American Duchess x Bata Shoe Museum: History of the Museum and it’s Founder

The second week of our In Bloom collaboration collection pre-order with the Bata Shoe Museum is underway, and we are just thrilled with the reception it has received! It makes us so happy when you are excited by our shoes, and this collection feels extra special since we are collaborating with a museum that we love (and love to support)!

The Bata Shoe Museum is amazing for many reasons. Being a dedicated historical shoe museum is within and of itself very awesome, but the story behind this museum really is something incredible. Today, we’re going to tell you a bit about the history of the Canadian institution, and how it got started from one woman’s passion for shoes.

The Bata Shoe Museum was founded in 1979 in Toronto, Canada, by one Sonja Bata. She was born Sonja Wettstein on November 8, 1926, in Zurich, Switzerland. Sonja came from a family of lawyers, but she was more interested in design. She studied architecture in university prior to meeting her husband. In 1946, she married Thomas J. Bata, who was heir to the Czech Bata Corporation (a shoemaking company that is still in business today). Thomas Bata and his family had moved to Canada in 1938, in anticipation of World War II.

Sonja and Thomas Bata’s engagement photo…aww! Photo from the Bata Shoe Museum.

Sonja and Thomas led a very interesting life. They travelled extensively, worked on business together, and raised a family. Sonja kept her love for architecture alive by assisting with factory and retail store design for the Bata Company. Oh, and- she started to collect historical shoes.

Sonja Bata in 1966. Photo from the Roloff Beny/Library and Archives Canada.

Within the course of a few decades, Sonja acquired more than 1,500 pairs of shoes (and lots of shoe artifacts). After having her collection examined by an ethnographer friend in 1979, Sonja founded the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation, in an effort to preserve some of the shoemaking artisan techniques and artifacts reflected in her collection. The Foundation’s main objective was to establish an international center for footwear research, so that this knowledge could continue and live on. In 1995, the permanent location of the Bata Shoe Museum opened its doors in Toronto! Sonja worked with architect Raymond Moriyama to design the Bata Shoe Museum‘s iconic building, which is a modern interpretation of a shoebox.

The Bata Shoe Museum– inside and out.

Sonja was deeply interested in history, and through the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation, she supported footwear research, exhibitions, and preservation of shoemaking techniques from different Indigenous communities from around the world.

Sonja also had a profound sense of civic duty. She worked with the National Design Council, World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Council for Business and Arts in Canada, and the Girl Guides of Canada as well. In 1983, she was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada, and she subsequently received a Silver Medal from the United Nations’ Environmental Program.

Honorary Naval Captain Sonja Bata boards the HMCS Ottawa. Photo from the Bata Shoe Museum.

Sonja’s passion for footwear never dwindled. She continued to add to her collection, up until she passed away in 2018 at the age of 91. Now, the Bata Shoe Museum has over 14,000 shoes and related artifacts in its collection, from myriad cultures all around the world!

The Bata Shoe Museum’s collection is full of incredible artifacts. They have an amazingly well-preserved pair of red velvet chopines from 16th century Italy, a pair of silk slippers owned by Queen Victoria, Vivienne Westwood platforms from the 1990s, surrealist 1930s sandals from Ferragamo, and of course, the floral embroidered shoes that our In Bloom styles are based on. Additionally, the Bata Shoe Museum has a very important collection of Indigenous North American and circumpolar footwear pieces.

The red chopines!

The oldest pair of shoes in the collection is a 4,500-year-old pair of Egyptian sandals, and the tallest pair are 3-feet-tall Hausa boots (in case you were wondering). They also have one of the biggest and most beautiful collections of 18th century shoes in the world- our hearts are aflutter! The impact that this museum has had on the historical study of footwear is immeasurable.

The Bata Shoe Museum‘s mission statement is: To illuminate human history and culture through footwear. It is an internationally recognized centre for footwear research that sponsors field research, publishes research findings and promotes education. And now, we get to help support those initiatives with our In Bloom collaboration collection!

The In Bloom collection is available for $20/€20 off each pair from April 21 through May 5 in our US and UK/EU stores. Every pair of shoes sold from our In Bloom collaboration collection benefits and supports The Bata Shoe Museum in their study, outreach, and conservation. This is an initiative near and dear to us, of course!

Pre-Order is Open
April 21 – May 5, 2023
$20/€20 Discount Per Pair

Now that you have some historical background on this wonderful museum and its amazing founder, you are ready to head to Toronto to check it out for yourself! The In Bloom exhibition at the Bata Shoe Museum is on from April 20, 2023-October 6, 2024- and we have to say, it is truly a stunning exhibit. It’s not to be missed!

Our display at the opening of the In Bloom collection at the Bata Shoe Museum!

We’re so grateful to the Bata Shoe Museum for partnering with us on this collaboration. It has truly been a dream come true!


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