Atlanta artisan: Cord Shoes and Boots offers handmade footwear

Sarah Green’s company is one of just a few of its kind in the country

Sarah Green is surrounded by old machines in her workshop, a collection of rooms at the back of her parents’ house in Morningside. There’s a Fortuna splitter and a Landis auto-soler. Many of the heaving mechanical beasts date to the 1940s.

Green at work with her shop dog, Poe.
Green at work with her shop dog, Poe.

Photograph by Audra Melton

Green is a shoemaker, and her company, Cord Shoes and Boots, is one of just a few of its kind in the Southeast—in America, for that matter. She makes oxfords, boots, and custom shoes for men and women the old-school way: very slowly, by hand.

An Atlanta native, Green lives in East Atlanta with her longtime boyfriend and business partner, Daniel Echevarria. Always a designer and craftsperson, she first studied architecture at Georgia Tech and then at Parsons the New School for Design in New York. After college, she took on millwork and furniture jobs. She’d never worked in fashion before but had always thought shoes were “interesting design objects.”

Green, 28, remembers admiring a pair of expensive boots at Jeffrey in Phipps Plaza one day in 2010, and she thought about making her own. Soon after, she was living in New Orleans and responded to an ad for a sewing machine for stitching leather. The seller was Esme Trusty, an elderly widow from Honduras. Her husband, Rupert, had been one of the Southeast’s last shoemakers, and her home was filled with his expensive tools. Trusty didn’t speak much English but wanted company, so Green began bringing her dinner every week. After more than a year of trying to unload the equipment, Trusty offered Green the lot for just $1,000 for a plane ticket home to Honduras.

Last year, Green spent ten months as apprentice for bespoke shoemaker Perry Ercolino in Pennsylvania, and afterward, Cord was born. Named for the English term for a shoemaker—a cordwainer—Cord was also inspired by trips to visit Texas bootmakers, where the road signs read “Co. Rd.,” short for “county road.”

Green wants to lower her prices, which start at $495, but shoemaking is complicated. It requires finding a specific last for each piece (last: those shoe forms you see in cobblers’ shops), cutting patterns, nailing leather, hammering soles, and burnishing several times. Fine leather and tools are expensive. For now, Green does all production herself and can make just three or four pairs a week; she currently sells only online. But just a few months after launching her business, she already had an assistant. Next, she’d like an apprentice of her own.

This article originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.