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Meet The Leather Crafter Keeping Traditional Techniques Alive

Made of Ballarat

Walk around any of Melbourne’s major creative hubs and you’ll see an alarming number of empty shop fronts, or construction sites slated for development. With rental rates across Melbourne on the rise, many creative businesses have been forced to leave their inner-city spaces and come up with other options.

Such was the case for leathercrafter Jess Cameron-Wootten and his partner Krystina Menegazzo, who recently relocated their workshop to Ballarat in Victoria’s Central Highlands, after losing their previous workshop in Melbourne due to redevelopment. We chat to the creative couple about their relocation to Ballarat, how Wootten has evolved since we last spoke to them, and their ongoing commitment to local craftsmanship.

9th November, 2018

The enormous new workshop for leather crafters Wootten, who recently relocated from Melbourne to Ballarat. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Jess Cameron-Wootten and Krystina Menegazzo. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

‘Ballarat is an amazingly capable city’, says Jess. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Starting off as shoemakers, Wootten have expanded their range to include leather bags and accessories. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The new Wootten workshop is housed inside Ballarat’s old Gun Cotton Factory. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Historic footwear brands such as Rivers and Olivers have all produced their product in Ballarat. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Wootten boots on the production line. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The Ballarat workshop will soon house a shopfront as well. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Krystina and Jess maintain a Wootten store in Prahran, open Fridays and Saturdays. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Jess’ aim for Wootten is to ‘walk the line between traditional craft and modern aesthetic and process’. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Racks and other machinary were sourced from a nearby shoe factory that had recently closed. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The new workshop is right down the street from Jess and Krystina’s home in Gordon. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Wootten is dedicated to handcrafted, locally made product. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Sally Tabart
Friday 9th November 2018

‘Ballarat is an amazingly capable city,’ – Jess Cameron-Wootten.

When we last spoke to leather crafter Jess Cameron-Wootten of Wootten in 2012 he was excited to have recently moved his handcrafted shoemaking business into a historic red brick building in Prahran. After almost eight years of operation in this creative hub, earlier this year Jess and partner Krystina were forced to reconsider the future of Wootten when their premises was earmarked for redevelopment. ‘Melbourne rentals are insanely expensive for the floor space we need to house the workshop, so we had to think a little outside the box,’ explained Jess, ‘Ballarat was an obvious choice – there is so much happening in this regional city, so many amazing old spaces and a great amount of support from locals and councils alike.’ Considering the regional Victorian city’s history of shoemaking (both Rivers and Olivers used to produce footwear in Ballarat), it certainly seems like Wootten has found their sweet spot.

Now located in Ballarat’s old Gun Cotton Factory (just down the road from the couple’s home in Gordon), the new workshop has enabled Jess and Krystina to expand their offering, adding leather bags and accessories to their range.

With an aim to ‘walk the line between traditional craft and modern aesthetic and process’, design plays a huge part in keeping Wootten contemporary. ‘Our vision is to be able to offer a high quality, durable and refined range which we will continue to make locally, to try and maintain what is increasingly an industry in decline in Australia,’ Jess explains. Following the sale of competing brands like RM Williams to LVMH (the iconic Australian brand is now 100% foreign owned), it’s more important than ever that we support people like Jess to protect these historic and important local industries.

Retaining a shopfront in Prahran open two days a week, Jess and Krystina will split their time between Melbourne and Ballarat, and will soon open a second shopfront out of the Gun Cotton Factory. ‘Ballarat is an amazingly capable city,’ Jess explains of his new home, ‘Our neighbours are incredibly helpful and there is a real sense of looking out for one another and an excitement for the future.’

To find out more about the creative movement unfolding in Ballarat and to experience the craftsmanship for yourself, make sure to visit madeofballarat.com.au

Wootten (Melbourne store)
39 Bridge Road
Richmond, Victoria

Friday, 10am-5pm
Saturday, 10am-4pm

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net