Ballard-based Hourglass Footwear started just over a year ago when Kira Bundlie and Lisa Ström conceived the idea of applying their talents as painters to the canvas of women’s shoes. Bundlie specializes in portrait painting while Ström has a decorative aesthetic, drawing inspiration from Asian motifs. The two artists began testing on prototypes, and following some serious business decisions they launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the capital for their company, buy necessary supplies and pay fellow artists to work with them.
From the start Hourglass has had ten artists that contribute in hand painting shoes. Each artist designs a collection drawing on their backgrounds in henna, graphic design, nature illustration and tattoo art, which they make on demand in the shoe style and size of the patron. Collections reference current trends, fabric patterns, tooled leather, the iconic coffee cup of New York, and even the Sriracha bottle. One design appears to be chiseled from turquoise stone. The artists also create custom works for clients. Bundlie and Ström have their own collections and enjoy custom commissions as well, but have found that the demand for their unique product has driven them towards growing the business. They and the other artists are still testing their products day in, day out.
Hourglass Shoes has uniquely bridged the worlds of fashion and art. When trends so quickly change and mass-produced clothing runs so cheap, consumers find it difficult to justify investment in custom clothing, aside from occasional made-to-measure basics or an outfit for a special occasion. Only rarely can a company get their price point just right to support small-scale production without sacrificing quality.
Custom painted shoes, as it turns out, are a product that resonates with the modern fashion-forward patron. Practical yet unique, these shoes can shape an outfit and make a strong statement without sacrificing the rent money. Currently, Hourglass prices most of their shoes at a reasonable $200 price point, combining art and fashion in one purchase. And when there is a need for a custom design—say for a wedding—Hourglass is capable of assigning one of their talented artists to fulfill the patron’s vision and produce a cherished object. A popular request of late is for family Tartan plaids on bridal shoes. Kira explains that “it’s a great way for the bride to incorporate a traditionally male fashion element into her look.”
Hourglass has been embraced by the local community, getting opportunities to represent the people and culture of Seattle through their product. Collaborations with emerging fashion designers have been added to the collection as well as shoes donated to a variety of charitable causes. Hourglass’ custom shoes have been worn by celebrity drag queen Jinkx Monsoon in the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and on the feet of both last and this year’s Miss Washington. Kira tells me that “this year, the Miss America Pageant has moved back to its Atlantic City roots, and they’ve been asked to design not only Miss Washington’s shoes, but also her full costume for the annual “Show Us Your Shoes” parade! The studio is a literal mess of glitter and sequins, but it has been a lot of fun.” And the most recent addition to the Hourglass line-up is a top-secret custom pair of pumps for a local celebrity to wear to a big (music) awards show.
In addition to putting their shoes on the feet of local taste-makers, the ladies have been invited by MOHAI to include one of their shoe designs in the museum’s permanent collection to bookmark their place among local fashion-focused companies. You can see the design, selected by Hourglass fans through their social media contest, at MOHAI’s September fashion-themed First Thursday—a fantastic place to debut their addition from one of Seattle’s most unique fashion companies.