Visit to my local Cobbler

In preparation for my INP, and future career aspirations I have been trying to acquire as much knowledge as possible on footwear and how it is manufactured.

During my Easter break, I thought it would be beneficial to spend some time with the cobbler in my home town, as a way to get closer to the manufacturing process of shoes, and see if there was any general knowledge he was willing to share with me on the topic of shoes.

He had a high level of experience working with shoes, being a cobbler for 36 years. We began our discussion with him suggesting some footwear factories that I can go visit in Northampton, the heart of footwear manufacturing in the UK. As I explained I was interested in high quality footwear, he suggested the following UK based factories: Trickers, Loake, Cheaney & Churchs would be good to see how high quality hand finishing on footwear is done- this is something I am now currently looking into.

The reheeling & resoling process

Top pieces = The new heel or sole to be put on the shoe to replace the damaged parts.

  1. Hold the sole against the grinding belt on the finishing machine to flatten all the roughness on the sole.
  2. Prime the sole (PVC shoe only) apply primer with a brush and leave to cool for a few mins before applying the glue, it helps the soles bond to the shoe.
  3. Apply glue to the sole: Neoprene (leather & rubber shoes – Contact adhesive, can be stuck to the shoe from 15 mins to 1 hour and it will still stick onto the sole, if it does dry up heat activate it), or Polyurethane (synthetic shoes – heat activated, put new soles under a heat lamp and stick onto the glued shoe)
  4. Press (usually 70psi) pushes shoe and new sole together, the press is essential for man made shoes to keep the sole attached (In the olden days when they only used leather soles they hammered the sole onto the shoe to ensure it stayed on)
  5. Hold the new sole/heel against the finishing wheel to smooth the edges so they’re inline with the shoes original sole.
  6. Hold the shoe against the finishing brushes (horse hair) to polish and tidy up the shoe (A process that would be used at a high quality shoe manufacturer)

Video link to view the finishing process

Heel & Sole types for high quality shoes

  • Leather full sole
  • Leather half sole
  • Rubber heel (more cost effective)
  • Quarter rubber heel (Rubber absorbs wear and tear)
  • Leather heel (Old fashioned)

Additional information

  • Eyelets are called grommets in the US
  • The welt is stitched to the upper from the inside (A lot of companies put on mock welt to make the shoe look high end, mainly shoes made in China and India that do this)
  • Goodyear welt
  • High quality shoe manufacturers have wooden lasts in all different sizes
  • Bespoke shoes made to order, hand made in Northampton – John Lobb
  • Sourcing locations: India/Cambodia/Indonesia – new sourcing locations that keep coming up in cheap shoes that he is repairing.
  • Loake shoes were traditionally made in England, but they are now sourcing elsewhere.
  • 6 different pins for stiletto heels coming in all variations of stem sizes with PU tops
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