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CLASS OF 2016: DMU grad becomes first female apprentice at historic footwear factory

A rare opportunity to follow in the footsteps of generations of skilled craftsmen has made a De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) graduate the first female apprentice with England’s oldest shoemakers.

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Adele during DMU's Degree Show

Since graduating from DMU’s Footwear Design this summer, Adele Williamson has embarked on a three-year training scheme with Tricker’s, the originators of country brogue shoes and boots established in 1892.

At the family-run Northamptonshire factory, which first opened in 1904 and was featured in the 2005 British comedy-drama Kinky Boots, Adele is being trained by a master cobbler in the time-honoured process of bespoke shoemaking.

Unchanged in almost two centuries, the process involves constructing a personal last taken from the shape of an individual’s foot, with current bespoke customers including royalty, members of the aristocracy, politicians, captains of industry and leading figures in the arts.

The 26-year-old said: “As a maker it’s a really authentic place to work and I really couldn’t be working anywhere better!

“It’s such a novelty working in a big factory with such a rich history. There are old lifts with metal shutters just like the ones in the Titanic film and 100-year-old work benches!”

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Hard at work!

The opportunity came about after Adele impressed at the factory on a summer internship last year, during which her expenses were paid for and she had the chance to make herself a pair of shoes.

As an apprentice, Adele is being immersed in traditional techniques like making the waterproof cord that the hand-made shoes are stitched with, which takes at least three weeks to master.

She said: “With so much tradition and so many new skills to learn, I feel like I’ve started uni again.”

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Keen to harness Adele’s potential and reward her dedication, Tricker’s have nominated her for a prestigious grant from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST), which supports excellence in British craftsmanship.

Adele feels she has come a long way since leaving school at 17 and spending the next few years doing odd jobs and working the ski season in France.

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Contemporary and minimalist: Adele's signature design style

At 23 she decided to enrol on to Leicester College’s Footwear Foundation Degree, saying: “Although I loved working the ski seasons, I knew it wasn’t a long-term option and I never really felt settled worrying about my future prospects.”

After her first year at Leicester College, Adele was eager to join DMU and ended up transferring a year early.

She said: “I’m so glad I did as it has such good connections to industry.

“We were set around 13 briefs in our second year which gave us massive variety and options to explore the design route right through to biomechanics. In our last year we had a lot more time to focus on one project at a time and to develop our signature style.”

While at DMU, Adele’s creativity was recognised many times. She was named in the country’s top 15 young designers in the Cordwainers’ National Footwear Student of the Year Awards, reached the top 10 finalists at MODA – the UK’s biggest trade fashion event – and was shortlisted for a coveted Christopherson prize during DMU’s Degree Show.

Posted on Tuesday 23rd August 2016

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