The art of leather-crafting has been embedded in Ballarat’s cultural history since the gold-rush. The mid-19th century brought with it an unprecedented creative movement, and leathercrafting was just one of the trades that took pride of place amongst the likes of blacksmithing, wheelwrighting, and woodsmithing.
So it really came as no surprise that former Prahran resident Jess Cameron-Wootten and his partner Krystina Menegazzo decided to relocate their business Wootten to Ballarat.
“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,” Jess says.
Wootten is a team of bespoke shoemakers possessing more than 40 years of combined experience. The venture itself dates back to the the early 1970s when Jess’s dad, Ross Wootten, began making footwear under the tutelage of Bulgarian Master Craftsman and internationally-renowned shoemaker, George Koleff.
Jess remembers sitting in the corner of his father’s tiny studio and marvelling at the care taken to craft shoes from scratch. Four decades on, and he continues his father’s tradition as Wootten’s lead cordwainer. ‘
“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. It’s more important than ever for him to protect this historic industry, particularly in light of the recent sales of RM Williams and LVMH, which is now 100% foreign owned.
“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” – Jess Cameron-Wootten
Considering Ballarat’s history of shoemaking (Rivers and Olivers used to produce footwear in the city), it certainly seems like Wootten has found an appropriate home base.
Working out of Ballarat’s old Gun Cotton Factory (just down the road from the couple’s home in Gordon), Wootten’s new workshop has also enabled Jess and Krystina to expand their offering, adding leather bags and accessories to their premium range of handmade leather products.
“Ballarat is an amazingly capable city,’ Jess explains. “Our neighbours are incredibly helpful and there is a real sense of looking out for one another and an excitement for the future.”