How Solebird's Mia Stone Fell in Love with Leather Making

From the May/June 2014 issue of Capital Style
  • Mia Stone in the leather studio of her Upper Arlington home
  • Custom sandals, $150 to $600; handbag, $465
  • Cuffs, $65 to $95

Mia Stone was shopping in New York’s East Village when she peeked through the bar-laden windows of a dusty leather boutique. Intrigued, she and her sister walked into the store, ogled the giant basket of sandals, strapped belts around their waists and tried cuffs on their wrists.

“It smelled good,” Stone said. “And it was just real and living, and I was in love.”

She was also “in shock” that the Bible-like sandals cost $500.

But they beckoned her back.

A month later, she paid the shop’s stern, elderly owner, Barbara Shaum, to make her a custom pair. Shaum—a leather-making legend—traced Stone’s feet and told her to return in two weeks. Six fittings later, the duo had become friendly. “The experience,” Stone said, “was more important than the money.”

At the time Stone—who had been an art student, flight attendant and Midwife—was navigating an unhappy marriage to a man in New York. She split her time between him there and her daughter in Upper Arlington. She begged Shaum to teach her the craft, to no avail. So one day, she returned to Upper Arlington, pulled out a paper grocery bag and string, and crafted a makeshift pair of sandals.

She then walked into Tandy Leather Factory in Columbus.

“I want to learn to make sandals,” she told manager Scott Curtis, who has been making leather goods for more than 40 years.

He laughed.

“Just sell me everything I need,” she said.

A week later, she returned with her pair.

Curtis was—and continues to be—impressed.

“In this business, you see a lot of people who walk in, and they have an idea that they are going to do something. And some of them are blessed and have a little bit of money, and they come in and buy everything, instead of listening to a little advice, which is, ‘Slow down,’ ” Curtis said. “And I figured the first time that Mia walked in, that that’s where she was—a little too overeager.”

But she started visiting regularly and seeking advice from Curtis. She also studied with a podiatrist in Columbus and a cobbler in Connecticut.

“She’s good,” Curtis said. “She doesn’t follow boring old styles…. She’s just really developed something unique and interesting.”

She began making other leather goods, too—totes, clutches, guitar straps, belts.

Solebird was born.

Stone—now 48, divorced and happily living in Upper Arlington with her new life partner and his son—sells her goods at various boutiques around Columbus, including Ladybird, Bungalow, Brigade and Bohindi. She was recently commissioned to repair the leather door of a classic Ferrari, which makes her laugh. But this art is, to her, serious business.

“It gives me purpose,” she said, tears welling. “And that purpose is just that I like to share love with other people.”

She’ll sometimes walk into her home studio at 7 a.m. with a cup of coffee, and emerge to surprisingly discover it’s 3:30 p.m.

“I work with like, mania—and a lot of passion,” she said. “It’s who I am. It’s how I breathe.”

Shaum apparently approves.

One day, Stone sauntered into Shaum’s East Village shop wearing her own shoes.

“Where did you get those sandals?” Shaum huffed.

Stone slid them off and handed them to Shaum.

“I want to thank you for giving me the love for leather craft,” Stone said.

Shaum inspected the sandals. She criticized a few bits. Then she handed them back.

“These,” she said, “are good.”

Solebird:; 614-599-1104