After watching the movie Julia and Julia with my wife, I started to think of the factory as a kitchen! If you have good quality ingredients and you do your preparation meticulously and thoroughly, it makes the cooking easier. Whats more, if you follow the cooking manual, it makes the process of cooking systematic resulting in a product of great taste, quality and consistency.
In factory made shoes, the preparation being a time consuming and laborious process tends to be given less attention at best or ignored at worst. In my factory, we spend a lot of time and effort trying to learn how bespoke shoe making concepts that we can incorporate in our process and prepare materials in advance of the production.
Preparation of the beveled waist on the insole
Channeled 5 mm leather insole
Our 4.5-5 mm thick leather insoles for example are first channeled 1.5 mm deep, then we skive the inside waists using a special tool custom developed for the purpose. then we block them by wrapping them around a last so it takes the shape of the last bottom resulting in a beautiful feather edge on the shoe and a well seated insole when seeing the inside of the shoe.
Blocking the insole
Our leather stacked shanks are pre-shaped by scouring them to give a medium fiddle back effect so the out sole thickness can be left as it is thus not compromising the wear resistance around the waist.
The counter stiffeners and toe-puffs too are hand scoured after skiving to take off the edge better so that they do not create impressions on the leather after lasting.
And finally the upper preparation itself demands a lot more attention to detail than one usually gives it. Just to highlight a couple of them:
Spring attachment gives shape to the upper even before lasting
- Spring attachment
Recently we went back to the drawing board and started to redraw all our patterns to give ‘spring’ to them. Then we started attaching the components on the last which meant that the resultant upper already has a fair shape of a lasted shoe even before lasting. This then means that in the process of lasting, we don’t have to use unusually high levels of pressure to pull the leather over the last, nor excessive heat to get the shoe upper to sit tightly over the last, This is achieved more easily and naturally. By not applying excessive force or heat, we are able to retain the originality of the touch/feel effect of leather and give it longer life.
- Minimum Adhesive upper making
We didn’t stop at springing the upper. We sprung the lining too so when the shell upper and shell lining are attached together, they fit snugly together and we don’t have to use adhesives to keep them together. This allows for full breath ability from our 1.4-16 mm drum dyed natural crust lining. Normally, any adhesive blocks the pores of even the best crust lining thus rendering it less breathable and causes hardness on the upper leather. This way, the touch/feel originality of leather is further retained on the upper and now also in the lining, where crucially your feel are in contact with the shoe(even if through a sock!).
Extra backers but no adhesive or reinforcement cloth
The only place we use adhesive is along the edges to keep the components together until they are stitched together and this too we are trying to do away with by using a fine double side taping system. More on that when/if we achieve it. Readers might wonder why we don’t try the ‘hold and stitch’ approach but that means we can’t do spring attaching and that as have come to find out recently is making a world of difference is giving the full shape of the last to the shoe, staying true to the last and in retaining shape even after extensive use.
The lining sits tight with the upper without any adhesive thanks to the spring pattern
As my mentor put it, to get clean river water, we have to work to remove impurities and pollutants that there may be upstream and don’t stop until you reach the top of the mountain. We are trying to go back to every step of shoe making process, leaving no stone un-turned, to understand why somethings are done a certain way, challenge conventional factory wisdom(which was usually formed due to pressures of production -quantity over quality) and learning that there is a lot that has been taken for granted as standard production process at the cost of quality. But if we challenge it and find a better way (usually the ‘original bespoke’ way) we can achieve great results at a surprisingly low cost to quality ratio.