About Jeff Mandel

Custom shoemaker located in Portland, Oregon

The Shoemaker

Who I am

I am a problem solver. I like to work with my hands, and I also believe in the appropriate use of machines and technology to make shoes. I am not a purist. My work is inspired by 19th and early 20th century shoe designs, often reinterpreting traditional shoe designs. My approach to design centers on line, proportion, color, and construction.

What I do

I make custom shoes in the classic European tradition using modern techniques and methods. I work directly with my clients to make shoes that suit their needs. This sometimes means straight up nice looking dress shoes, and other times a monster stomper fashion boot. Or maybe something very specialized from cycling shoes to safety toe shoes to drag racing boots. I make lasts, patterns, uppers, parts molds and many of the things needed to bring a shoe to life.

I also offer instruction on shoemaking, and consult on how to make shoes at any scale.

Passing it on

The outgoing and generous nature of the shoemakers I’ve met has enabled me to learn and develop the skills I have today. Together they possess a wealth of information that is extremely difficult to come by, yet they share it willingly. I strongly believe in passing that along whenever possible. Over the years I have offered lecture-demonstrations on shoemaking and mentored students. You can read more about one of my student’s project here. I try to respond in a timely way to requests for general shoe making information by email and make time personally for people who have questions, projects or just want to talk shop.

Jeff on Schumacher Straße

My Journey

I haven’t always made shoes

I had a good liberal arts education at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where I studied politics and Chinese language. During that time, I studied for a year in China at Beijing University. Just after graduation, I took a job in Suva, Fiji, in the Ministry of Finance, Electronic Data Processing Centre (EDP). Over the years, in IT, I’ve worked in government, non-profit, finance, biotech, and others.

After moving to Portland, I applied my programming, graphic design and IT project management skills to traffic safety for the non-profit Animated Traffic Law Center (ATLC). I helped produce cartoons, printed pieces and wrote an educational game for mobile devices. I coined the phrase “every corner is a crosswalk” which was the name of ATLC’s first cartoon and is now in the Oregon DMV drivers’ manual.

Learning to make shoes

After many, many years working on all sorts of information technology I started looking around for something different. My good friend Greg in Eugene gave me the book “Handmade Shoes for Men.” It’s a coffee table book that doesn’t tell you how to make shoes, but it tells you about how shoes are made. It was enough to pique my interest.

I read that book many times and tried to imagine myself doing such a thing. In July 2004, I took a week off of work to take the introduction to shoemaking program at Shoeschool.com, and convinced my boss to do the same. After that first class, I felt even more drawn in and searched for a way to attain a high level of skill. It soon became clear that the knowledge, materials and equipment I wanted were all in Europe. While traveling for work (still in IT) in the Netherlands, I met some shoemakers who were willing to teach me. (See below for details)

My learning program was self directed and consisted of working on my own at home for about a year and then traveling to the Netherlands seeking advice for my most burning questions. In 2006 I attended the most inspiring trade show I’d ever seen, Linea Pelle, the Italian leather show.

Study abroad, again.

In the Fall of 2015, 11 years after taking my first shoemaking class, I studied for a semester at the Dutch Shoe Academy, previously called the Dutch HealthTec Academy (DHTA). It was a dream of mine since the day I sat in on a class that René van den Berg taught there in 2005. Every Dutch shoemaker I knew were trained as orthopedic shoemakers and had been through that program. I wanted to have that experience as well. I took a semester of anatomy and physiology, last making, and pattern design – in Dutch.

While I had traveled to the Netherlands many times, I never really learned Dutch. In anatomy and physiology, language was by far the hardest part. When our anatomy teacher forgot the printed tests for the second week of class, she just read the questions aloud. Yikes, no google translate on that. It was a big hit with the class and the students themselves took turns creating tests and read them out every week trying to make the questions tricky to impress their classmates. This seriously improved my Dutch oral comprehension skills.

You can have a look inside the Dutch Shoe Academy in this video about the DHTA for the kids TV program Het Klockhuis. This video focuses on the design and construction aspects of the program rather than the medical.

My friend Ginus Nusteling put me in touch with his friend, Dr. Klass Postema, Professor of Rehabilitative Medicine at the University Medical Center Groningen. Dr. Postema literally wrote the book on orthopedic shoemaking. (Two actually) I was able to accompany him on his daily round in the University Medical Center. Together with the patient, Dr. Postema, a medical resident and the locally assigned shoemaker, I was able to observe the case management of various foot pathologies.

I’ve sought out shoemakers in every country I’ve traveled to including the Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, Lithuania, Germany, Poland, Sweden and France.

Traffic safety show 2009
Jeff Mandel in Olderberkoop, May 2005
Jeff Mandel in Olderberkoop, May 2005
Pop quiz a la Rolof
Pop quiz a la Rolof
DHTA Lastmaking class 2015
DHTA Lastmaking class 2015
DHTA Pattern Class Rene 2015
DHTA Pattern Class Rene 2015
Jeff at UMC Groningen 2105
Jeff at UMC Groningen 2015

Mischa Bergshoeff

In the town of Gouda I met Mischa Bergschoff. Mischa, like Ginus, graduated from the program Ad taught in Utrecht. Mischa is one of the most driven and meticulous shoemakers I have ever met. He won the best custom shoemaker award for Benelux in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013. I’ve seen a pattern here over the years. He basically wins when he feels inspired to make shoes to compete. He also has a tremendous understanding of anatomy, physiology and foot pathologies which make his shoes more than just spectacular to see. He has generously shared his advice and critiques with me. He taught me basic foot casting and custom last making techniques and runs one of the cleanest shops you will ever see.

Mischa Bergshoeff
Ad Horvers and Ginus Nusteling
Ad Horvers and Ginus Nusteling
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