Story by Heidi Pool | Photography by Nina Lee
“Any tickling that may occur is strictly professional,” Michael tells me with a twinkle in his eye as he tightens the sandal’s straps around my foot. Surrounded by the rich aroma of leather and saddle soap, I luxuriate in the satiny touch of the shoe’s material against the skin of my sole.
Michael Mahnensmith, proprietor of Island Sandals in Lahaina’s Wharf Shopping Center, has been making custom-fitted leather sandals on Maui since 1983. Bespectacled and sporting a flowing white beard, Michael delights in sharing his craft with visitors to his shop. “If properly cared for, these sandals can last twenty years,” he says. This means washing them thoroughly with saddle soap every three months, and Michael is more than happy to demonstrate the proper technique. “It’s my first day here, but I have a real feel for this type of work,” he deadpans.
After spending all day at his shop, this industrious cobbler retreats to his home workbench, where he sews as many as thirty pairs of shoes in an evening.
Purchasers of Michael’s sandals automatically become “authorized sales agents,” and have his permission to trace the feet of others to ensure an exact fit. “I waive the beard requirement for my agents,” he jokes.
His design is based on sandals worn 3,000 years ago by the desert warriors of King Solomon in Ethiopia. “They completely harness your feet, enabling you to run like the wind,” Michael explains. Fastened by a knot called a latchet that he says “is the same Jesus used,” the sandal does indeed feel secure.
For a little slice of heaven for your feet: Island Sandals, 661-5110 or www.islandsandals.com.