Meet the Craftsman
Think there aren’t any craftsmen left in the USA? Meet Steve “Sudsy” Sudsbury, one of the few men in the country that can take a piece of leather and turn it into a shoe all by himself. Every year our Rediscover America Sale honors great American Craftsmanship. This year, as part of the celebration we decided to discover a little about this true American craftsman.
How long have you been making shoes?
I come from a town where nearly everyone was involved in one way or another with the local shoe factory. I could hit the factory wall from my yard with a baseball. My dad worked there. Let’s put it this way, I graduated from high school on a Thursday and I was working on the floor bright and early Monday Morning. That was 36 years ago. I remember I got paid $2.85 an hour and was happy to get it. I was on my way.
What does it take to be considered a craftsman?
That’s easy. Pride. First and foremost. You have to care about what you do. You have to pay attention to the details and want to do things the right way. You also have to love making things by hand. For a real artisan there is nothing like holding a finished shoe or a piece of furniture or whatever, and looking at it and feeling good about it.
How long was it before you considered yourself a craftsman?
It wasn’t until about 7 or 8 years in that I began to think of myself as a craftsman. I worked side by side with my dad. As a matter of fact for the last five years I was the head of the department he worked in. He was a sole stitcher. He was darn good at it too and he was happy with his job. But I wanted to learn it all. From start to finish. Funny, all these years later I still have things to learn. I think a craftsman has that urge too. Maybe you should add that to my answer above.
Your Maine roots run deep. How did you end up in Wisconsin?
Unfortunately, like a lot of American shoe companies, the company I worked for closed down. And I saw what that does to a town. At its height we had a population of about 10,000. Today, 17 years after the plant closed, it is down to 4,000. It’s sad to see. A lot of good people were affected. There were some great craftsmen working there too and they all had to leave and take up other jobs. Few are still making shoes and that’s a shame. Working at Allen Edmonds, I’m one of the lucky ones.
What does American Made mean to you?
Listen, I drive an American car, I have a flag on my front yard and one on my fridge. I’m proud of this country and I buy American when I can, but that doesn’t mean I am willing to settle for second best. And I don’t expect anyone to buy our shoes just because we are American either. I put pride in my work, I want every shoe that leaves here to be perfect. I know people work hard to make the money to pay for our shoes. I want to give them their money’s worth and more.
Where will we find the next generation of American craftsmen?
They’re out on the factory floor right now. I know it’s not like in the old days but believe me, there are still plenty of young men and women working here that are on their way to becoming great shoemakers. Like I said, you have to have a certain pride in the work you are doing and a hunger to learn more. These aren’t qualities that can be taught. They need to have it in them. I was helped along when I was a kid and when I see those qualities in a young person I want to do the same for them. When I see it in someone on the floor I do my best to help feed that hunger. The good news is, I see it every day.
What would you like a customer to know about the shoes you make?
For anyone picking up one of our shoes I would like them to know two things. First that a lot of pride went into making the shoe. Take a look at the stitches. That is all done by hand. A lot of attention to detail goes into everything we do. Second, I would like them to think about where they are made. I read somewhere that only 2% of shoes sold in America are still made in America. I would hate to see that number go any lower. But I would say to them, don’t buy our shoes or anything just because it is made in the USA buy it because it’s the best quality and value you can find. I know if they think about that, they’ll buy my shoes.