All photos by Ryan O’Hara Theisen; makeup by Sarah Graalman using M.A.C.
We’ve been so inspired by the small-business owners that we’ve met around the country in the spirit of our American Made initiative. Whether pursuing new side projects or making a total life leap, these makers are responding to a creative pull and transforming their dreams into their day-to-days. Here, meet one such maker: Isobel Schofield of Bryr. Isobel designs beautiful clogs and boots in her Brooklyn studio. The clogs are then handmade to order in Minnesota, using fine American leather. Read on to hear about Isobel’s challenges, successes, and lessons learned thus far. And if you’re in New York, stop by Bryr’s spring pop-up shop in Tribeca on April 24 for discounted new spring styles and winter boot markdowns. (Details below.) Our calendar is marked!
Tell us about how Bryr got its start.
After working in corporate design my whole career, I’d become creatively burned out. I decided that I needed to recharge my batteries, so I took a big leap and quit my job to go on a creative sabbatical. As part of the process, I made myself a set of rules to follow so I wouldn’t feel like I was in free fall. One of those rules was that it was okay to pursue things that seemed irrational—pursuits I’d talked myself out of in the past but were still lingering desires in my head. One of these was learning how to make shoes. There’s something about how immediate, tactile, and utilitarian shoes are that really appeals to me.
What an exciting new chapter! What were you feeling when leaving your corporate job?
I found it really, really scary to leave my comfort zone. A lot of my self-perception was built around my job, and so walking away from that was challenging. I had to examine what I really wanted in life, what I needed creatively, who I wanted to be when I’m 60. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve fully answered those questions yet, but I feel like I’m getting closer.
What would you tell someone wanting to do the same—to make the jump from corporate to creative?
Go for it! You only live once!
What do you find fulfilling about making and creating?
Diane von Furstenberg once said, “I like to have ideas and make them happen.” When I heard that, it really resonated with me and explained my drive to make things. I’ve struggled for a long time with the environmental issues of the design industry. I’m trying to tackle that by creating a product that’s well made, that will last, and that’s built with fair labor practices.
I read that bryr is Swedish for “to care.” How did you come up with that?
Coming up with the name Bryr was a team effort; there was a long e-mail chain involving all my friends trying to find a word that felt, sounded, and meant what I was trying to create. I stumbled on the word bryr while doing Internet research. I grew up in England, so I’ve always loved the woodsy countryside. It occurred to me that Bryr sounded like the English word briar, and I fell in love with it.
What most inspires you?
I do most of my design research shopping vintage fairs like Brimfields, Rosebowl, the Brooklyn Flea, and small-town vintage stores. I love procrastinating on Etsy and Pinterest, though there’s nothing quite like physically investigating the construction, fit, and fabric. I’m currently really into early American women’s pioneer clothing and especially love the ’70s take on this time period—movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Little House on the Prairie. I’ve been daydreaming about driving a little RV across the country with my dog Billie, collecting vintage finds along the way.
What do you see on the horizon?
One of the things I’ve learned from my sabbatical is to keep my eyes open to possibilities and to go with the flow. That said, I’m hoping to transition to having my production in-house in the next year. I’m moving my base of operations to Portland, Oregon, because the town has a long history of American bootmakers, and I want to join that legacy.
BRYR POP-UP SHOP
Wednesday, April 24 from 5 to 7 p.m.
RH Gallery: 137 Duane Street
* Cash and credit card only; drinks will be served.*
Kelsey Mirando is an editorial assistant in Books and Special Projects at Martha Stewart. She’s endlessly inspired by art, travel, and life in the Big Apple. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kmirando.