Martha Davis Takes A Step In the Right Direction

Martha Davis sustainable shoe line rethinks the future of shoes.

As an industrial product and shoe designer with a 15 year career span, Martha Davis is adept at problem solving. The brief for her residency at San Francisco’s Workshop Residence, a San Francisco-based sustainability incubator for artists and designers, was to create a line of shoes from local resources that weren’t being utilized.

A large order for is being packed into boxes at the Dogpatch district Workshop on a warm morning in July, the uniquely beautiful, made-to-last shoes inside are a testament both to the success of Davis’ mission, and to the evolution of a design principal that perfectly illustrates by limiting precious resources.

Already the creator of a successful and highly-coveted shoe line that produced 15 shoe styles per season, Davis took the opportunity of her two-month residency to reconsider the process of making shoes. Having studied the technical aspects of shoe design at the renowned Ars Sutoria Institute in Milan – unlike most designers in the field who rely on sketching- Davis was able to take the ingredients of shoe construction – calculating fit points, making wooden lasts and patterns – and re-imagine a recipe for forward-thinking footwear.

The remarkable results are a collection of three different types of shoes designed, “for the woman interested in challenging convention and taking risks,” describes Davis. Each shoe comes with its own sustainable story.

The Kasha shoe features a heel with colored resin heel and redwood.

The Kasha features a resin heel with two different types of heel, a high and a low version. The style is made from reclaimed wood from a 50 foot piece of old growth redwood that was salvaged from a wildfire. Ordinarily cut off and burnt for biomass, the section was too small for lumber merchants to use. To make it into a 3” heel, Davis created a mold, then poured polyurethane resin that was tinted red, turquoise and black in the workshop. The creative result, “celebrates its inherent characteristics and leaves it in its natural state,” says Davis. “Natural material is inherently very irregular. When you choose to work with it you have to hand select every piece.”

High heel Simone shoe featuring a wedge of black acacia with golden details and a brass plate.

The Simone style features a wood heel made from the round of locally growing acacia and a unique heat-treated spring steel shank that runs the length of the arch. Uncomfortable with typically short shanks that tend to twist and compromise the durability of regular high heels, Davis designed and specially commissioned the shank by a local machine shop that makes car parts.

Adjustable-heel Sugi shoe made with repurposed Douglas fir

The innovative Sugi, which includes a revolutionary adjustable heel height – delighting every woman who has ever wanted to discard her uncomfortable high heels midway thru a night out – were made from repurposed Douglas Fern brake stops used by a Workshop neighbor –  of the iconic cable cars of San Francisco’s Muni system. The stylish shoes feature high quality leather sourced from a Napa-based hide house that is vegetable tanned.

“I found local material easy to find and fairly readily available, the challenge was finding local resources willing to work with it because it was unusual,” said Davis. Once on board, the symbiotic partnerships with local business owners informed Davis’ discovery of the coincidental nature of working within limited resources – you don’t need to force the process, the best collaborations often happen naturally.

The collection, which also features a line of belts is now available online on the Workshop’s recently launched online store. So take a look at the future of shoe design, we promise you might never look at your shoes the same again.

Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.