Winnipeg shoe company Manitobah Mukluks opens moccasin school in Toronto

Winnipeg company Manitobah Mukluks was recently awarded a TreadRight Foundation Heritage Grant to open a moccasin-making school at the Bata Museum in Toronto.

Storyboot School aims to inspire future crafters, keep art of making moccasins alive

Rosa Scribe, from Norway House, Man. is one of the Storyboot Project artists. She is making a living from her art. (Courtesy of Manitobah Mukluks)

Winnipeg company Manitobah Mukluks will open a moccasin-making school at the Bata Museum in Toronto. Dubbed the Storyboot School, it will open its doors September 2016. 

"The Storyboot school is an effort to keep the art of mukluk and moccasin-making alive, and to inspire the next generation of Indigenous crafters and artists," said Sarah Barazauskas, Storyboot's project co-ordinator.

"It's so much more than just crafting footwear, it's something that our ancestors have been doing for thousands of years, and it's a physical way to connect with that."

In addition to connecting with the past, the school brings the art of making moccasins into the modern age, with students bringing their own twist to the art.

Barazauskas recalls one student who decided against the typical beading patterns, and instead painted the popular poo emoji on one of her moccasins.

Moccasins make money

The Storyboot School is only one part of Manitobah Mukluks' larger Storyboot Project, which sells moccasins made by Indigenous artist. 

The project gives already accomplished artists materials to make moccasins, which when completed are sold through the company's website - with all proceeds going back to the artists.

"Our [company's] core mission is to see Indigenous people succeeding," said Barnes, director of brand development for Manitobah Mukluks.

We're kind of like the Etsy of Indigenous footwear.- Tara Barnes, director of brand development for Manitobah Mukluks 

"People can buy these one-of-a-kind pieces from artists all over Canada … We're kind of like the Etsy of Indigenous footwear."

One artist whose work has taken off after joining the Storyboot Project is Rosa Scribe, from Norway House, Man.

"It's a real living wage for a lot of these artists — someone like Rosa Scribe — have been able to sell mukluks and make upwards of $30,000 in income," said Barnes.

The cost for a pair of Storyboot Project moccasins ranges from $200 to $2,000. The price might seem steep, but as Barnes explains, depending on the complexity of the pair, moccasins can take weeks to complete.

"A pair of moccasins without beadwork might only take a couple of hours, but some of the more extraordinary pieces we have… it can take up to 40 hours for the beadwork alone," said Barnes.

And some of the hides used are unique to where the artist is from, meaning they are locally prepared, which also adds to the time it takes to complete the moccasins.
This vamp, which is the top of a moccasin, was created by Rosa Scribe and it shows the complexity of beadwork that goes into each Storyboot Project moccasin. (Courtesy of Manitobah Mukluks)

'Educate the world of these important arts'

The Storyboot School in Toronto is funded by a TreadRight Foundation Heritage Grant, which are given to projects from around the world that support local artisans who make culturally significant products. 

The TreadRight Foundation is a non-profit organization created by the Travel Corporation and aims to reduce environmental and societal damage caused by travelling. 

Manitobah Mukluk's Storyboot School is the first North American project to receive the grant. To-date there are projects funded in Peru, Italy, Greece and Laos.

"Each one of the grants we've given out supports a heritage art that runs the risk of disappearing," said Zach Vanasse from the TreadRight Foundation.

"Our goal is to educate the world of these important arts."