Eva Bartels arrives to our meeting wearing a pair of her own shoes, of course. The yellow and black stripes stand out against the white cotton, with a mid-size heel and a clean, open-toe mule silhouette. It is clearly a very good shoe.
“I figured I should be wearing them to meet you,” Eva laughs when I pointedly stare at her feet (which, by the way, unless you are writing an article about someone’s shoes, you shouldn’t do in polite company). It’s something you have to get used to when you wear Bartels shoes, because they’re not an accessory that fades into the background.
Launched by her great-grandfather in 1920, Bartels is a brand with a rich history. After moving from his native Germany to Denmark, along with his Belgian wife, Eva’s great-grandfather opened a shoe factory in Vesterbro, Copenhagen. In it, craftspeople from Italy created fashionable shoes, with men doing the cobbling and women working on the detailing.
The company was passed on to his daughter and her husband, Eva’s grandparents, and then to her father, aunt and uncle in the 1970s. With her father handling production and sales, her uncle handling administration, and her aunt designing, Bartels continued to run out of Vesterbro. By the late 1980s, Bartels could no longer compete with prices for outsourced production and closed both the factory and the brand.
Being a man devoted to shoes, Eva’s father stayed in the industry. He imported and sold shoes for years. “Our house was full of shoes,” Eva says, smiling. “My dad was always talking about how this aspect or that aspect made a good shoe. He was passionate about what makes a really good shoe. He was, really, a shoe geek!”
Though Bartels was laying dormant, it was always in the back of Eva’s mind as she grew up. She studied shoe design and cobbling in Milan at 19 years old, coming back to Copenhagen to work in fashion retail. In 2012, she slowly begin researching the shoe production process. In 2016, she was introduced to a family-run, three-person factory in Italy that makes custom bridal shoes.
“I knew this was the factory for me,” Eva explains. “I only do about 50 pairs per production and I don’t work with traditional seasons. I wanted to be sure that the quality is the highest and that the communication between myself and the factory is really good.”
While searching for fabric, she came across deadstock that had been used for parasols in Italy. That’s the striped pattern you see on her shoes today. “I thought, wow, this is really unique. The fabric has a story, just like Bartels does.”
Finally, in March of 2017, Eva Bartels re-launched Bartels Since 1920, the shoe company started by her great-grandfather. As we talk, she shows me old advertisements and images of the original shoes; they are surprisingly modern and totally chic.
“A pair was shoes was 75 DKK!” Eva laughs. “Can you imagine a stylish, new pair of leather shoes for 75 DKK in Magasin? That’s where they were sold.”
The next step for Eva is rounding out her collection. There are currently two shoe styles, and she’d like to get to seven, creating a shoe wardrobe that addresses the needs of most women.
“I’m not looking to do trendy stuff,” Eva says. “It’s about creating a good product that is comfortable, beautiful and timeless. And of course, high-quality. That’s what my great-grandfather did, that’s what my grandfather did, that’s what my father did. Now, I do it. I don’t really consider myself a shoe designer. I’m just…Bartels.”