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Ben finds feet as a ‘green’ cobbler

He may be out of public sight beavering away in his father’s mainstreet workshop behind Soul Shoes, but Ben Galloway’s far from out of mind.
A bearded and bereted Ben — looking every bit the artisan shoemaker — is quietly making a name for himself producing what’s called Trash Footwear out of mostly recycled materials.

He uses anything from motorbike tyres and used clothing to lino, old tarpaulins and cushion covers.
“The more I look the more I find,” says the 28-year-old Raglan native, as he was described in a recent arts magazine.

But it’s rolls of cast off conveyor belts stored on a rudimentary shelf in the workshop that have got Ben really enthused of late. “I like getting a conveyor belt with a bristly texture and putting it together with a nice vintage upholstery sample.”

From such unlikely materials come “stylee”, comfy shoes or jandals in which some well known people are now stepping out — among them Kiwi musician Tiki Taane, who appeared on Facebook wearing them, giving an “instant” spinoff to Ben’s own Facebook page.
Such is the power of today’s social media, says Ben — it’s good for business.

But working with rolls of conveyor belts from which soles are cut is not without its challenges. The rolls have to be waterblasted and the soles sanitised with bleach for 24 hours before use. Ben admits he’s not that keen about using bleach in the process to produce his eco-friendly footwear but figures it’s still less energy — a lighter footprint — than buying new.

The ethos behind his craft is important to Ben. Low-impact reuse of “waste” materials — transforming them into comfortable and unusual footwear — rather than producing “new” all the time allows Ben to keep true to his ideologies while still making use of his skills as a cobbler.
He laughs that he can now call himself creative like the rest of the family, who are mostly artists and designers.

Ben grew up in Hills Road where his father Rob started Soul Shoes — now a 38-year-old Raglan institution. Shoemaking wouldn’t have happened for Ben without that background, he believes.

He used to “muck around” making whips and nunchucks back then and later made leather shoes and bags at Soul Shoes during school and university holidays, with a year fulltime in the workshop between secondary and tertiary education.

After completing a degree in Social Science, Ben embarked on his OE for a few years — but not before making himself a pair of backless sandals, the straps sewn from the faded denim of his old jeans. “I wore them everywhere (across five continents) and got a lot of positive comments.”
They’re still going today, the soles all but worn through, the straps intact and “reasonably good”.

On his return to Raglan Ben started experimenting with shoemaking in a “green” kind of way, with the help of an enterprise grant for start-up costs and an allied allowance for four months.

He gets all his materials for free — lino samples from Raglan Flooring, fabric from an upholsterer in Hamilton, other stuff from op shops and Xtreme Waste. Heavy plastic curtains used to stop salt spray on the Wahinemoe harbour cruiser recently came his way too. “So I sew carry bags out of that.”
Ben, who has enrolled for the year in the Graduate Diploma in Sustainable Practice about to start at Solscape, now wants to develop his footwear into a viable business and expand its exposure in the marketplace.

He’s got a small blurb in the latest issue of eco-magazine Good and features too in arts magazine Extra Curricular. Ben’s also looking forward to a two-and-a-half minute spot on the first episode of TVNZ7’s new Heart in Crafts series starting next month, which recently took an intensive day’s filming in Raglan.

Edith Symes

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