Elf Roots: The Early Days of Soft Star Shoes
The Soft Star elves are proud to tell people we’ve been making shoes since 1984, but anyone who saw our shop back in the early days might be surprised to see how much things have changed. The biggest difference: Soft Star once operated out of a school bus!
Daughter Corina in front of the old Soft Star workshop. Notice the play steering wheel set up for her to drive the shop!
We recently came across a collection of photos from the first few years of the company, back when it was run exclusively by our founder, Tim Oliver, and his wife Jeanie. They began making shoes in 1984, but things didn’t take off until they brought their product to the Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach, California the following year. The profits made from selling shoes at the festival allowed the young couple to purchase a plot of land just outside Wimberly, Texas, where they began to build their first house with their own hands. The property was located in the hill country alongside the crystal clear waters of the Blanco River. During the construction process, the family—which included young daughter Corina—needed a place to stay. The solution was found with the purchase of an old, run down school bus. In 1987, Tim cleaned out the bus, fitted it with running water and a wood stove and the three of them moved in. They lived in that bus for about a year and a half, then moved into the still-unfinished house as soon as the walls and roof were up. When that happened, the bus became the official Soft Star workshop. For the next three years, which included the birth of daughter Violet, Tim and his wife worked happily out of the bus to make their handcrafted shoes for mail orders, wholesalers and the occasional craft fair. Tim even managed to fit a (relatively) small leather-cutting clicker inside the tiny space. At that time, the product line was limited to just a few styles of children’s shoes. According to Tim, the official Soft Star policy was for everyone to jump in the river at the end of each workday. The family stayed at that location until they decided to move to Oregon in 1990. Sadly, the bus, which was unfit for the trip, stayed behind. Soft Star Shoes then moved into a building just a few blocks away from its current location.
Soft Star shoes at the Sawdust art festival in 1985. Proceeds from this festival allowed Tim and Jeanie to purchase land and build a house.
The new temporary home/workshop.
Corina explores the new space.
Renovations begin to transform the bus into a cozy home.
A wood stove kept the family warm while their house was under construction.
In addition to the stoves, the bus was also outfitted with a refrigerator and a sink with running water.
That table made its way into our current workshop where it remained until just last year.
Tim and his family lived in the bus until they finished building this house.
Each day ended with a trip to the river.
Today, more than a quarter century later, Tim is still working hard in the workshop. Soft Star now employs a dedicated family of elves and the product line has expanded to dozens of different shoe styles for babies, kids, youths, adults and runners. With the growth of our website, our sales are now worldwide—although everything is still made by hand in one big room in Oregon. If you ever find yourself in our cozy town of Corvallis, feel free to stop by for a tour. If you do, you’re still likely to see Tim putting the finishing touches on a pair of mocs.
Soft Star founder Tim Oliver, making shoes for 28 years... and counting!