Photos by Jeff Cornejo
In the 1970s, North Hollywood was a cottage industry for hand sculpting wood bottoms for shoes.
Though the industry shuttered, Calleen Cordero has been reviving this lost art for the past 17 years, and we've been proud to carry her wares for much of that time. Her artisanal ethos defines every element and process that goes into the creation of her shoes, bags, and belts. We visited her Los Angeles factory to glimpse the remarkable, sustained craftsmanship behind her brand.
Each part of Calleen Cordero's shoes—from the outsole to the insole to the heel—is meticulously handcrafted; a single pair can pass through up to 36 pairs of hands over the course of its production. Above, in front of a wall of stencils, an x-acto knife is used to cut a piece of suede. All leather for the shoes is cut using the custom stencil for a size and style.
Calleen's signature studded ornamentation—shaped in wide array of geometric and natural patterns—is comprised of solid nickel and brass studs, each of which is kick-pressed in by free hand. The exact amount of pressure must be applied to embed each stud; not enough pressure and it doesn't close, too much pressure and the leather rips.
Once a piece has been riveted, the rear is covered with an additional piece of leather. Here, a belt receives its backing. Afterwards, edges are hand trimmed and burnished.
Shoes are given a test run on the factory floor, and Calleen will often take part. On the right, a new strap across the front of this particular pair of sandals was judged too tight and sent back for stretching.
Calleen says her goal from the beginning was to create an environment that felt like a home for her employees. Many of the artisans who work for Calleen have been with her since the brand's inception.