Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Madeleine T. Guerin.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I descend from centuries of artisans in France, my father comes from the Loire valley and we count generations of weavers, tailors, bakers, even a galloche-maker, behind us. I can’t say where this endeavor into bootmaking began, as all the pieces of the puzzle contribute to the whole, but I have always had a fundamental need to make things with my hands. I was fortunate to study art and architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, and while typical architecture schools taught their students how to design buildings, at RISD we learned sculpture, figurative drawing, we designed our own SPECIES and then the habitats in which they live. So began a foundation in how to step back and analyze, understand, interpret and design in any realm, to think critically of both my environment and the work I produce. My thesis was a narrative film about a mason whose knowledge and craft are obsolete, lost in a country with no space to work in; unwittingly I recounted my own angst-ridden tale.
My professional experiences were in various workshops in the US, France, and Italy: theatre prop making, set design, costumes, industrial train and architecture models, tradeshow booths, furniture, cabinetmaking, construction… I did not recognize hand-making shoes as something one could actually DO until I read an article about Cordwainers College in London; I was also 3 months pregnant with my first child hence unable to jet off. I was finally able to attend Cordwainers for their Intensive Summer Program (by then a school at the London College of Fashion) bringing my then two children ages 4 and 2 with me to London. Another child, and my husband’s 2 year-long deployments to Afghanistan/Iraq with the Navy really delayed development of footwear skills, but I was so fortunate during this time to discover a bootmaker from Colorado who begrudgingly, after much badgering, agreed to teach me his valuable knowledge. And so, I became a bootmaker.
Five years now I have been making boots. While raising my children takes up the bulk of my time presently, I am able to work every day in my shop, improving on skills that will take a lifetime to really master, if “mastery” is even possible. Space and tradition are vital to my story: after discovering that the type of “Ten Footer” shoe shop that was once ubiquitous in my area of Massachusetts (the home of American shoemaking) is a zoning violation in most communities, I took a year to rewrite local zoning laws to allow for artisan studios and saw through the bylaw’s successful passage. I also began lecturing on the history of shoemaking in our region during its infancy and why the passage of knowledge from generation to generation was destroyed by the rise of large scale manufacturing, how the life of a shoemaker with apprentices in a Ten Footer kept alive invaluable knowledge and a way of life that helped communities thrive. I endeavor to resurrect that vernacular way of life, and do so happily, gratefully, each day.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
How can one determine if the road is smooth or not? The road is. I can say that certain moments along the route were frustrating: while living in Europe I searched for shoemaking schools and only found 4 year programs in Italy that were heavily design-based, not the hands-on education I was in need of. It was frustrating to discover Cordwainers College’s existence that had a program perfectly tailored to my needs, only after I had moved back to the US and was expecting a child. The timing seemed cruel and the 5 year wait seemed endless.
It was exciting, but daunting too, to realize that I was just beginning to work with leather as well as learn the 35+ processes of making a boot when it would take years and years to do it all well, despite the skills I had already acquired. It was difficult to balance staying home with my children and pursuing bootmaking, a practice that requires time and a different sort of concentration; my schedule has had to be very flexible yet disciplined. Money and debt are almost always a struggle for artists and artisans, I am in my 40s yet still have student loans. Leather and supplies cost upwards of $500 per pair of boots, before labor, and with little income during years-long training, while just beginning to get my name out there for a very particular niche product, and the cost of tools, supplies, and studio construction….well, debt is obviously a struggle. Again, the wait until a moment when income is tangible and stress doesn’t relate to the continuation of my life’s dedication is difficult.
Though all of these struggles are real, none compares to waiting a year, twice, caring for small children in pain, for my husband to return from war.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
As the bootmaker (bottière in French) Saboteuse, I create bespoke pull-on, western-style boots for a particular person, to their exact measurements, in a unique design based on a design impetus. Much like in architecture, I approach the design process as an interpretation of the patron’s character or needs/likes, and create a one-of-a-kind pair of handmade boots using traditional techniques and tools.
I work in my own Ten Footer shoe shop in Wakefield, MA, an homage to the shops of old and an integral part of our neighborhood fabric. I am proud of the knowledge and skill behind the work I offer: both execution of the American tradition of the side-seamed boot (a rich process of over 35 steps), as well as the strong design base I bring to the interpretation of inspirational sources into truly unique pieces of wearable art.
This design base is what sets me apart from other bespoke and custom bootmakers, who often look to the history of the American cowboy boot to reproduce beloved patterns that already exist, or slight variations thereof. My patterns derive from plants, shadows, leaf veins, old cast-iron stoves, elements of our indigenous past that will reflect both the patron wearing the boots as well as a story of PLACE.
What were you like growing up?
Growing up I felt a sort of angst about having dual cultures, being both French and American that I often found difficult to handle, alternately embracing or rejecting one identity for the other. I was well-rounded as a student in that I was a scholar-athlete, playing Varsity sports, an orchestra member, in National Honor Society and challenging classes. When I chose an art school it was a difficult, deliberate decision as it meant giving up both athletics and traditional academic pursuit that I loved, but it formed the way I see and interpret the world in the best of ways. The most rewarding part of having diverse interests was getting to know people in vastly different cliques and settings; never feeling like I belonged anywhere made it easier to relate to very different people.
- Boots take 80-120 hours to complete and hence can range from $3,500 – $6,000+ depending on design difficulty
- There is a non-refundable $1,000 design fee associated with each pair of boots.
- Address: 46 Valley Street
Wakefield, MA 01880
- Website: www.saboteuse.com
- Phone: 781-521-7934
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/saboteusebespoke/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saboteuse/