Frederick Freed revolutionised pointe shoes in 1929 by tailoring them to each ballet dancer’s feet and specific needs. His approach attracted international clients and eventually worldwide fame when Moira Shearer wore a pair in the 1948 film The Red Shoes. Production moved from the basement of Freed’s Covent Garden shop to East London in 1971. The area surrounding the Well Street factory in Hackney had been home to 17 shoe and boot makers in 1921, and nearby Cordwainers College trained students in shoemaking skills. Freed is now the only shoe factory that remains, handcrafting 175,000 pairs of pointe shoes every year, and exporting 90% of them. Every maker ‘signs’ their shoes with a unique makers’ stamp, by which they become known. Ray Rawlings is the crown maker.

I’ve been making pointe shoes for 26 years. It’s not something I ever dreamed of doing, but my first job out of school was in a shoe factory. I learned my craft here – it’s passed down from maker to maker. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you start making shoes for wholesale. I always say that wholesale is your first customer, because once your shoes get into companies and people start wearing them, you start to get your own dancers. Each maker develops his own style and dancers often form a ‘marriage’ with a particular maker – all my work is for specific dancers now. I make 41 pairs a day.

Andreas Hudelmayer makes violins, violas and cellos for professional musicians all over the world. His modest workshop in Craft Central studios overlooks the rooftops of Clerkenwell, an area with a rich musical heritage. In the early 19th century, skilled craftsmen from northern Italy colonised the area, then known as Little Italy, many of them working as instrument makers. Hudelmayer’s quiet dedication to his craft ensures this tradition lives on.

There is a lot of satisfaction in making a musical instrument, but in the end, the biggest satisfaction is in hearing a really good musician playing it.

Peter Bellerby has been making bespoke globes since he set about creating one for his father’s 80th birthday – a project he expected to take a few months, but which turned into an obsession, a career, and his life’s work. At the top of an improvised rabbit-warren of makers’ spaces carved out of a former stable block, his Stoke Newington studio is in an area that has inspired wanderlust for centuries. In 1811 James Sadler, the first English hot air balloonist, took off from Hackney watched by an audience that “exceeded calculation.” Characterised by the attention to detail that goes into every one, Bellerby’s globes are sought after by television prop departments and discerning customers from all over the world.

East London is the hub of the creative community in London and so the opportunities for artistic endeavour are better here. It is fun to be living and working in an area that has seen such amazing improvement over the last few years. We have met some incredible people, like our engraver, our woodworker, and our illustrators, all of whom have contributed to our journey.

On graffiti-lined Sclater Street, with no exterior signage, the Pom Pom Factory is discernible only by the monkey that adorns its door, created by street artist Hin. But once inside, there’s no mistaking where you are. Karen Hsu makes paper pom-poms – her shelves are filled with colour-coded tissue paper and a huge pom-pom installation fills one corner. Born in Hong Kong and educated at Central Saint Martins, Hsu discovered her penchant for paper pom-poms while creating window displays for fashion and design store Mercantile London. Before long she was working for the likes of Selfridges, Naf Naf and Nicole Farhi.

I’ve been living in Shoreditch for ten years and East London is where I call home. I’ve often thought about moving to other parts of London but this is where Pom Pom Factory started, where my displays were first shown and where I developed my passion for making paper artwork – it’s all about nostalgia. East London is also a diverse and multicultural place with an eclectic vibe, which really appeals to me.

Fighting the often feminine and frivolous perception of textiles, Katherine May aims to demonstrate the role that cloth has played throughout history, from clothing our bodies to dressing our wounds. She’s deeply aware of the importance of the textile industry to the East End – even in medieval times Homerton was involved in leather tanning and ‘fulling’ – the use of urine to clean felt cloth. At her Homerton studio she is involved in everything from growing plants for dye to sourcing fabric from textile recycling centres.


Kennedy City Bicycles are made to order in De Beauvoir Town. Once a thriving industrial area, its warehouses are now largely studio conversions, attracting artists and makers like Kennedy, who, with his model looks and fashion-forward apparel, might be written off as a hipster if it wasn’t for his passion for his craft. Bicycle building started as a cottage industry in 1880s London, with wheelwrights and carriage-makers experimenting in sheds and workshops. Inspired by a frustrating trip to buy his wife’s first bike in London, James Kennedy’s mission is “to make the ultimate city bicycle using the right balance of reliability, beauty, practicality and value for money.”

I didn’t have a connection to my local community before I lived in East London. Taking part in a community is about acting with empathy, learning from everyone’s differences and living together. There are a lot of people in Homerton who are open and friendly – it has a great energy.
Everybody needs to make things. Show me someone who doesn’t make anything and I’ll show you someone who isn’t happy.


Makers of East London, Hoxton Mini Press, £30,