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Half-life shoes

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Half-life shoes

As opposed to studying and working in an office, Ina Rüf began an apprenticeship in Vienna. She enjoys the peace and consistency of working with her hands. Today, she lives in Bregenzerwald and produces shoes for half a lifetime.

Close your eyes. How do you imagine the appearance of a stereotypical shoemaker? Probably male, over sixty, with ashy grey hair and a stubbly beard – in principal a man who fits the part of a shoemaker, plying away in a cellar that hardly sees the light of day with a fitter’s hammer and rasp. Yet those looking for someone to fit the cliché will have to look long and hard. This type of craftsman no longer exists, and yet the craft lives on with a different face. One such face is that of Ina Rüf.

Her shoemaking studio is located in Alberschwende and she is not easy to find. If you do want to seek her out, you must first manoeuvre upward along the street leading to Fischbach. Look for her signboard once you reach a residential area. The property is bright and located on the ground floor. From the moment you enter, you’ll notice a shelf rack full of shoe lasts. At present, it is but a modest collection emphasises Ina. In the background, there is a so-called finishing machine, which must be 100 years old, designed to polish and clean the shoes. It is easily the heaviest piece of equipment in the room. At the centre is a large workbench to sketch and cut models and patterns. Near the window, there is a pitch-black Adler sewing machine as well as a newer looking one, in addition to a work apron hanging from a wardrobe door in the corner.

Ina Rüf came to her profession by chance – not through ancestry that can be traced back generations. She learned her trade in Vienna, rather serendipitously. She actually went to the capital city to study but soon learned that it was not for her. So she took temporary office jobs until one day.

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Ina had a peek at modest workshops throughout Vienna, most of which were located in basements. To her overworked eyes, the tranquillity of such small working environments was like time standing still. “The atmosphere was nothing like that of an office, where the telephone rang constantly. This was a quiet place of concentration though in the background there was the sound of deliberate hammering. The experience was something so down to earth and that really appealed to me.” So after completing an initial apprenticeship, Ina then returned back to Bregenzerwald, where she completed studies in Orthopedic shoemaking.

After a year spent in Venice working with successful shoemaker and Vorarlberg-native Gabriele Gmeiner and the completion of her master craftswoman test in 2012, she took the final courageous step and opened her own operation. When one witnesses Rüf toiling away on an unfinished shoe with a black leather upper on the tongue that folds over so that it can be bound with a tack over the shoe last, then the true meaning of craftsmanship becomes abundantly clear. Machines are used sparingly. To do such a job, one needs fine motor skills and at times even incredible strength, for example when removing the shoe last from a finished shoe. The main difficulty is sewing the soles of the shoes, the majority of which are welted or double-stitched.Those interested in custom-made shoes require patience.

But good things come to those who wait: The customer will receive customised fashionables shoe that fit perfectly. Every pressure point is balanced and the shoes last for a very long time. Her ‘journeyman’s piece,’ completed some 12 years ago, ended up being shoes for her father. Ina Rüf grins: “He loves to wear them and I think he will have them for a lifetime.”

Author: Georg Sutterlüty