Text and photos by Rachel Filipinas.
Shelves of materials fill the Bryr studio—stacks of wooden bases, neat lines of yellow foot-shaped lasts, drawers of laces, jars of shoe oil, manila folders full of patterns, a fireplace filled with books. In the thick of it all: the workstation, topped with tools and leather scraps.
Then there are the clogs, rows and rows of them. There are the classic clogs, open-toe sandals, pairs with cut-outs, and some that edge the line between clog and boot. Some are experiments in neon and laces.
The Bryr clog is a mix of feminine and boyish. It’s fun and easygoing—much like Isobel Schofield, founder of Bryr.
Schofield founded Bryr Studios in 2012. After an 18-year career working in fashion design for companies like Velvet, Splendid, and American Eagle Outfitters, she finally reached the point where she felt the need to do something for herself. “It was a pretty crazy journey,” Schofield says. “I’d had a really amazing career going up the ladder, but I’d kind of just become really burnt out on design. I wasn’t connecting to creativity anymore. It wasn’t necessarily the place, it was more like the point in my career.”
So she decided to make the leap and leave the corporate world—but not without a few conditions. “I gave myself a set of rules,” she says. “I wanted to spend time with family, I wanted to stop buying stuff, and I wanted to tap into my creativity.”
For Schofield, achieving a state of flow—positive energy, focus and fully immersing herself in creative work—was one of her main goals. With a set of rules but no set plan, Schofield embarked on what she dubbed as a creative sabbatical. She found a piece of inspiration at a small boutique in New York. “I had bought a pair of clogs in New York in a store, and I’d looked at the bottom, and it said ‘Made In America.’ I knew from working in the industry that that was really unusual.”
She immediately hopped online to investigate, and an impromptu email led to an apprenticeship. After a few weeks, she returned to Brooklyn and launched Bryr. Eventually, she packed up her stuff, started a cross-country trip to the West Coast, and made her way to San Francisco—though, as she tells me, her original destination was Portland.
For Schofield, the transition from corporate design to launching her own business was all about trial and error. She took additional shoemaking courses, and her background in sculpture and fashion helped as she developed the patterns for each shoe. She searched high and low for the right materials and tools, and she learned how to structure her days. “There’s a million things that go on in the back end,” she says.
These days, Schofield works out of a Victorian in Cole Valley, where she makes each clog by hand. She is methodical, working stage by stage: the leather cutting, the stapling, fitting the lasts in the shoes, making sure each pair properly dries.
She’s equally meticulous about the materials used for the clogs. “I try to use the best materials I can use,” Schofield says. “That’s my recipe for it—simple and beautiful materials that can stand on their own.”
While most clogs use pinewood soles, the base of a Bryr clog is made of linden wood, sourced from a town in Spain with a history in shoemaking. The linden wood sole is pale and extra soft, with a slight bowl shape to hold the shape of the foot. Schofield sources her leather from a tannery in Napa. For most of her clogs, she uses an oiled leather that’s both supple and durable, often used for making saddles and motorcycle bags.
“What’s really great is that I can buy leather in small amounts, so I can kind of do a lot of different, fun things,” Schofield says. It’s this small batch mentality—not having to commit to huge orders and sit on inventory—that keeps her constantly innovating. She likes to experiment, whether it’s using a bright neon or a shimmer-printed leather or adding an ankle strap to create a new silhouette. Schofield also works with independent boutiques to make exclusive collaborations, too.
“I think that some really exciting things are happening right now in terms of small business,” Schofield says. “We’re really nimble, and we can move really fast.”
Schofield gives this advice to aspiring small business owners: “Whatever you’re going to do, just try and do it as well as you can possibly do it,” she says. “Take a small business class, because having that community is amazing. And save, save, save.”
As for the future of Bryr, Schofield eventually wants to see the brand expand into a design-led studio, but for now, “it’s all slow and steady, and being responsive,” she says. “To be a Bay Area brand and give back to the community, that would be my dream.”