We recently caught up with Renée Macdonald in her Strathcona studio. She’s the one-woman show behind Westerly Handmade Shoes, and the 2015 winner of the Carter Wosk BC Creative Achievement Award for Applied Art and Design. There’s a lengthy waitlist to get her shoes on your feet, but the craftsmanship that goes into each pair makes them well worth the wait. We love her laid back and local appreciation of movement, East Van, the ocean, CBC radio, and a good slice of pizza.
What area of Vancouver do you live in and what do you love about it? I’ve been living in Kitsilano next to the beach for the last six years. Coming home at the end of a long, hot summer’s day and being able to walk straight into the ocean is my favourite thing about being in Kits. I love summertime yoga in the park. And the views of the city, North shore mountains, ocean and Kits Beach Park never get tired.
What are your go-to food spots in the city? I love The Naam for any meal of the day, it’s my perfect comfort food. Always happy to grab a slice from Goldie’s Pizza. And when I feel like treating myself to a nice dinner out Bao Bei is top of the list. An eclectic assortment, but there it is.
Three places newcomers to Vancouver absolutely must-see: When I have guests come to Vancouver I love to show them around, but only on bikes. It’s not to be difficult, only that this is how I know the city best. Start off at Spanish Banks and ride along the water and seawall all the way out and around Stanley Park. I also love sending people to Top of Vancouver revolving restaurant to get a completely different perspective of the city.
What inspires your designs? My main inspiration is movement. Our feet are nearly always in motion, and our footwear needs to be able to keep up, so I always have this in mind during the design process.
Tell us about your favourite space to work. I love being in my East Van studio. This is of great fortune to me, as it would be hard to get any work done if I didn’t. Even though it is a very functional work space, I have set it up in a way that is aesthetically pleasing to me which in turn encourages more creativity and productivity. I love being surrounded by things I find beauty in.
If Westerly had a soundtrack what would it sound like? Can CBC radio be a soundtrack? That’s what can be heard most of the time in my studio. I also need to have Edith Piaf at the ready for those times that demand her.
What is your favourite tool in your studio? This is a tough question for me. My lasting pliers, perhaps? I have three pairs and love each of them for different purposes. But now that I think of it, it is really my hands that I most often stop and have gratitude for. I’d have to say my hands.
Is there a local designer you admire? I am often squirrelled up in my studio, paying less attention to what’s going on around me than I normally care to admit. That said, I have been taking note lately of Nicole Bridger not just for the simple elegance of her designs, but also for her ethical and sustainable choices.
Say you get to meet your biggest idol and present them with one of your creations, who are you meeting and what are they receiving? I don’t really have any idols. I did just finish making a pair of boots for my mom which I was much more nervous about than one might imagine. Growing up my mom made a lot of my clothes. Even for my first job, she and a friend got together and made some blouses for me so I would have some fresh new items for the office. So for many, many reasons, I really wanted to do a great job for her. I made her a pair of vintage style boxing boots, and she loves them. Her joy over them couldn’t have made me more pleased.