Meet the Makers: Melissa and Malakai of Compass Clothes

Vagabond travelers sell sandals on the Canal

If you’ve spent as much time on downtown’s Canal as I have over the last 15 years, there are zero surprises. I know when the State Museum’s steam clock whistles, who painted the boat mural under the Michigan Street bridge, and how much a gondola ride costs. But a pop-up shoe store? That’s a first.

This summer, a local couple started selling handmade macramé shoes near the central basin, behind the Indiana Government Center. The makers are Melissa and Malakai of Compass Clothes, and they don’t like to use their last names—not only in print, but in life. The two are dedicated modern gypsies, wandering the world with few possessions and connecting with like spirits the old-fashioned way. A farmer in Thailand once taught them to make sandals. They eventually decided this trade might support their nomadic lifestyle.

After operating a travel-related store in Irvington for a while, they closed up shop, sold most of their belongings, and hit the road, selling sandals and sleeping in their van. “It was such a cool thing. How many cobblers do you know?” Malakai says. Melissa points out that most handmade sandals start around $400, while theirs, well-made with polyester cording that doesn’t lose its shape, are just $30. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they settle in at the Shipshewana market. Then they usually race to New Jersey for another sale. They have permits to vend at street fairs in Manhattan—but they’re just as likely to show up at the White’s Farm flea market in Brookville, Indiana, instead. Occasionally they set up at the canal, where they have one of the few vendor permits.

Wherever they park, Melissa and Malakai love nothing more than to talk about budget traveling and swap tips. So if you’re searching for a pair of comfy, rubber-soled sandals made here or a place to wear them far away, you know where to go. Just check the couple’s Facebook page to catch them passing through town.