SNOWFLAKE — Tim and Mary Windwalker have been in business for 30 years, working together, raising a family and doing what they love in Snowflake.
“It is not work. We call it life,” Tim said.
The Windwalkers are the owners of Windwalker Fine Footwear, individually constructed works of art designed to last 10 to 20 years, and even then, they can be refurbished or repaired.
They make the shoes in their solar studio from where they can look out their window and see Mesa Redondo, Greens Peak and the Fort Apache Reservation.
When they first moved out to their 20 acres, it was nine miles of bad road with no mile markers or reflectors. Only the road to Snowflake was paved.
“The challenge here is finding a way to make a living,” Mary said. “People move out here with a pipe dream and it often goes up in smoke. We go away and take orders, come back, and we have gotten it down to a science.”
Mary hails from north of Seattle and Tim from the Chicago area. They met in Phoenix.
Prior to moving to South Phoenix, Mary learned about shoes. Mary understood the importance of feet and their connection to Mother Earth, so she made her baby’s shoes.
When people saw the shoes on her baby’s feet, they had to have them. They literally bought them off her feet.
“I knew then that shoes are the thing,” she said. “I started selling them in 1982 when I went to barter fairs.”
That was Mary’s real beginning with shoes.
After reading “The Book of Hopi,” Mary was inspired to move to Phoenix. There she worked as a midwife. She had a ‘61 GMC 70 passenger bus and a 1919 Singer sewing machine she found at a swap meet.
After leaving San Francisco where he was a drummer for a rock band, Tim made his way to Phoenix. Through a series of serendipitous occurrences, Tim found himself in Snowflake, soon to be an apprentice for the infamous Grey Wolf, who taught him how to craft the style of shoes he and Mary make today.
Both Mary and Tim apprenticed under Wolf, who was from Washington state and a graduate of University of California Davis. At his dwelling in Snowflake, Wolf had one solar panel, goats and horses. He had a converted chicken coop for his shop and a 1900-era Treadle sewing machine. Tim actually lived there while apprenticing.
Then Tim headed to Chicago in 1986. When he and Mary reunited, they started making shoes, their first in 1987.
They were discovered at the Arizona Renaissance Festival. They had done art shows but this fell in their laps. They feel such a debt of gratitude to the fairs.
“We went down three days before with $150 in our pocket. We had never been to anything like this,” Tim said.
“Everyone had elaborate booths, and we thought, ‘Oh my, we are in trouble,’ but we made it work. We sold our footwear and see people walking around with them today.”
Since that time, the Windwalkers have been in attendance every day for every show.
“We are grateful every day for Grey Wolf teaching us this style of shoes,” Tim said.
“We go to music shows, Renaissance fairs and art shows. We are sometimes gone eight weeks at a time. We are on Facebook, and we have made over 1,500 pairs of shoes. We have never run out of orders,” he added.
In their studio, there is Mary’s side and there is Tim’s side. Each have specific duties. Orders go on Mary’s side where her flow chart starts at one end and extends all the way to her window.
It takes nine to 12 months from order to delivery for a pair of Windwalkers. “Rush money” to bump up an order is not accepted.
Like they were taught by Grey Wolf, the Windwalkers use the Hank Zander method to make their cast. Zander, whose foot was mangled in a motorcycle accident, was the originator of this pattern. He had been told he would never walk again but refused to accept it. He figured out how to make a pattern with duct tape for shoes to support his foot and ankle, so he could walk again.
The process begins when the customer place their foot on a white cloth where it’s outlined. Next, a sock is put on and a duct tape cast is made around the foot and calf.
When getting fitted, “everybody says something about their feet,” Tim said. “We don’t care. We are just there to intro our boots.”
After the taping is complete, the cast is cut off on one side. Then the customer picks out their material, colors and tread. Many people already know the design they want, but they can actually think about it while they wait for their number to be called.
When it is time to begin, Mary says it is a normal occurrence that when she thinks of that customer, they call her. Mary has learned over the years that she will get some kind of intuitive spark about the person that reveals to her what she needs to proceed. It kind of “seals” that shoe to the person’s spirit, and the shoe and the person become one.
“Feet are powerful,” Mary said.
Their shoes start around $300 and go upwards, depending on what the customer wants.
Their mission statement is: “We make every pair by hand. We try to make each pair stronger than the last.”
One of their claims to fame is making a pair of shoes for folksinger Arlo Guthrie. As to other VIP owners of their footwear, they always tell a customer, “It is you.”
Mary recalls an order over a decade and a half ago that stood out for her. An entertainer known as Moonie the Magnificent had a 5-year-old daughter who died of cancer. Moonie sent Mary the last art work she had done and asked if it could be put on a pair of boots. Mary traced and cut out her footprint and put it on the boots and then followed the scrawl of her handwriting which she had stitched onto the boots.
“Feet are power points” Mary noted.
Tim also recalls an order that stood out for him. There was a man in Chicago who had a knack for making money. He bought, refinished and sold carousel horses. He had two or three pair of outlandish boots from the Windwalkers. When he died, his wife had the boots recut and refitted for their two daughters.
Making a living doing what they love, the Windwalkers have managed to put five daughters through college.
When at home, the Windwalkers do not talk about work. They even share the same cell phone
They are involved in their community. They come together for births and deaths, marriages, gardening and potlucks. They help build homes and get together to learn things to better their lives and the lives of everyone around them. They ski and they hike.
Their business rallies behind one local cause, builder Steve Johnston’s Disc Golf Competition in Concho each year. Their logo is on the disc.
They are the flower children who really embrace peace and love and responsibility for a better planet. They don’t use credit. They use solar and the things that are good for our planet. They are successful and happy, but they have not stopped there.
After meeting a multimillionaire who took her own idea and managed to expand its reach to Wall Street, Mary asked her what business advice she could give them. The lady told her to have an exit strategy. After her success, she was bought out for a nice sum, but it was no longer her baby.
That got the Windwalkers thinking. What will they do when they get to 80? They came up with the idea of teaching others to make their footwear. They had already reached out and had apprentices who either went to work for them, or struck out on their own.
They came up with an exit strategy ‑ a school to teach others how to make their footwear. The school is in Creststone, Colo., a unique community of about 100 people. The Earth Dancer School of Shoe Making is already in existence and summons future cobblers to learn hands-on, and then test drive the shoes on the hiking trail.
They are summoning other shoemakers and their techniques to join them. Brother of local resident Dawn Marino teaches shoemaking at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and Italians in Milan. This summer he will be one of the school’s teachers. It is now a legacy.
You haven’t heard the last of Tim and Mary Windwalker. They embody what many of the baby boomers left behind. They have the simplistic lifestyle many are now seeking, and they did it one pair of artistic footwear at a time.