Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Sneakers on the eco trail

Image result for sneaker anatomy
Image: For Kicks Sake - Anataomy of a sneaker

Welcome back good shoe folk and here we are all set for the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers Livery supper; the perfect networking opportunity for British footwear to talk all things footwear and exchange ideas with British makers, designers and manufacturers from across the country. One of the hot topics is bound to be sneakers' (trainers) market dominance.

Image: Carreducker Tor Boots

Like many, I'm more comfortable in a pair of Tor boots and jeans or even, dare I say it, trainers. Continuing last week's discussions of all things sustainable and environmental this is one sector where there are huge strides to be made. Here's a snapshot from a Wallpaper article that neatly puts it into context.

  • The fashion industry... produces more carbon emissions than international flights and shipping combined; and trainers leave a particularly large and unpleasant footprint
  • Trainers use a lot of different and ‘problematic’ materials – leather, nylon, synthetic rubber, plastic and viscose – and involve a number of different manufacturing processes – injection moulding, foaming, heating, cutting and sewing. That means a lot of resource-munching making and logistical toing and froing up and down the supply chain. Where they are made also matters." 
  • Over three-quarters of the world’s trainers are produced in China, where manufacturing is still – despite some positive moves – vastly reliant on fossil fuels. 

'Eco' is the current tag of choice and some brands are more committed and successful than others. Here are some to look out for:

Veja - produced in Brazil - the brand works with local organic cotton producers, Amazonian rubber farmers and a factory that turns plastic water bottles into thread for uppers

Image result for veja sneakers
Image: Veja sneakers

Allbirds - focused on making a shoe using fewer processes and more sustainable materials including  merino wool uppers, eucalyptus-based fibre and a sugarcane-based rubber

Image result for allbirds sneakers
Image: Allbirds sneakers

Everlane - Its tread trainer is made from recycled plastic, rubber and the low-impact leather

Image result for everlane tread sneakers
Image: Everlane Tread Sneaker

Good News - with recycled tyre outsoles, insoles of recycled eva and organic cotton uppers from the UK

Image result for good news sneakers
Image: Good News corduroy sneakers

Baabuk  - natural wool sneakers and slippers

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Image: Baabuk wool upper sneaker

Even the big players realise they need to step up to the market not just to attract young consumers, but the young talent in the industry.

Nike - its Flyknit material reduces waste and its Flyleather is made from recycled leather scraps; over 75% of shoes now use some recycled materials and it is by far the industry’s biggest user of recycled polyester.

Image: Natural leather Nike Air
Adidas - has developed Futurecraft Loop a fully recyclable sneaker made entirely from TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane); has partnered with campaign group Parley for the Oceans to produce a range of shoes with uppers made from recycled ocean waste; and has committed to transitioning fully to recycled plastic by 2024.

shoes knitted from ocean plastic
Image: Adidas Recycled Ocean Waste Shoe

Converse - is investigating sustainable materials and so far has launched three upcycled or recycled versions of the ‘Chuck Taylor’ - one in partnership with Thread International produced using recycled PET from plastic bottles; another features a recycled denim upper in partnership with Beyond Retro; and the third uses recycled waste canvas from its own mills. (To give some context of the impact, up to 100 million pairs of the ‘Chuck Taylor All Star Classic’ are produced a year)

Renew Canvas Chuck Taylor All Star Obsidian/Egret/White
Image: Renew Canvas Chuck Taylor All-Star

It's encouraging. We'll see, but for now I've got a better idea of which brands to look out for. Until next week, happy shoemaking.

Monday, 14 October 2019

For the love of Leather

 Welcome back good shoe folk and forgive us but we're on the campaign trail, fighting the corner for sustainably sourced, naturally tanned leather. 

Why? Because the consumer and media frenzy around non-leather alternatives is undermining all that is good about leather (assuming you accept the fact that it is a by-product of the meat industry).  

Don't get us wrong, we believe that climate change is real and the meat/leather industry is definitely a contributing factor, but it's a complex debate. 

We firmly believe in buy local, buy better, buy less. 

We don't believe that switching the same consumer shopping habits to a new product because it's marketed with eco credentials is the solution...

Eco, sustainability, environmental, 'green' are not only critical drivers in improving the planet, but also marketing / sales tools used to good and bad effect.

For instance, whilst most “eco-friendly” products are “animal friendly”, not all “animal friendly” products are “eco-friendly” because of a carbon-intensive footprint or lack of biodegradability. In some instances synthetic leather may actually be more hazardous to the environment than genuine leather and even plant-based leather alternatives often use plastic-based adhesives to glue the fibres together.

So we're here to speak out in favour of leather and its sensuous, tactile, familiar qualities.

In favour of leather:

Byproduct: Over 99% of hides used in leather production are a byproduct of cattle raised for milk and beef production which would otherwise equate to 7 million tonnes of waste

Leather and the environment: Globally leather manufacturers strive to produce leather sustainably using reverse osmosis to treat effluent; converting solid wastes to energy; and applying state of the art technologies such as gasification of waste to produce power and reduce the carbon footprint

Leather and cancer: The majority of leather tanning is not carcinogenic; it uses a chromium III salt which is an essential nutrient and has the toxicity of table salt

Sustainability: Leather and leather products are more sustainable as they are still found to be attractive and usable as they wear/patina, leading to longer use and recycling. 

Faux leather does not breakdown like real leather and is subject to “down recycling” meaning that it cannot be made into another item of faux leather.

Leather's carbon footprint: Leather has a carbon footprint lower or equal to synthetic materials 

Leather alternatives:
Leather alternatives that may prove to have the edge are those which are an agricultural by-product, such as “Pinatex” made from waste pineapple leaves, which has the strength and flexibility needed for manufacturing. 

+ Climate Change
From a climate change perspective, by taking a waste product and “upscaling” it into something of value, no additional land, water, pesticides, or fertilizers are necessary in the initial production phase...the question remains what is the environmental impact as production phases intensify? 

Other developments on the horizon include lab-grown or cell-cultured meat and “biofabrication”, lab-grown leather. Their long-term growth and success depends on consumers preferences, companies’ abilities to scale up their production and the environmental and sustainability issues that accompany the materials. 

As makers, yes, we'd love to explore non-leather materials to understand and compare their properties with leather, but until they become available to us we'll stick to the familiar - supple, naturally tanned leathers - whose sustainable properties we know and admire.  

Take Bakers' oak bark leather, where hides and oak bark are all locally sourced; the millstream turns a water wheel which gently moves water in the pits; and the water is so clean at the end that it goes back into the millstream. 

So if you work with naturally tanned, quality leather please do your bit to tell its, more than ever leather needs good marketing and it's up to all of us to tell its story. 

Until next week, happy shoemaking.

Friday, 4 October 2019

New Shoe Making Tools in The Tool Shed

Hello again to all the gentle shoe folk of the world . We hope you have had a good week and are looking forward to the weekend.

This week we are bringing you new products from the Carreducker Tool Shed, our online tool shop for shoe making tools and materials.

We have an array of new tools for sale which will enhance your shoe making experience and complete that all important tool collection. Yes, we realise that, sometimes, just having your hands on the tool is enough #wantit

And as a little thank you to our loyal blog readers, we are offering a 10% discount on these six new tools until Sunday midnight - get in quick!

First up is a small but very important addition to your tool box, a lasting pin. Made from tool steel in England, this pin, measuring 8cm, is essential for taking out the lasts after finishing the shoes.

It will only work with lasts with a hinge breaking mechanism, not the older style cone lasts.

The simplest way to use it is in the jaws of a bench vice which must be bolted to the bench in order to work.

It costs £20.25 and is on sale in our online store

The next tool is a specialist grooving tool which we use for making the groove in the channel for the sole stitches to sit in.

It was made as a staple remover but we will grind it for you to make it suitable for the job

Made in England, it is a bargain at £25.34 at our online tool shop. Our workshop name for it is a vulture because of its beaky point

Up next in our parade of beautiful tools is a roughing tool for breaking the skin surface of the heel lifts to stop them squeaking.

It can be used as an alternative to glassing the leather. Use it lightly as it is a bit savage, hence its nick name, the killer toothbrush.

It costs £17.26 and is available here

We really like these dividers because they have such a good weight in the hand.

 A firm locking system.

And sharp points which make it very useful for marking out the welts.

They cost £23.40 which may seem like a lot for dividers, but they will be the only ones you will ever need.

Pro dividers are available here

You might think that nippers are nippers and they are pretty much all the same. Well, some nippers are more nippery than others, and these are the nipperiest nippers we have found.

They have really hard, sharp teeth that don't deteriorate with clipping nails.

And they have long handles which makes clipping nails very easy.

Also great for removing nails

They cost £43.86, again, at the high end of the market, but they are worth it and will last many years and many pairs of shoes - available here

And last, but not least is a nail hammer. We like this one because it has a good weight (12oz head) and a long hickory handle.

Hammers are a very personal choice and different people like different weights, but we use this one in class and the students generally like it. Great for hammering nails.

It costs £26.92 and is available here.

And that, as they say is a wrap. We hope you are tempted by these additions to the Tool Shed. And don't forget the discount on orders until Sunday night UK time

Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 27 September 2019

University of Northampton new Leather Centre and Future of Training Workshop

Welcome back good shoe folk. Last week we attended an interesting debate organised by Leather UK at Northampton University's wonderful, waterside campus on a bright, sunny day. The focus of the day was reviewing the current workforce situation - the majority are over 40 and very few youngsters are being attracted into the industry - and how to attract and retain talent in leather, footwear and fashion across Europe. 


Serious conversations were had with presentations from 

  • Kerry Senior, Leather UK discussing the current situation 
  • John West, Skills and Training Manager, UKFT looking at apprentceships
  • Rachel Garwood, Director of the new ICLT (Institute for Creative Leather Technologies) discussing higher education
  • Gustavo Gonzales-Quijano, Secretary General, COTANCE discussing skills needed for a modern leather industry
  • Rhona Ferris, Human Resources Advisor, Scottish Leather Group sharing their industry perspective on the benefits of training and education for the workforce

The outcome from the various presentations and discussions? That to succeed, the industry really needs to work together 

  • to address negative perceptions and myths surrounding the industry
  • to demonstrate just what a vibrant industry it is
  • to show the wide variety of career paths available to youngsters
  • to highlight that there is a shortage of people in the industry and therefore an opportunity to move quickly up the career ladder

Deep breath...and then it was on to a tour of the just-opened new ICLT (Institute for Creative Leather Technologies) the University's unique research and education centre. 

We last visited their old tanning education unit about 10 years ago. What a contrast the new space is, bright, airy and beautifully organised, the result of moving into a fit-for-purpose space designed around the equipment, materials and practises going on underneath its roof. 

The ICLT is designed to respond to the scientific and technological needs of the automotive, fashion, footwear and allied leather industries. 

The unit's Director, Rachel Garwood believes that:

"Understanding new and traditional leather processing techniques expands the possibilities of how leather can be used and...has an impact on diverse sectors, including medical and technological applications and partnerships into engineering, media and fashion".

The unit is very much a mix of the very traditional and the ultra modern showing that where a machine or approach works well there's no ned to change or replace it.

Leather pommel horses

An enthusiastic Tannery Manager, David Sherwood giving us the tour
Scraping drum for defleshing a hide

A tanning pit...on wheels

Salted hides

Hides before the fur and flesh are removed

Buffing wheel

One of the most exciting areas of the unit is the Microscopy suite. The suite includes a TESCAN scanning electron microscope and and light microscope, Oxford Instruments and large area Energy Dispersive X-Ray Analysis detector.

The magnification is magnificent! Take a look below....

The skin surface

The layers of a piece of hide

A houesfly
A bug

The surface of the bug's eye


And still closer

The hole where a hair follicle was; the spheres are the polymer used to coat the leather surface

No, not raspberries but pollen!

Thank you to Rachel, Dave and the team at the Northampton University for a fantastic and inspiring day. We're very envious of the student intake having such an amazing campus and facilities...

As well as one, two and three year courses there are short courses for professional development that can be combined with on-the-job training, so we're just working out which one of us is going first! 

Until next week happy shoemaking!