Candace LaCosse comes from a long line of Scandinavian builders and artists, so she always knew her life would be spent creating things with her hands. But it wasn’t until this UMD graphic design/journalism graduate headed to South Korea to teach English that her passion was truly ignited.
“I went there to teach and travel,” she explains. “But I came away with a complete appreciation for minimalistic, meaningful living. Their boutiques and living spaces were small, clean, simple, and well-curated. Their living spaces are for sleeping, and everything else is done communally. The simplicity touched me.”Candace returned to the States and decided to throw herself into an art form that reflected this simplicity. And what better way to go back in time to a simpler way of life than to make shoes – by hand, from scratch, using the tools of traditional cordwainers (shoemakers).
After finding an apprenticeship with Master Cordwainer, Molly Grant in New Hampshire, Candace packed her bags and headed off to spend six months under her tutelage. Grant owns The Cordwainer Shop, a third-generation family business that has been creating beautiful handcrafted shoes since the 1920s. Fashioned from the finest leathers and free from synthetic materials, her shoes are entirely handmade in her shop, designed specifically to fit each customer’s unique pair of feet.
Candace came away from the experience determined to make shoe making and leather work her life’s work.
A Home for Artists
The whole time she was studying with Grant, she notes, Duluth was also calling her name. “I grew up in the UP of Michigan, but I went to school here, and I now knew what I wanted to do and more importantly where I wanted to do it,” she says. “Duluth is such a unique market and a special place full of many creative people. And Minnesota is second only to New York when it comes to states that support their artists and foster creative communities.”
She found a space in downtown Duluth, in an upstairs studio at 12 E. Superior St., where she is launching Hemlocks Leather, creating fine custom footwear and handbags. A pair of shoes takes her several days to make and will sell from $200 to $500. “To create a pair of shoes,” she explains, “color and leather are selected, patterns are cut, and hand lacing is done using antique hand tools. The uppers are laced to the soles, placed on the shoe lasts and baked before finishing.”
Right out of the gate, she was able to sell her unique “coffee cozies,” hand-stitched leather wraps for Mason jars, to another local entrepreneur – Duluth Coffee Company, who intends to imprint their brands on the handy and stylish wraps.
In her new shop, Candace hopes to live the life she intended, without “selling out” to the concept of mass production. “We are always, always fighting against the tide to live a simple life in this country,” she says. “I want to create a meaningful, attractive product that, with care, will last a lifetime. It certainly won’t be mass production.”
She credits two Duluth businesses, both of which she works for, with giving her the inspiration to go forward with her business plan – Northern Waters Smokehaus and the Scenic Café. “These are businesses that are successful and do things the right way and have found their special place here,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot from them.”
Passing Knowledge Forward
Candace also teaches at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais with her mentor, Molly Grant. Students learn the age-old art of shoe making, using the original patterns designed in the mid-1930s.
The duo teaches students to hand-stitch and hand-lace their own pair of classics of the same designs worn by Henry Ford and such Hollywood legends as Shirley Temple and Mary Pickford. Students leave with a pair of handmade, one-of-a-kind shoes that will last a lifetime.
For more information on Hemlocks Leather, call 906-362-7104 or email [email protected]