ARTIST INTERVIEW: Isobel Schofield of Bryr Studio
Bryr Studio is a collection of hand-made clogs inspired by the West Coast lifestyle. Based out of their workshop in the Dogpatch district of San Francisco, every pair of Bryr clogs are hand-made by Isobel Schofield and her small team. Dedicated to the simple idea that the best products are made with the best materials, Bryr clogs are constructed using the strongest and most supple American leathers, and traditional European solid wood bases. The name Bryr (pronounced Bri-er, like the old English word for a thorny thicket) means to care in Swedish.
Born and raised in England, then moving to the US as a teenager, Isobel always felt like San Francisco felt most like home. After 15 years working in the apparel industry, in the Spring of 2012, Isobel quit her design director job at a major US retailer and went in search of something more. She had a gut feeling that there was a better way to make better things and so she went on what she calls a ‘creative walk-about’. She’d always had an urge to learn to make shoes. Following that path, she went on a journey that took her from the Coast of Spain to the Mountains of Sedona and finally to build a studio in Northern California. After a year of learning, making and refining her craft, Isobel was finally ready to launch her line of women’s modern clogs. Bryr Studio was born.
What is the first memory you have of encountering art or the artistic process?
I remember identifying as an artist at a very young age. My first memory was in kindergarten. We took a field trip to a ceramics studio and made pinch pots. I remember deciding in a very clear way at that point that I was an artist.
Describe the path that led you to the work you do now. Did you take any big risks to get where you are?
I graduated from college with a sculpture degree, with a focus on performance and costume. After I graduated, reality hit and I realized I needed a job. I’d always enjoyed fashion, but it wasn’t something I thought I would do professionally. I was more interested in thrift-store shopping than big fashion brands. I went into it professionally because it seemed like a smart application of my skills and aptitude rather than a burning desire to be a designer. After about 10 years of working in the industry I looked around, and realized I was a fish out of water. A kid who’d made wacky experimental art was now a design director at a major brand. My life was out of line with my values.
I took a break. Looked at my life and realized what was missing: making. Simply making. I wanted to be thinking through my hands again. I had some savings and took the chance to follow this idea. I signed up for a ceramics class, then a leather work class, then a shoe making class… and found that making with my hands had woken up my creativity. That’s when I made a commitment to incorporate making into my daily life.
How does practicing your art or craft impact your life or way of thinking?
I think different people have different ways of designing and making. For me, the design process is very intuitive, and comes through making, tinkering, testing and playing. Not from drawing a sketch and sending it to a factory to make. Inspiration doesn’t always come when you ask it to, and you have to be open to it when it comes (like when it shows up at 2am on a Monday).
The big thing I’ve learnt in the last 5 years of working on Bryr is the importance of having a daily practice. I really enjoy the rote making of clog making, it’s a time for me when I go into deep concentration and flow. It’s like meditation, and it’s a time that opens up my brain to new ideas. It’s almost like going to the gym or yoga, in that it wipes my brain clean of the daily noise of life.
What do you hope to share with those who purchase your art and bring it intimately into their lives?
Because we make everything to order, we put a lot of love and attention into everything we make, and I think people feel that in the final product. Perhaps because I don’t have a background in retail, we don’t approach the shop in a traditional way. Women come and usually stay for an hour or two. We get to know them, we help them with not just their size and fit, but also in finding their perfect clog. What’s right for them. People often make ‘clog friends’ with other customers while they are here. It’s a surprisingly personal experience, and it’s really fun.
So, I suppose to answer the question; I hope they love their clogs and have them feel connected to the process of making them in a small way.
Are you inspired by the environment around you? How does the home/city/nature you live in affect your work?
I moved back to San Francisco about 4 years ago, and it really felt like a coming home to me (even though I grew up in England). I love my adopted city and the bay area. For me, living in the city but having such amazing access to nature is a constant source of creative inspiration. I love heading out to Bolinas, Point Reyes, or Yuba river for a weekend.