototypes and limited runs of their designs. Between teaching and her busy home life, Hirosue is designing a more affordable shoe line that can be easily produced in her workshop. She wants her students to one day do the same.
“I hope that everyone who’s learning can come back and make their own line,” she says beaming at two patternmaking students. “Once you start making shoes, you get hooked.”