Three years ago Whistler residents Josh Blodans and Jules Vagelatos decided to take a leap.
Blodans, trained as an accountant, had just finished a contract for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Vagelatos had just run out of funding for self-employment training. Instead of returning to fall-back jobs, they decided to commit themselves full time to Love Jules Leather, a business they started out of their Alpine garage selling artisan leather pieces, mostly on the website Etsy.
"(Vagelatos) was like, 'Can I do this full time and sustain myself off my leather work?'" Blodans says. "I said, 'Well, I'll try and help you on the business side so you can focus on the creative side."
Vagelatos, who was born and raised in Whistler and was heavily involved in ski racing before moving away to attend the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, had mostly been crafting belts, fanny packs and other leather accessories until one day she decided on a whim to tear apart a pair of boat shoes and replicate the pattern. Using a laser, she carved pistols on the toes for some added flair.
"At the time we thought they were the coolest pair of shoes ever made," Blodans says. "We took a bunch of pictures and threw them on Facebook. It was like the air in the room changed. The response felt like we had stumbled upon something. Within the last six months, everything else fell by the wayside and we became a shoe company."
In the last two years, Vagelatos has handcrafted around 500 pairs of shoes and boots, improving leaps and bounds as she's gone along. Adding images of mountains, anchors or customized patterns, the shoes have mostly been purchased by international shoppers from major fashion cities like London, New York and Paris via Etsy.
"We've tried to evolve the designs as much as possible based on what speaks to us," Blodans says. "We try and travel as much as possible. We try and stay up to speed as much as possible. We try and bring our own style to it based on our west coast roots and Canadiana style and the whole handcrafted approach. We take our own spin on every design we do."
That includes leather that is sourced mostly from a distributor in Burnaby, but also from stores around North America. "We try to keep it as local as possible," he adds.
Recently, they decided, their 300 sq. ft. garage studio had begun to feel a little cramped. Although Blodans says they're just breaking even, they've had an influx of orders with a waiting list of up to three months. They've also received editorial coverage from various design and fashion magazines, as well as mention in a