Oi Polloi

Interview: Danny Willis — Native Craftworks Main-Man

Published: Fri Nov 01 2013

We just got a fresh batch of shoes from Native Craftworks, so what better way to announce their return than with a quick pow-wow with main-man Danny Willis?

Starting things off lightly, how’s it going?

Good thanks, what about you?

Not bad at all thanks. Can you walk us through an average day in the life of Danny Willis, footwear mastermind?

I get into work just before nine and go through what I’m working on and what needs to be done that day. Then, in between drinking copious amounts of tea and the odd hot Vimto, I’ll spend time designing shoes, talking to factories, answering emails, discussing ideas, researching ideas, sending emails, and creating CADs. Probably the things most people get up to, but with more drawing and colouring in.

I’m organising a little online shop too, which is taking up a bit of time. Evenings usually consist of playing records, chatting, maybe watching a film or a bit of telly.

You’ve been doing Native Craftworks for a few years now, what was it that made you want to make your own shoes?

It’s always been something I wanted to have a go at. I’ve been designing shoes for other brands for a long time and know some amazing factories. I’d been looking around for some interesting shoes and couldn’t find anything I liked, so thought it was about time I had a go myself.

As the head honcho, you’ve got absolute free reign to design whatever you want. Whereas if I designed shoes they’d end up looking like Homer Simpson’s bubble car, Native Craftworks shoes have a very definite look. What led you to the time-honoured formula of crepe and suede?

The materials are what make the difference, especially on a simple shoe. It’s important to get the right balance of colour and texture. Suede and crepe just work so well together — it’s a combination I love. Top quality natural materials, great textures, lovely smells and squelchy sounds…

Native Craftworks shoes are notoriously well put together. Why does this matter so much to you?

For me, it’s important that things are done properly. I’m a bit of a perfectionist I suppose. Native Craftworks has always been about trying to make the best casual shoes possible, both in terms of design and construction. Design is quite subjective, I design shoes that I think look good and hope other people feel the same way — it’s not something I can really control — but I can control the quality of materials and the level of construction that goes into each shoe.

It’s about making shoes the right way — not the cheapest or the quickest.

How do you go about designing shoes? Do you sit down and think “I’m going to design a pair of shoes today”, or does something just pop in your head when you’re doing the washing up?

A bit of both, sometimes ideas just appear fully formed in your head, other times you can have an idea of the look you’re after, but need to do a bit of research and go through loads of sketching before you get to something you’re happy with.

This might be like a father picking his favourite child… but what is your favourite Native Craftworks shoe?

It’s exactly like picking your favourite child — I love them all equally (Although I do have a bit of a soft spot for the Dalesman shoe — don’t tell the others though).

And, barring your own designs, what are your three favourite shoes of all time?

That’s difficult. It would have to be the Spring Court B2, the Birkenstock Dundee, the Adidas Chaparal, Clarks Polyveldts and the Adidas California… whoops — that’s five!

Have you ever tried your hand at any other product design, or is footwear your sole (unintentional pun for you there) passion?

I’ve designed some bags in the past, but mostly it’s been footwear.

What else do you get up to outside of Native Craftworks?

I play the drums, listen to a lot of music and occasionally play some records out. I love digging around too — I tend to get into something and want to find out all there is to know about it. Work-wise, I help other brands with their footwear.

Any words of wisdom you’d like to add?
Err… the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. Not my words, the words of Socrates, good eh?

Wise words. Cheers Danny (and Socrates).

Take a look at the Native Craftworks shoes