Alan Zerobnick Finds a Good Fit in Teaching and Consulting
by Donna Loyle
In an age when many artists decry
the often unfair and competitive craft show environment, one
artisan has found a way to avoid them altogether.
Leather Worker and Shoemaker
Alan Zerobnick, of Port Townsend, Washington, makes custom shoes
for a select group of clients. He also runs one of the ShoeMaker
Schools in the country. He is a several shoe manufacturers, and
he is even working on a proprietary system of computer hardware
and software that he says may revolutionize the Custom Shoemaking
Rewards Beyond Money
A self-professed black sheep
in his family- "I was the one who didn't go to medical school"-
Zerobnick was one of the Craft World's original converts. "In
the 60's,a we just threw our blankets down on the ground and
sold our wares right there on the streets," he recalls.
In 1980 he decided to begin teaching
his craft to supplement his income. "I realized there were
no shoemaking schools in the United States like there are in
Europe, he remembers. "By then I had had enough professional
experience that I could pass on my craft to others."
He began teaching 30 day workshops,
but the time commitment and expense became too much. Now he teaches
about five three-day workshops annually at his Tenderfoot Shoe
School. And he has expanded his student base to include not only
novice artisans but also shoe company executives and designers.
"A lot of the executives are accountants or professional
managers," Zerobnick says. "They don't even know how
the shoes their companies sell are made. They come here to learn."
He cautions other artisans interested
in teaching that, while it is gratifying to connect with eager
students, his school proceeds account for only 10% of his annual
income. "There is no guarantee you'll make a profit from
teaching," he notes, adding that marketing, space rental,
advertising, bookkeeping and other overhead expenses can quickly
But there are rewards besides
monetary ones. "The more I give to you as my student, the
more I get back," he explains. "The more people that
are doing good quality work here in America, the better our country
A Consultant and Inventor Too
While many craft people view
their medium's traditional large scale manufacturers with suspicion,
Zerobnick works closely with some US and foreign shoe making
companies. He has helped them set up factories and trained their
executives, and he has taught seminars at footwear conferences.
In essence, he aligns himself more closely with the shoe industry
than with the craft world. It's paid off- his consulting work
accounts for 65% of his annual income.
"I had a heck of a time
figuring out what to charge my very first consulting client,"
he remembers. "I didn't even have a price list for that
part of my business."
Recently, he has begun work on
a custom shoemaking CAD (Computer Aided Design) System that uses
scanners and leather cutting equipment. He retains the rights
to market the system in the US. A large scale German shoe manufacturer
holds the rights to market it overseas, once the system is ready
"I am convinced that this
is how shoes will be made in the future," says Zerobnick,
who calls the new system Digitoe. "People will be able to
have custom made shoes within 2 hours."
Notes the Master Shoemaker; "you
have to be multi-faceted to succeed in any career these days-
including crafts. For qualified crafts people who are caught
up in the grueling show circuit, there can be other applications
for their craft."
For more information about Tenderfoot
Shoes call 360.385.6164.