Let’s allow a few universal, although generalized, truths, shall we?
Women like shoes. Women like pretty things. Women also will tend to hold on to shoes for as long as possible, meaning, until they start to give off an aroma (according to a nonscientific Facebook poll).
In this economy, some women are likely to limit themselves to a new pair of shoes only after they have thrown out an old pair. But there is a way to save your favorite pair of shoes, have them look brand-spanking-new and catch the admiring eyes of others, all at the same time.
Enter Alice Toler, owner of Charleston Shoe Trip. Toler is a local artist who has decided to take art to the streets. She used to paint sweeping murals on walls and ceilings, but now she’s made the transition to a smaller venue: the foot.
Shoe art has come a long way since middle school, where it was just permanent marker on Chuck Taylors or Keds. But even then, it was just an anarchy symbol or peace sign, an eyeball or flowers with remarkably round petals. A creative girl would drop some glitter on there. But these days, it takes more than just bedazzling your sneakers.
On Charleston Shoe Trip’s Facebook page, Toler states that she “can restyle your old shoes or rock your new ones.” Her designs range from van Gogh’s “Starry Night” to bright, luminous peacock feathers or Aunt Martha’s dachshund. One of her favorite designs has a chicken on one shoe and an egg on the other. When you walk, others see chicken, egg, chicken, egg, chicken, egg ... which comes first?
Toler likes the attention-grabbing aspect of her designs. “Most people never even go into an art gallery their whole life, but (these are) out in the world walking around (and) moving around among everybody,” she says. “This is a way for the art to go to them.”
In addition, the shoes are an ultimate example of self-expression for the one who wears them. “What I love about these shoes is that people are so delighted,” Toler says. “It makes them so happy (because) it’s personal.”
The cost to “up-cycle” shoes can be as low as $60, and the price can run up to $200, depending on how custom or intricate the design. Most of the shoes she paints are Danskos or Toms, but she can do pumps or other leather, canvas or suede shoes. In addition, Toler paints handbags, wine glasses and ties. Handbags and totes run in the $125 range or higher, and ties and wine glasses start at around $50.
Bertha Pritchett, 73, of James Island has high praise for Toler’s work.
“Everything she does, she does it like a portrait, which blows my mind,” Pritchett says. “She’s a true artist — maybe the very best I’ve ever seen.”
Pritchett has foot problems, and her podiatrist recommends Merrell slip-ons, but after being painted, they “look like Cinderella shoes instead of prison shoes.”
She also had Toler paint her Boston terriers onto a pair of shoes, and bought her husband a tie painted with a cardinal and snowy branches. She’s planning on a pair of shoes with snowmen for the upcoming winter.
Pam Saulisbury of West Ashley first discovered Toler’s creations on display at Phillips Shoes in South Windermere and decided to get a personalized pocketbook for a friend with Chihuahuas. “One’s the devil, and one’s an angel,” Saulisbury jokes.
She provided Toler with a photo of the dogs for reference and says, “The likeness is unbelievable. I can’t draw a stick person. I don’t know how someone can do that on canvas or leather. The likeness was almost perfect. She nailed them.”
Toler works part time at Phillips Shoes, which is the only retail space where her shoes are on display. Since she doesn’t have much of an advertising budget, Toler uses Etsy (www.etsy.com/shop/ShoeTrip) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/pages/Charleston-Shoe-Trip/198657520214943) as a means of getting her product out there.
Cyndy Rudd of Charleston met Toler when they were working together at Phillips and Rudd’s Danskos were the first shoes to go for experimentation.
“She just had the vision of doing it. When you work in shoes, you see shoes all day long. I think she saw something more than the plain shoe,” Rudd says.
With all this talk about her, Toler still goes back to her customers.
“I’m so deeply moved and inspired by people,” she says. “I want people to have these if it makes them happy. It’s not about the money. It’s about making people happy.”
Alice Toler of Charleston Shoe Trip has moved her art from the wall to shoes.×
“Peacock” is a design painted by Toler. She recycles worn shoes by painting personalized designs.×
Alice Toler, owner of Charleston Shoe Trip, upgrades a pair of Danskos in her workshop. Toler recycles worn shoes by painting personalized designs for her customers.×