Andrew Turriff helped design some of Canadian bootmaker Viberg’s dressier patterns—but when it came time to develop his own shoe line, all he really wanted was something he could do some serious mucking around in.
After earning an art school degree in sculpture and ceramics, Andrew leaned into his love of footwear by studying shoe design at the London College of Fashion. That education led to several years of ping-ponging between making custom sneakers and doing stints with Dayton Boots and Viberg, where he had a hand in creating some of the brand’s more refined styles, including the Rockland blucher, Halkett boot, and Bastion oxford.
Now, Andrew is stepping out the urban-centric worlds of casual and dressy footwear to develop an entirely new type of footwear: low-top shoes specifically geared for all manner of outdoor activity, but created with classic all-leather construction.
Andrew spends most of his time tramping through the woods and running around with his kids, but he found that his go-to Service Boots just weren’t cutting it for his active lifestyle. He also was dismayed to find that virtually all of the footwear that did fit his lifestyle wasn’t exactly built to last—most are made with synthetic materials and a cemented construction, meant to be tossed when the soles eventually give out. It was far from ideal, and pretty discouraging from a sustainability standpoint.
With his new venture, Turriff Footwear, Andrew hopes to provide what he refers to as “functional outdoor footwear”—a high-quality shoe option for outdoorsy folks like himself, built with durability and recraft-ability in mind. Andrew has been hard at work at his home in Nova Scotia, testing and refining different prototypes inspired by approach shoes (footwear used for making the trek to and from rock-climbing expeditions).
After much experimentation, he and his business partners are now preparing to open Turriff Footwear orders to the public. They’re still working on picking out a factory to produce the shoes, but you can fill out this quick survey to help them gauge interest about which model to produce first and at what price point.
A little while back, Andrew gave us the lowdown on his journey from being a sneakerhead to being fully hooked into the world of welted footwear, his impressions and lessons learned from working with two iconic Canadian bootmakers, and an in-depth explanation of his approach towards creating his unique functional outdoor footwear.
Stitchdown: What inspired you to learn about shoe design and production?
Andrew Turriff: I was a big Nike guy when I was going through my undergraduate program. Even when I was in high school, I was really into skate shoes. DC, Lakai, things like that. I did my undergraduate degree in sculpture and ceramics, and I thought, oh, I could be a designer for Nike or something like that. That sounds like a good idea. I didn’t really think of making shoes. From the sneaker perspective, it all seemed purely aesthetic, even though it’s supposed to be functional also.
Stitchdown: Sure. Like a factory’s gonna go and handle that. You just come up with the design, they crank it out.
Andrew Turriff: Yeah. So that’s what I figured I would end up doing. Before I ended up going to school in London, I did a short internship with John Fluevog Shoes in Vancouver. I was pretty interested in that, and had a good time. From there I ended up going to the London College of Fashion, to the Cordwainers footwear design program. It had been a pure shoemaking school originally, but it started to lean towards design and factory production when I was there. From there, I discovered the craft, and got pretty interested in it.
Stitchdown: The craft of traditional welted footwear?
Andrew Turriff: Shoemaking, yes, traditional footwear. I got to visit a lot of the shoe factories over there, including John Lobb. I saw it was similar to sculpture and ceramics, in that it was a really fine craft with lots of detail. It just seemed like an enjoyable thing to do. Once I started shoemaking myself, I found it really relaxing. You get into the zone. When I finished shoe school, I applied for an internship with Nike, and I got one with them. But at the time, they owned Cole Haan, and my portfolio was pretty much all dress shoes. After my internship I went back to Vancouver, and got more and more into shoemaking.
Stitchdown: Do you feel your experience in sculpture and ceramics informed your approach to shoemaking and shoe design?
Andrew Turriff: One thing that always frustrated me at art school was that everything required a concept. It didn’t necessarily mean that you had to be good at your craft. If you were good at justifying your work, it didn’t really matter what you made. I liked the idea of things like ceramics being about functional objects. I was doing production pottery, where you’re throwing on a wheel. You make bowls, plates, mugs, or whatever. It’s for a use, you don’t necessarily have to say why you were making it. Shoes are similar. It can be a really beautiful object, but there is a purpose for it. I’ve always liked that.
Stitchdown: That’s a great insight. So, you were saying about going back to Vancouver and making shoes?
Andrew Turriff: I went to work at Dayton Boots. It’s an old company, but it’s always been a little bit up and down with the production staff and what people are capable of doing there. There were a few really good shoemakers there when I was there, some old guys. But nobody really knew much of what the current aesthetic was, or what people were looking for.
Meanwhile, here I was in this factory that had the capability of making shoes. They weren’t really making much other than that charcoal nubuck service boot. I was hoping to do more. At first, I was asking the production team to do certain things, which they weren’t necessarily executing. I ended up learning more and more of the making process. There was one particular shoemaker there, and he was kind of running all the patterns and upper making, he knew everything. I worked with him and slowly learned his job. We did a lot of custom lasts as well. He taught me how to do buildups and how to fit odd feet. I ended up learning a lot from him—patterns, upper making—more than I learned at school. Eventually he ended up leaving and I got thrown into his position.
Stitchdown: How long were you leading production at Dayton?
Andrew Turriff: About three and a half years. It was a great learning opportunity. It also gave me the space to make my own designs. At the time while I was there, I would basically take anybody who wanted any kind of custom designed shoe or boot and make it just so I could play around with the patterns and do a little bit of my own thing. Back then I was really into English-style shoes, I liked country stuff, Tricker’s, Crockett & Jones, and Edward Green, but they’re a little finer I guess. So I was just basically trying to take elements of what I’d seen in those old-school English companies and smash it together with the slightly more rugged logging boot kind of construction and materials.
Stitchdown: What did you do after you left Dayton?
Andrew Turriff: The next real permanent job I had was down in Los Angeles, at No. One System Footwear. They don’t exist anymore. There were three of us, a little design team, making custom sneakers. Some of the designs were pretty interesting, and had really nice materials. They were big on using high-end leathers. So, it was sort of like being back to where I started with being interested in sneakers. I learned a lot of different techniques in upper making that are different than in bootmaking. Sneakers are a little more finicky with how you put them together. There’s a lot more turning and different kinds of seams. It was great practice on knife and shoemaking skills overall.
That’s about when I first had my first kid. At that point I was still wearing Dayton-style service boots. I started thinking, this is not functional for playing around. I wanted a little more out of my shoes, but I still wanted that touch of shoemaking tradition in there. What we were doing in California was kind of like that, but it wasn’t touching the elements that I wanted. That’s when I started thinking of my own things.
I’m really big into fitness as well, and at that point I started getting really frustrated with the available running shoes out there. I was always thinking about using traditional methods and materials, leather instead of synthetics, for making more athletic-style shoes. I made my first iteration of an all-leather sneaker down in California. You can see it on my Instagram. I tried to take little elements you might see in a dress shoe and put it into that sneaker. I really liked that shoe. It was super comfy. I would run around with my first daughter in that.
While I was down in California, I got hit by a car on my bicycle. It put me out of commission for a while, I broke my shoulder badly.
Stitchdown: Ouch. What was the rehab process like for that?
Andrew Turriff: Surgery. They put a plate in my shoulder and a bunch of screws. For six months, I wasn’t really allowed to use it. I was just in a sling and eventually started doing rehab and different exercises. Like I said, I’m a big fitness guy, so I was eager to get back at it. Those six months of rehab also stopped me from making shoes.
We decided to come back to Canada. We moved out to the east coast, which is where we are now. That’s how I got into orthopedic shoes, because that’s all there is out here. I make orthotics and a lot of stuff for leg-length discrepancies. That got me thinking a lot more about foot health. I see all the issues that people have with feet. Many shoes don’t necessarily fit that well for people. Everything is kind of funneling your toes into a certain way. I don’t see anybody really doing a lot in footwear, outside of orthopedic shoes, trying to do something that’s like a mixture of good quality, good aesthetic, good function, and good and comfortable for your foot. That’s what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
Stitchdown: So that’s the genesis of your functional outdoor shoe.
Andrew Turriff: I’m outside all the time with my little kids. They like to run around. There’s lots of nature out here. I want something durable, functional, like a running shoe. But I love those traditional shoemaking methods. You can’t really find a lot that exists like that. I mean, you can get things like Danner. I like Danner boots. They’re a little more active inspired, I think. But again, it involves lots of synthetics. I don’t like synthetic material. It just doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t move right.
Stitchdown: It doesn’t breathe right.
Andrew Turriff: I do a lot of running, and I was wearing all these synthetic shoes, and they’re stinky and smelly and your feet get hot. I mean, you guys know, if you’re wearing leather boots all the time, they’re quite comfortable. So I thought, there’s gotta be a way to put them both together.
Stitchdown: Before we talk about your project more, you mentioned something in your big post on Reddit about helping Viberg out with making some of the patterns they’ve come out with in the last few years, specifically the Halkett, the Bastion, and the Rockland. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what that process was like, and how you originally got hooked up with Viberg.
Andrew Turriff: I’ve known Brett Viberg for a really long time. I met him back when I was at home in Vancouver on a break from school in London. That was when they were starting to get really popular. I think they were big, really big in Japan, around 2012 maybe. We actually lived really close to each other, and so we just became friends when I came back from shoe school.
He didn’t have any jobs at that point—he was doing most of the design, and I wanted to be doing design. So it was sort of a clash there. But we always stayed connected and talked and met up to share ideas. He’s a little bit older than I am, so I was looking up to him really for a long time. I still do, I love what they do. Viberg is an amazing company. I remember one day we met up for coffee and I said, I’m gonna go down to California. And he’s like, oh, you are? Well you should come out to Victoria and work for me. And I was like, oh, well I already made these plans, so I can’t really back out. It just didn’t ever seem to work out.
But then, about two years ago, he just called me. I think he was having trouble translating some of his designs into his factory. He wanted things a certain way and it just kept not coming out the way he wanted. He wanted this sort of European edge, English or French kind of design. He sent me lasts and some leather to work with.
I have a little studio at home. There’s not a lot to it, but it’s good for making uppers and patterns. So I just made them the old-fashioned way, taping the lasts and making paper patterns. I would make uppers, send him photos, and then he would give me some small directions. Eventually I would send him all the patterns and the uppers that I had made, and he would bring it into his factory. They have a computer program with a pattern plotter. He would take my paper patterns, throw them into the computer, and they would grade it that way and test it out.
Stitchdown: How long did that whole development process take?
Andrew Turriff: For those three patterns? About five months. And, this is all while I have my regular day job at the orthopedic shoe business. So I would work in the nights on that stuff, and we had a really young baby at that point too, so that whenever I could fit in whatever I could, I would. That was the most exciting thing for me, just because I was a big fan for so long.
Stitchdown: Sounds like an amazing opportunity.
Andrew Turriff: Then, on some of their other styles, the patterns were too big basically. And so we just kind of remade them as they should be.
Stitchdown: You adjusted the old patterns so that they would fit better with the modern lasts? Is that sort of what you mean?
Andrew Turriff: Yeah, basically.
Stitchdown: Which patterns did you help with?
Andrew Turriff: I did the 310 Service Boot. I was working on the Scout boot as well.
Stitchdown: Well hey, let’s get back to talking about your functional outdoor footwear. You started working on this more in its current form at the start of the pandemic, right?
Andrew Turriff: Since the time I was living in California, I wanted something more functional. I was thinking about running shoes, gym shoes, weightlifting shoes, things like that. The pandemic came around, and we couldn’t go to the gym. Everybody was getting outside. So it just seemed like a great time to start working on this stuff. I hadn’t been making shoes for like two years. I didn’t have a sewing machine at that point. I was doing a lot of hand sewing, working on wallets, practicing hand-skiving, keeping up with little things like that. I had a bunch of leather, and some lasts. I modified an anatomical last, and I hand-sewed my first upper. Maybe six months later, after my dad’s intense encouragement, I got a sewing machine. Then it just started to roll and I started working on my shoes again.
Stitchdown: And then you shared that pair on Reddit. I gotta say, the construction on that prototype is really interesting. Stitchdown on the front, and then hand-pegging in the back. That’s fairly unique, right?
Andrew Turriff: Yeah. I mean, probably not too many shoes like that out there. Really, I just did it for fun because I didn’t wanna put nails in it. The wooden pegs are kind of like a nice in-between. They’re light, and they worked. But I don’t imagine that I would find a factory that is really up for making wooden pegged seats.
Stitchdown: You’ve got a couple different shoe patterns you’ve developed. Are you considering making any boots?
Andrew Turriff: I’ve also been working on a higher top boot, and then something more like an old-school hiker. With the high-top boot, I have more of a vision of what I want it to be. But the hiker, I like that style, but I want it to be a little bit different. I’m trying to make lots of drawings, looking at lots of old hiking boots, Swiss mountaineering boots and things like that. Just trying to find the right old-school details. Something that you haven’t seen for a while, something that’s a little bit different. Something that’s functional.
I could just make it and it would be completely plain right now, with maybe a back strap. I could put a little padded collar on it. But it doesn’t look right to my eyes yet. But, I’m hoping to eventually have two shoes and two boots. It all comes back to what I’m looking for for myself. It snows a lot here, so we need higher boots. Then there’s also a long period of time where it’s kind of slushy or rainy, where something mid-height is also really functional.
Stitchdown: What kind of last are you using?
Andrew Turriff: I’m using a sneaker last. I like the lower heel. I don’t want anything too jacked up, because I don’t think it’s necessary. I do a lot of my exercise in bare feet. I want to mix that anatomical, grounded view of things with how the shoe is designed. Not everybody is into entirely flat, no-heel shoes. So, I’m thinking a five millimeter heel lift is like a good in-between for everybody. You’re still pretty low down, but you are lifted up a little bit which helps. When you’re lifted up, it pushes you a little bit forward onto your metatarsals and it helps with blood flow in your foot. It’s gonna have a slim heel so that everybody’s nice and locked in in the back, but we wanna be free in the front.
Stitchdown: You mentioned how you took inspiration from approach shoes—which I actually wasn’t familiar with before now. They’re an interesting hybrid in and of themselves, right?
Andrew Turriff: They’re kind of like rock climbing shoes mixed with hiking boots, basically. Yeah, I find they’re a pretty interesting style. They seem to be the closest to the functional shoe idea that I could find, so that’s why I think about them a lot when I’m making the designs.
Stitchdown: What do you find about the approach shoe style that’s so resonant with your design ideas? Is it in terms of like the lacing pattern? The mud guard?
Andrew Turriff: I like having the long laces to open it up and make it easy for anybody to get inside. And yeah, I like the mudguard, I like that style. So I like the approach shoes, and I also like a lot of the old school Adidas sneakers.
Stitchdown: I have to say, when I look at your shoes, my mind immediately goes to an Adidas Samba. Something else interesting I noticed as well—you’re using asymmetrical patterns?
Andrew Turriff: Yeah, I do asymmetrical patterns on everything. Your ankle bones sit differently. The inside ankle is higher, the outside is lower. Because the shoe is kind of a weird anatomical shape, we want to have different lines on the mud guard so that it looks a little more symmetrical or like it sits on the last a little more evenly. Most patterns, in more mass produced shoes, it’s just straight, you’ll have one line that will match on the inside and the outside. But because the pattern kind of sits off-center on the last, it will kind of flare out and sit longer. The inside is shorter and thicker. They’ll sit in different spots. But if you do the pattern asymmetrically, things will appear more evenly on the shoe. It’s like an optical illusion. That’s an element that you would find in really high end shoes.
Stitchdown: That’s really cool, man. I mean, all of it is really cool! I think it’s great that you’re pursuing such a unique style and have so many thoughtful design choices guiding you.
Andrew Turriff: Yeah. Like, I know how to make a service boot. I could do that. But there are tons of companies doing those already. Meanwhile, I don’t see what I’m looking for, and I mean, there must be other people who are interested in something like this. A really big thing I want to convey is that I want good footwear accessible to everybody. There’s a lot of good-looking footwear out there, but I think shoes can be made better, and they should be made better. That’s the goal with what I’m doing.
Stitchdown: Well Andrew, Thank you so much for taking the time to chat. I really appreciate it.