Steve Pateman grew up in the WJ Brooks shoe factory owned by his father. He knew the entire process and could run any machine in the factory.
In the early 1990s, Steve took over the company. WJ Brooks made standard men’s dress shoes in Northamptonshire, England. The company had been in business since 1889.
As fashions changed and shoes began to be made inexpensively overseas, the shoe factory began to struggle. In 1997, Steve had to fire 50 people.
Then, in 1998, Sue Sheppard (born Anthony) called WJ Brooks. She owned a store called Lacies that specialized in clothing for transgendered individuals and drag queens.
She encouraged Steve to create a line of women’s shoes and boots that could support the weight of a man. Steve invented a process that included a steel rod in the sole and heel of the boots and shoes.
When it came time to create advertisements for the line, none of the men in the factory would volunteer to model the shoes and boots. Steve stepped up and did it himself. He later recalled having to learn to walk in heels and shaving his legs for the photo shoots.
By 1999, these shoes and boots accounted for 50 percent of the WJ Brooks’s annual sales.
In February 1999, the BBC produced Trouble at the Top: The Kinky Boot Factory about the WJ Brooks shoe company.
The men’s shoe line, called Divine, kept the business afloat for another year and a half. WJ Brooks closed in 2000. The building is now housing and Steve works as a firefighter.
In 2005, the film Kinky Boots was produced. The story was based on Steve’s story. It inspired the Broadway musical of the same name with music and lyrics written by Cyndi Lauper. It won 6 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The character Lola in Kinky Boots was a creation of the screenwriter, but Steve said that she represented many people that helped him to make Divine Shoes a reality.
A video summary of this week’s post can be found at