Clogs with a Conscience
Isobel Schofield had a successful career. She was working as a Design Director for a well-known brand in New York City, a job envied by those aspiring to reach the pinnacle of the ruthless fashion industry. Although she had dedicated more than 15 years in clothing design and reached her childhood dreams, Isobel found herself feeling empty. She hadn’t made anything for herself for over a decade.
"I had been creatively burnt out, and nothing was coming out anymore. I realized I needed to put some more into my empty self instead of constantly producing, producing and producing."
That’s when Isobel decided to do the unthinkable. She left her successful career behind and went on what she called a "creative walkabout."
What was a “creative walkabout” exactly? She had no idea. She had no idea she'd eventually make clogs. She just needed a break from what she was doing, or rather, not doing. This, of course, was frightening for Isobel who calls herself a “practical and directly driven person.” So it was a BIG DEAL for her to go completely off the grid and allow herself to just take some time off. She left her apartment in Brooklyn, NY, packed up her things and lived lease-less for a year around the world.
Instead of setting herself to “do” or “make” something during this period of her life, Isobel simply let herself “be.”
As the days without a plan passed by, her creative confidence was recharged and the idea of making clogs came naturally after she apprenticed for a shoemaker in Minnesota for two weeks and took a course in Arizona to learn more about making shoes.
That’s when everything clicked and Bryr was born.
When asked what Bryr meant, Isobel’s eyes glowed as she said,
"I wanted something that represented English-ness and Swedish-ness (clogs are traditionally Swedish). The word Bryr sounds like the English “briar patch,” a nature sort of feeling. And it also means “to care” in Swedish. Both really resonated with me. It took a really long time but I knew Bryr was exactly what I was looking for."
And why did Isobel choose clogs?
"I love them personally. They're very sculptural, comfortable and simple, which makes them elegant."
For Isobel, "creatively fulfilling" herself doesn't even cross her mind anymore. Creativity is no longer missing in her life.
It's just right there.
What's different now is that Isobel gets to create the framework for how things get created. There's no industry deadline or giant meetings to showcase to the board. When she's inspired to make, she simply makes—and her new clogs are up on the Bryr website by the next week. She's no longer tied to industry calendars and feels incredibly lucky to do this. Everything happens organically at Bryr Studio.
"What's really lucky is that I get to design for me and my friends. When I'm thinking about making, I'm not designing for someone else anymore. It's so nice to be designing to my true taste."
Instead of thinking who will wear these clogs and in which season, Isobel gets to ask, "Do I like them? Would I wear them? Would my close friends wear them?" And to Isobel's delight, she discovered that the women who visit her store and buy her clogs are interesting, cool and creative women of substance. She was proud to learn that she resonated with the people who bought her clogs.
When Isobel got started, she didn't pay herself for a really long time. Luckily, she'd saved enough money over her long career and had funds to cover herself.
"I feel lucky I started a business in the time of the Internet. When I relaunched a year ago, I made a really small collection and I put it on the website. I did a pre-order sale and that helped fund the first round of materials I had to buy. The pre-order model really helped in the beginning. I didn’t have to take a big risk or write a huge check without having any idea if people will want what I was making. See if people want it and go slow because you’ll make mistakes."
And want the clogs, people did. Pre-orders came in and slowly but surely, Bryr Studio started getting attention from different fashion media and Isobel settled and built her studio in Dogpatch, San Francisco.
"I’m inspired by other brands in SF, especially Heath Ceramics. The way they’ve slowly grown in a controlled manner is what I look to as my model. Their fundamental values really resonate with me: make quality products, be here in twenty years and treat my employees well."
Having worked in fashion for 16 years, Isobel had seen the guesswork in corporate fashion that simply didn't work for a small business like hers. So when she wrote her business plan, Isobel was determined to not be part of the notorious industry cycle. She couldn't be part of the gamble and she didn't want to be.
Using her team of four's nimble size as an advantage, Isobel has some direction of her next collection, colors of the hides and the designs of the different pieces that make up a clog- the ankle strap, the toes, etc. But ultimately, Isobel lets her customers choose what they want, which also helps minimize the risk for Bryr Studio.
"Everything we make is usually taken home, used and loved, because the customer came in and chose what she wanted."
When asked about her thoughts on the future of fashion in America, Isobel reassures us,
"People are integrating technology with the small-batch model. It seems like people are coming back to having industry in America again and realizing that we can do it here. It’s just not going to be the same way we did it in the 80’s, but it’s doable. People are buying things because they like what the U.S. manufacturers are making. It’s exciting."
And what does Bryr Studio's CCM (Chief Clog Maker) make of her studio's role in the world?
"It’s a dream. I feel like we’re creating this environment, this world, this space together. The fashion industry is notoriously bad for that. I want to create an environment for all of us to be enjoying working and that it’s open and creative. Making clogs but also helping this space be positive and stay positive, friendly and open to all who walk in the door."
You can discover Isobel's beautiful world of Bryr Studio and get yourself a pair of handmade (Made In Dogpatch, SF) clogs for Spring 2016, 2017, and.. for as long as you love and take good care of them!