By Samantha Rosenblum | Photos by Monty Wolfe
Crary Shoes has a motto: “The last is always first.” With a decades-long commitment to quality, the business provides custom shoes for clients with a spectrum of foot concerns, ranging from diabetes to unusually shaped or sized feet.
Located in Portland, OR, Crary Shoes was founded in 1978 by Bill Crary, who inherited the trade from a lineage of shoemaking. His grandfather founded Danner Boots, which his father then owned during Bill’s childhood. Crary Shoes was started with the goal of providing custom footwear for people whose foot issues were forcing them to compromise on fit—and, therefore, on comfort.
In 2004, Bill’s daughter, Meredith Crary Johanson, CPed, joined Crary Shoes as vice president, and two years later received her pedorthics certification. Adding pedorthics to the company’s long history of shoemaking has provided valuable versatility, Johanson said.
“We’re coming at it from both angles,” she said. “We really understand true shoemaking as well as pedorthics, which allows us to service our clients in the best way possible. And that’s what makes us successful.”
Most of their clients are patients with diabetes, but Crary Shoes also provides footwear for people with diseases including muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Down syndrome, as well as injured workers and veterans. Their custom shoe styles include work boots, hiking boots, and walking shoes.
“Our real goal is to provide quality custom footwear that looks good and functions well. I get a lot of enjoyment and fulfillment out of being able to make a better looking shoe for these clients than what they’re used to getting,” Johanson said. “I understand the different disease states and how they affect the feet, how they affect the feet in motion, and how to make a proper shoe for these patients.”
Johanson described the company’s shoemaking process as a combination of old style craftsmanship and new technology. Each mold is scanned using orthopedic CAD-CAM software, and each last is carved using digital technology.
“We have a saying here that the last is always first. It’s the last that we’re going to mold the shoe on, and if that fit is good, then everything else is great,” Johanson said. “If the last is wrong, you can make the most beautiful shoe in the world, and if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t do anybody any good.”
The rest of the shoe is made by hand. The pedorthic and clinical facility in Portland shares walls with the shoe factory, making for a seamless workflow.
A variety of other shoe companies also call Portland home, creating a network from which to stay updated about new materials. The local emphasis on sustainability also has been very significant; for example, Crary Shoes now uses recycled wax in its custom foot orthoses, and vegetable-tanned leather for linings. Crary Shoes also had another company create an insole made of recycled plastic bottles.
Though the company plans to remain in Portland, it has clients from New York to Hawaii, and the wholesale business is expanding. Providers across the country can take casts and measurements and send them to Crary Shoes, where the last will be made.
“We are the problem solvers. If a patient’s just had surgery or is unable to have surgery, send them here, and we will find a solution that will get them back on their feet,” Johanson said. “We are the nonsurgical solution to people’s foot problems, and that’s my favorite part about my job. I love getting patients back to the life that they want to live. Our whole mindset is all about solving these problems.”
Samantha Rosenblum is a freelance writer based in Boston.