Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 11 November 2011


"So, James, what do you do?"

"I'm a bespoke shoemaker."

"Really, that's amazing. Handmade shoes then."

Yes and no. Handmade is a murky term. You see it applied to cemented shoes from China; Blake stitched shoes from Italy; and Goodyear welted shoes from Northampton. What makes them handmade? The fact that they have been touched by a human hand? That's not quite enough in my eyes.
At what point do factory made shoes become handmade? How mechanised does the process have to be in order to drop the 'handmade' label? A shadowy area indeed.

I think my favourite ready to wear shoes are Edward Green. We visited the factory in Northampton a couple of years ago and were mightily impressed at the skill of the workforce; the quality of the materials; and the dedication of the MD to improve the manufacture. They are the most manually constructed factory shoes I have ever seen, but they are still made on industrial machines. By very skilled workers, it must be said, but are they handmade?

Not in my eyes. If you look at what we do at carréducker (and the other West End shoemakers in London), this is handmade. We make the shoes at a bench, with hand held tools from start to finish, no machines. There is a simplicity to this, a clarity, no blurred edges.
When people ask us are they handmade, we can say, with all honesty, that they are.
The only thing that is done on a machine is the closing, and even then, there is often an element of hand work, like the stitching on the lake/apron of a loafer, or the stay stitches on a Derby.

We steer clear of the term handmade for these reasons, preferring handsewn or hand stitched. Handmade is too much of a blanket word. It is so widely used that it has lost its meaning, so ubiquitous that the spectrum which it covers is virtually any shoe, made anywhere in the world, using any construction method you like.

But back to shoes. Very interesting piece in the Financial Chronicle online about the link between luxury brands and craft based companies like carréducker, using the collaboration between  us a Gieves and Hawkes as an example. Worth a read.

I was sent this image of a pair of shoes that I just love. Very James Bond villain, a beautiful, semi-aquatic one. Excellent in their madness nonetheless.

It has to be the orange pair, don't you think?

This video was posted to me on Facebook and it made me chuckle. Do I want a pair? Not if I have to dance like that in them. And listen to that terrible music all the time (yikes, I sound like my Dad!).

Starting the final pair of our Mayfair Collection, the Derby. Black again, with the pulled in fiddle waist. Very elegant, conservative and cool (is that possible in one shoe? You better believe it!).

So, until next week, happy shoemaking!


DWFII said...

I liked your post about "handmade." I couldn't agree more.

In my opinion, the machine is not the issue, however. It has more to do with responsibility and intent. A sewing machine is a more no the hands of a person who controls the machine and is willing to take active responsibility for the qualityof its output.

When the machine, or the company, is structured such that the machine is in control, and the work so divorced from the final product that it has to go through a separate quality control department, "handmade" becomes marketing hype and littleg more.

Since most of the shoe manufacturers worldwide deliberately use "handmade" in a misleading way, it is probably better for bespoke makers not to use the term at all.

jimmyshoe said...

Absolutely right DW. The whole handmade thing really bugs me, but the world is as it is. A few dissenting voices never did any harm though.

Karl Wilson said...

I really like your blog.
I wish more people could try on a pair of bespoke shoes.
Here is my blog that shows some totally handmade sandals and shoes that my wife and I made.
They look a little relaxed but we like them.

jimmyshoe said...

Thanks Karl, glad you like the blog. Please become a follower. And keep on shoemaking. Best, jimmyshoe