A treat for your feet

29 Aug, 2011 04:00 AM
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Judy Smyth with a selection of her original style and award winning Milano leather boots.
Judy Smyth with a selection of her original style and award winning Milano leather boots.

IF you've ever been a kid in a lolly shop, you'll know what it is like to walk into the O'Connor showroom of Bindoon Boots.

And if you thought uggs were just soft, cosy, sheepskin pillows for your feet in shades of cream, think again.

Judy Smyth's handmade uggs and slippers creations are a kaleidoscope of colour in all shapes and sizes from the semi-orthopaedic, through to the very practical to the downright funky.

Of course you can still get by the "bootload" the ever-popular traditional creams and tans that were first loved by shearers, surfies and open cockpit pilots.

But if the individualist or fashionista in you is fighting for a say there's genuine cowskin, denim made from recycled designer jeans, luxurious Milano leather in eight colours, painted leathers, beaded boots, gold painted Dr Who boots and even a West Coast Eagles boot all cheekily designed by Judy, who's actually a Dockers fan.

And if you pull on a pair of Bindoon Boots, whether off the shop shelf or your own custom-made specials, you'll be in notable company.

Barry Humphries bought them for his wife and children, Cate Blanchett has a pair, so too Jamie Oliver and Matilda Ledger, whose red leathers appear in several photos on the wall, and the Pointer Sisters gave their feet a treat on their last concert tour to Perth.

As her Bindoon Cottage Craft Pty Ltd registered business name suggests, Judy's enterprise started small, low-key and in Bindoon 80 kilometres north of Perth in 1972.

"The local headmaster's wife and I were two bored housewives looking to occupy our time while the kids were at school," Judy said.

"We started making children's clothing, bonsai and painted t-shirts which we sold from our back verandah along with scones, jam and cream and products from other local artists," Judy said.

As demand grew the children's clothes were sold through Tinkerbell in Claremont and they ventured into hand-tanning lambskin hides accessed from the local butcher to make children's toys and coats.

"My mother and grandmother were dressmakers and my father owned a hardware store in Fremantle, which I ran for a time, so I learnt sewing and business skills from them," Judy said.

"Sheepskin boots only entered the mix a few years later after I moved back to Perth and honed my skills working part-time at West End Bootmakers which specialised in making leather boots and coats."

When the Fremantle Markets started in 1975 Judy was one of the original stallholders, a spot she still occupies today, providing a dynamic shopfront for her products and complementary and proximal outlet to O'Connor.

In those days the garage of her parent's home in Fremantle was her "factory" and although she dabbled with boots her business really cranked up when she bought a local bootmaking business in 1977, complete with its equipment which was duly relocated to the garage.

From the sparkle in her eyes she clearly loves her uggs and after all these years still gets a genuine thrill seeing others' enjoyment and comfort from wearing her special products.

Her boots have been retailed in the USA, Japan, Switzerland and London's Porto Bello Road markets but she says Aussies remain the most loyal customers and she has a wealth of repeat buyers.

The Bindoon Boots product range, achieved with a staff of 10, now includes boots, slippers, hats, mittens, jackets and toys with about 200 pairs of boots handmade each week.

Despite her business success and the many awards she has won, including an Australian design award for her bright coloured Milano leather covered boots, Judy will still be found on the sewing machine making boots most days.

"I enjoy sewing, designing and actually making the boots so why not," she said.

"About one to one and a half pairs of adult boots can be cut from a skin and we don't use Merino, crossbred skins are far better for boots."

Judy said there had been many high points through the life of the business particularly the crazy days of the America's Cup challenge in Fremantle.

The low point was the court challenge to the use of the word ugg a few years ago.

She is the current president of Australian Sheepskin Association Inc, which fought and won the case to be able to use the term ugg against American giant Deckers Outdoor Corporation.

"The 2006 court ruling was that ugg was a generic term in Australia," Judy said.

"Consequently, we can use it to describe our boots here, but outside Australia our product can only be marketed or referred to as sheepskin boots."

Other challenges have included competition from mass producers.

"One Japanese factory I know of makes 7000 pairs of boots a day, we make 200 a week but ours are handmade," Judy said.

"The quickest we could make a boot is probably 20 minutes for a basic child's boot but more intricate adult boots may take half a day."

Another challenge has been continuity of supply of quality skins and like many businesses, and somewhat ironically, Judy now relies on China, one of her major competitors, to supply tanned and colour dyed sheepskins.

"I used to get them from Eagle Nest tannery near Robbs Jetty, when it closed I went to South Australia, then Victoria and they are now quite difficult to source in Australia and sadly the quality is not as good," she said.

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READER COMMENTS

Roger Crook
5/09/2011 6:08:47 AM, on Farm Weekly

A symptom of age, I remember the business starting up. In those days we lived in the northern wheatbelt and the whole family had a pair of their slippers or boots. We plan a trip north in the Spring. It could be quite nostalgic.

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