How handmade shoes are really made | Craftsmanship Magazine (2024)


“You can make a shoe without electricity,” says Daniela Ghezzo, which is obvious if you recall how many millennia have walked past us in shoes that predated the Second Industrial Revolution. “With leather, pliers, nails, knife, a piece of glass for scraping, some thread and a hammer, you can make a shoe.”

But first, we must come to terms – specifically, the seemingly-synonymous terms currently being used for various expensive shoes. “Custom-made,” “handmade” and “made to measure” are not the same thing, but emotional words such as “traditional” and “skilled” in advertising give the impression that they are. That excellent shoes are made by a variety of means is not disputed, but all shoes are not, in fact, created equal.

“Skilled” sounds good, but it usually doesn’t specify the specific skill, or what tools or machines are involved in expressing it.“Quality” is also a favorite term, as is “hand-sewn,” though the latter rarely specifies what, or how much, of the shoe is truly hand-sewn.

“Handmade” and “custom-made” are words which tend to mean whatever the seller wants them to mean, but are based on shoes which have already been either designed and/or made, by a range of methods, from patterns that already exist, and are altered somewhat according to your measurements and style options. There are now computer programs which will measure your foot and send them by computer to the shop or factory. A personal fitting is rarely included.

“Handmade” means that a skilled person did some work on it, but might have used a machine.As one shoemaker put it, “I believe that ‘handmade’ should include: hand lasting, a hand-welted, hand-sewn sole, and hand-built heel. Many makers have an old sole stitcher in the workshop which makes the long process of sole stitching in a few moments…. Which is fine. But not handmade.”

Daniela Ghezzo is very clear that she creates “made-to-measure handmade shoes.”This means that the shoe did not exist on this planet in any form until you walked in and commissioned it from scratch according to measurements taken by a person, not a computer program. The shoe has been created from a pile of animal skins – or fabric, if you prefer — and has been made entirely by hand, following a pattern and a form, called a last, which were created from and for your particular foot.

The classic leather for men’s winter shoes is either calf or horse – “cordovan” –which is an especially robust and resistant leather. It’s thicker than calf but just as soft. It’s one of the most expensive leathers partly because of its quality and partly because only two small ovals of about 0.3 square meters from the groppone (the back) can be used. So for one pair of shoes, you need one whole horse. “The old shoemakers used even the tiny bits so as not to waste anything,” Daniela says, “but I’m a little wasteful because I like to use a new skin when I do a new pair.”

For men’s summer shoes she favors kangaroo because it’s so soft and yet resistant. There’s also suede, and patent leather for formal shoes. For women the classic materials are kid, lamb, and suede.

The steps in the process are performed by specialized workers in factories, but to call him- or herself a master, a cordwainer has to be able to do them all. These begin with measuring the foot—its every line and every curve. There are machines and other tools that can do this now, but there is a golden rule among shoemakers: The simpler the instruments for measuring, the more trustworthy the results.

The next step is making the “last,” which is a form made of some kind of hard material that’s shaped to become a three-dimensional reproduction of your foot, including bumps, bunions, dips and crooked toes. Once that’s done, it’s time to create a pattern for the style of shoe you’ve ordered—just as a tailor would of a custom-made dress or suit. The cordwainer than begins the long, arduous process of cutting and sewing leather to match the pattern and the last.

“You know what’s the hardest shoe to do?” Daniela asks. “Sophisticated sandals. Because every toe has its position. You have to pay a lot of attention to their feet because you don’t want their little toe hanging out. When you have a sandal like this (and Daniela holds up the minimalist, strappy sandal featured at the end of our photo essay, “Shoe fantasies made real”) you have to calculate the position and the angle of the strip of leather perfectly.”

Erla Zwingle, Contributing Editor, has written for dozens of magazines over the past 30 years, primarilyNational Geographic, to which she has contributed 25 articles as well as writing itsGuide to Venice.

© 2024 Erla Zwingle, Contributing Editor. All rights reserved. Under exclusive license to Craftsmanship, LLC. Unauthorized copying or republication of any part of this article is prohibited by law.

How handmade shoes are really made | Craftsmanship Magazine (2024)


Is Allen Edmonds made in USA? ›

We've been handcrafting footwear in America since 1922. It's a time-tested practice that involves 212 different steps and 48 pairs of hands. Building the best footwear requires a passion for every stage of the process.

Why are handmade shoes so expensive? ›

Handmade leather shoes are usually expensive not because of the quality material but the labor. The cost is actually in the labor that enables the shoe luxuries making it pretty comfortable, airy that fit sungly.

How long does it take to make a handmade pair of shoes? ›

' The answer will depend heavily on the design of the shoe, but to give you a rough idea if you are making your own shoes following our home shoemaking techniques it can take anywhere from 2+ hours for a pair of sandals and 6+ hours for a pair of boots.

What is the difference between handmade shoes and machine made shoes? ›

Unlike machine-made shoes, handmade shoes are completely unique. Machine-made shoes are made by machines for the purposes of assembly lines and mass production. Hand-crafted shoes, on the other hand, are created by skilled artisans using traditional techniques that are passed down through the generations.

Are Clarks made in USA? ›

Clarks shoes are still made in England, Somerset where they originate from. Their factories are in Vietnam, India and, soon, the UK.

What company owns Allen Edmonds? ›

In 2013, the company announced that it would be acquired by private equity firm Brentwood Associates. In December 2016, Caleres acquired Allen Edmonds from Brentwood Associates for $255 million.

Which country is famous for handmade shoes? ›

Indonesia is renowned for its handcrafted footwear, often produced by skilled artisans using traditional techniques. Regions like Bali and Java are hubs for the creation of intricately designed sandals and shoes that showcase the country's cultural diversity.

How much does it actually cost to make a shoe? ›

If a pair of shoes costs $100 at retail, that means the retailer paid the shoe company about $50 for it, and in turn the shoe company's landed cost was about $25.

What are handmade shoes called? ›

Bespoke shoes or custom shoes are shoes made especially for a certain customer by a shoemaker. The feet are measured and a last for each foot is created. At the fitting, the customer tries the prototype pair of shoes made in an inexpensive leather and the shoemaker checks if anything needs to be changed.

How much does it cost to have custom shoes made? ›

Custom-made shoes can vary in price, typically falling between the range of $400 and $2000. However, it's worth noting that sneaker enthusiasts can explore options at slightly lower price points as well.

How long do pairs of shoes last? ›

When do our shoes become worn out? According to podiatrists, everyday shoes need to be replaced every 8 to 12 months – or when they start showing signs of wear and tear.

Why are handmade footwear better? ›

Handmade shoes are also long-lasting than ready-made ones. They are made from animal leather, and other soft fabrics that are durable and provide good performance. Ready-made shoes can sometimes feel hard while you walk as the materials used are not often pliable which is never the case for handcrafted shoes.

Are handmade shoes comfortable? ›

Through the care and skill of expert craftsmen, handmade shoes are built for quality, durability, and long-lasting comfort – especially when they're made-to-order just for you. Genuine are an investment, so read on to find out why they're worth it.

What are the benefits of handmade shoes? ›

We show you the benefits of choosing handmade footwear and the advantages of its manufacturing process at the time of purchase.
  • Top quality raw materials. ...
  • Greater durability and resistance. ...
  • Most optimal footwear. ...
  • Originality and exclusivity. ...
  • Traditionality. ...
  • Cost effectiveness.

Are any shoes made in USA? › – Some of their leather boots and shoes, like their famous 1000 Mile Boot, are made in the USA.

Are any sneakers made in the United States? ›

Opie Way. Classic sneakers designed, cut, sewn and finished in the USA from a small factory in the founder's North Carolina hometown. Opie Way is an all-American minimalist sneaker producer born from observing the ills of the sneaker industry and wanting to turn a passion into a homegrown success story.

Are there any shoe manufacturers in the United States? ›

How many businesses are there in the Shoe & Footwear Manufacturing industry in the US in 2023? There are 895 Shoe & Footwear Manufacturing businesses in the US as of 2023, an increase of 0.2% from 2022.

Are Allen Edmonds shoes made in India? ›

Allen Edmonds is one of the few remaining Great American dress shoe companies. Manufactured in Wisconsin, they're still made today less than 10 miles away from the original factory.

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