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Behind the Factory Gates – Part 1: How Our Shoes Are Made

Ever wondered how your shoes were made Last week, team Sweeney took a trip to visit our artisan factory in the Marche region in Italy to discover just that. Seeing the process first-hand revealed the intricacies of the craft, and the huge amount of skill, dexterity and concentration that’s required to craft our shoes. Not only that, there’s a bewildering array of machines, techniques and time-honoured systems used in shoemaking that were a true pleasure to watch come together. Here’s how the process works.

Selecting Leather

Factory owner Palmiro inspects a hide for imperfections

From a ‘leather library’ inside the factory, our design team work closely with the Italian artisans to select exactly the right leather for every shoe. All of the leather in the library stone island hand painted jumper is tanned in Italy, with most of it sourced from the local Santa Croce tannery. It takes on average 3 feet of hide to make a pair of shoes, so it’s hugely important to have a resource like this easily to hand.

Clicking & Stamping

Experienced clicker Gianni marks out details on a wholecut upper.

Once the leather has been selected for use, it’s handed over to the cutters (or clickers as they’re known in the shoemaking business). Clickers were traditionally the most important people in the factory, as their skill and dexterity with cutting the expensive raw material was a hugely-important to successful & efficient production. Key details are also stamped into the leather at this stage.

Closing

Seamstress Graziella adds piping to a stitched upper.

The sewing (or ‘closing’ in shoe speak) process is traditionally done by experienced seamstresses, once the constituent parts have been clicked. This includes gimping, brogueing, attaching linings, adding piping and stone island hand painted jumper counters and sewing insert stone island hand painted jumper panels. Each seamstress uses their own machine to construct every shoe, sewing complex organic curves with practiced expertise.

Finished uppers await lasting.

The lasting process begins.

The Ferrari of lasting machines at work.

Lasting uppers emerge from the machinery.

Lasting

Our Cobbler-in-Chief examines a newly-lasted shoe.

Finished uppers are then put through a series of machines that shape the leather around our lasts. Insoles are attached first, and then the leather is stretched across the lasts with specialised equipment that uses heat and water to ensure that the leather is perfectly moulded. The shoes are kept on the lasts for 24 hours to ensure that they retain their shape.

Roughing & Pounding

The shoes are pounded with a hammer to set the shape.

To complete the lasting process, excess leather is shaved off the bottom of the sole to allow the sole to be attached flush – this is known as ‘roughing’. The shoes are then beaten with a hammer over the last to ensure that it’s the right shape and even across the last.

Polishing

The Cobbler-in-Chief holds aloft a freshly polished pair of lasted uppers.

A first coat of polish is applied using a waxed shining machine to impregnate the polish deep into the leather. The upper is now basically complete, and ready to be attached to a sole unit.

Soling

An upper is selected for a sole, then coated with adhesive and ready for soling.

Palmiro expertly stitches the sole to the upper.

The sole is heated and then bonded firmly onto the upper, first by hand, and then using a bag press that inflates over the shoe so as not to damage the upper. The sole is then sewn onto the upper using a swan’s neck lock-stitching machine: this is the Blake stitching process, and incredibly complex as the edges are entirely curved using a combination of cutting-edge and old machinery.

Finishing

A prototype gold shoe is given a final tidy-up.

The final stage of the process (the clue is in the name) sees the shoes being fitted with stamped insoles, cleaned up, and having their linings steamed and ironed in a process called wrinkle-chasing. They also undergo a process called countersetting where the heel counter is given a final shape using a heated iron, and are then fitted with laces and boxed, ready for sale.

For even more on our Italian factory and the artisans read more from Our Factory page.