In the basement of his quaint home, Greg Morgan spends his days binding shoes in a tight workspace, surrounded by shoe lasts. Bordered by antique machinery on both sides, his workshop is straight out of the early 1900s.
Using a type of construction pioneered 500 years ago, Morgan individually crafts each pair. His company, Ryaton, takes quality material, sourced as ethically as possible. He also encourages his customers to repair their shoes rather than replace them, since they’re built to last a long time.
“History has shown that this type of design, built to a proper standard, using the right materials, can last a decade or sometimes two,” says Morgan.
After quitting his job as a librarian in 2010, he knew it was possible to track down information on just about anything. He sourced old books, searched online and met a few local cobblers who were once shoemakers in other regions of the world, and gained his shoemaking know-how.
Morgan admits the first shoes he made, in 2008, were hideous. Six years of alterations later, he managed to work out the flaws through “real-world” testing — in other words — wearing them.
After rocking leather soles in winter and almost wiping out, he realized he needed a rubber sole option for his shoes but, otherwise, they proved extremely durable.
The shoes are manufactured with a cork layer inside to absorb moisture, making them suitable to wear in relatively harsh climates, including Edmonton's.
“People assume I make custom, bespoke, expensive dress shoes,” says Morgan. He doesn’t. He is moving away from custom work to develop his own type of shoes, ones he calls Brawlers for their rough-and-ready versatility.
“They are an all-purpose sort of shoe you can lace up and wear out into the world, [ready] for whatever it throws at you,” says Morgan.
Brawlers cover the ankles and have small raises under their heels. Their look lies somewhere between sophisticated and casual, making them fashionable for a night out, day at work, or Sunday afternoon.
The assembly line is still small — just one man — so Brawlers currently only come in men’s sizes and black leather, but women’s shoes and brown leather options are next.
His collection recently debuted at the Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair, costing $425 per pair. Morgan’s dream is that one day the name Ryaton will be synonymous with well-made shoes from Canada.
“I have a lot of doubts that run through my head regularly, but it’s fun and, for better or worse, it’s what I’m doing.”