Lisa Sorrell, owner of Sorrell Custom Boots, is a custom cowboy boot maker, which means she builds cowboy boots from flat pieces of leather. She specializes in making dress boots of exotic leathers–boots to wear to the office. Her typical client is a businessman who’s bored with black or brown dress shoes and wants a footwear choice that expresses some personality.
Lisa and her incredible boots were recently featured on the program “Craft in America” on PBS television.
MO: How did you ever get into the craft of boot making?
Lisa: I was raised in a little church where the ladies all wear long hair and long dresses. I began sewing clothing at age 12 and started a tailoring business at 15. When my husband and I married we moved to Oklahoma and I left all my customers behind in Missouri. After 6 months in a three room apartment I got bored and answered a want ad in the newspaper for someone to “stitch boot tops.” I’d never worn cowboy boots and had no idea what the job might entail, other than it sounded like sewing. The bootmaker was a grouchy old alcoholic and I would go hide in the bathroom and cry when he went threw screaming tantrums, but I fell in love with bootmaking immediately and he never made me want to quit.
MO: I looked at your site and your boots are like true works of art, I’ve never seen anything like them before. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Lisa: Not everyone knows this, but traditional designs for cowboy boots are flowers and butterflies. True cowboys are 1.) very vain and 2.) quite interested in the design and workmanship of their tools and gear. I look to the history of vintage cowboy boots for inspiration and enjoy finding my own voice within those constraints. My typical clients are businessmen and my boots are often worn with suits. I tell my clients that cowboy boots are a way for men to wear high heels and bright colors. Since I wasn’t raised “cowboy” I’ve never seen location or lack of horses and cattle as a deterrent to wearing cowboy boots. When someone objects that all of the design will be hidden by the wearer’s pants, I assure them that the design on cowboy boots is like lingerie–you know it’s there and you feel pretty, but not everyone gets to see it.
MO: I see that you’ve been featured in a number of articles, have you hired a PR or Marketing firm or is it all word of mouth?
Lisa: It’s all word of mouth; I don’t have a PR firm. I’m fortunate to be in an industry that’s unique so it’s easy to stand out. I attend shows and competitions, I have a YouTube channel and a Facebook fanpage where I post demonstrations and answer questions, and I’m always searching for ways to promote not only myself, but also bootmaking. I make sure to have professional pictures taken of my work so that when I’m contacted for interviews I’m ready with the information needed.
MO: How does one become a Master Bootmaker?
Lisa: Honestly, in the United States there’s no accredited way to become a Master Bootmaker. We have a group of bootmakers who came up with the guidelines to call themselves a Master Bootmaker and I achieved it within those guidelines. But there’s no official school, diploma or test like there would be in Europe. However, a good rule of thumb in my opinion would be working in the craft full-time for 20 years or more, which I’ve also done.
MO: Do you express yourself using any other mediums aside from leather and boot making?
Lisa: No, leather is my medium. Bootmaking is a craft that requires so much skill, training and technique. I never feel that I’ve quite achieved complete mastery–I am continually trying to become a better bootmaker. When anyone asks about my favorite pair of boots that I’ve made I tell them “the next pair.” Having a craft that’s always just a little out of reach is a sure antidote to boredom.
MO: How does it feel to be preserving and passing on an incredible American craft to future generations through your classes?
Lisa: Cowboy boots are a uniquely American craft and promoting and preserving this craft is very important to me. I’m proud of the fact that I’m teaching it to new students. I’m also pleased to simply promote craft and the ability to work with one’s hands. My 17 year old daughter is learning to make ladies gloves and my 14 year old daughter is learning to make ladies shoes. They both have work benches in my shop and it makes me so happy to have them working and learning in my shop. They both have the confidence and self-possession that comes from skill and entrepreneurship.