Handmade, customized footwear has become increasingly rare over the last century, and the words that capture that craft sound foreign to some. Words like factory-made, warehouse, and disposable have taken their place.
In his Salt Spring Island studio on North End Road, however, Nathan deBridge creates artisan leather footwear that is durable, elegant, artistic, and ultimately comfortable. That is why I’ve been smitten with the Soul Path Shoes sandals and moccasin-boots since I first saw them.
The quality is beyond what most of us have come to expect in a boot or sandal. To me, that is where the true beauty lies—in the way a pair of sandals or boots can shift our expectations of footwear. Footwear can be made to actually fit our unique feet instead of trying to fit our feet into standardized footwear.
Nathan’s journey to Soul Path Shoes all started with a trip around the world and a toolkit of leather tools in his bag.
He explained: “When in Zimbabwe, I’d hoped to find an artisan to make a pair of classic leather strap sandals, but I couldn’t find anyone doing this at that time, and I refused to buy a pair of foam sandals from China in Africa.”
He decided to use his leather tools and make a pair of sandals. While in France, his research led him to a design that was traced back 3000 years to Ethiopia. “I used a piece of tire to make the sole and made the first pair fit to Vie’s feet, then made myself a pair. We wore them for the rest of our trip.”
“When I came back, friends wanted them. I hand stitched them, doing it part time for the first five years. I used the same design because there was nothing to improve upon, but I transitioned from tire soles right away. Now I use Vibram rubber soles for the moccasins and sandals because they’re light and flexible.”
When I got a pair of his sandals, Nathan described how the straps fit around the major bones of the feet so there’s no pressure, which is great for feet with bunions. No part of the sandal crosses the instep or cuts off circulation. With no hardware, each sandal has a single, continuous strap that is fully adjustable after the leather stretches.
The moccasin-boots came later, aptly named as they’re a moccasin and boot hybrid. Conventional boots and shoes are constructed with a “last”—a wooden or plastic form that is a standard shape and size around which a shoe is constructed, resulting in a standard shoe size and shape.
Nathan’s moccasin-boots are individually patterned, based on a mold made of each customer’s foot and leg. The leather is then cut according to this pattern and the moccasins made for that person only. Customers often choose to keep their pattern for future orders. The moccasin-boots come in a full range of sizes from ankle height to full knee high, and a variety of lovely leather colour combinations.
Soul Path Shoes creates custom footwear for people anywhere and ships moccasin-boots around the world. With a video and instruction, Nathan teaches how to take a simple mold of your own feet and legs, using duct tape!
If you live on Salt Spring Island or nearby, you can visit his studio on weekdays nearly year-round to place an order, and he’ll make the mold. It’s always recommended to call or send a message to book an appointment.
When asked if he’ll be making shoes for the rest of his life, Nathan said, "When I started this work, it was my soul path and has served me well, but my soul longs to express itself more fully in the medium that is my first love—music. I have plans for a Holistic Music Centre and classes for healing and community building with music. I cannot promise that the shoe studio will not be transformed into the Soul Path Music Studio in the future..."
So, if you’ve been wanting a pair of moccasin-boots, it sounds like you may want to order them sooner than later!