As mentioned in my last post, to give you all an insight in the making of Italigente’s shoes, every element from start to finish, here’s a large report with lots of pictures from the production in Montegranaro, Italy. It’s part of the Italigente Uncovered project, where you are invited to follow and influence the brands work.
The shoes we follow the making of in this report is a collaboration model between Shogazing and Italigente. The model is called Napoli made in the shade Castagna. It is a mix between a model I have had made by Antonio Meccariello and Italigente’s wholecut with medallion Venezia Castagna.
Marche is located in the eastern part of Italy, along the Adriatic Sea. A beautiful region with an undulating landscape ideal for agriculture, and with several rivers running through it. Capital of the region is Ancona. This is the Italian equivalent of Northampton in England or Almansa in Spain. The region has about 500 footwear manufacturers, and they make every kind of shoes you can imagine. There are some large factories, for example Prada and Tod’s have factories here, but mostly it’s very small manufacturers. Often a number of family members who runs a small niche production of a certain type of shoes. It is not unusual to own some land and run a small agricultural activity on the side. The situation for many of the smaller producers here, however, is tough, as Asia continues to take over more and more of the production. As an example, in the mentioned Prada factory they only make sample shoes, an entire large factory only for the development of new models. The shoes are then produced in Asia. Manufacturers who work with traditionally constructed quality shoes are the ones who are least affected since moving production to Asia is more limited in this sector. In Marche Santoni, Silvano Sassetti, Bontono and Silvano Lattanzi makes their shoes, to name a few better-known brands. But many do private label shoes for various brands, and are completely unknown.
Montegranaro is a small town situated one 15 kilometer inland. It is a bit special because it is spread out over two small mountains, on one mountain is the center part of the town, in the valley is an industrial area which includes the Prada factory that makes the test shoes, and the other mountain contains a smaller neighborhood. It’s here, with a tremendous view all the way to the sea in the east, that Italigente’s shoes are manufactured. It is a residential building with apartments that houses a garage in the ground floor. Here the key is always in the door when someone is inside, and on the other side of the door you find the Marini family. The father Claudio, his daughter Deborah and son Giancarlo. Claudio has worked with shoes for four decades, and both Deborah and Giancarlo started to work with their father at the age of 15. Claudio and Deb live in apartments in the same building as the garage, while Giancarlo lives with his family in a village a couple some 20 km away.
Here approximately 80-100 shoes are produced a week. The leather’s used are mainly from the French tannery D’Annonay, and some from Italian Ilcea. Suede comes from Charles F. Stead in England and Opera in Italy. All elements of the shoes are not made here, for some the Marinis go to neighboring villages to fix things. In the Marche there has formed clusters that specialise in a particular field. There is a city with surrounding villages where the focus is on women’s shoes, another where there are children shoes produced. Here in and around Montegranaro it’s the classic mens’ shoes that are in focus.
Claudio who obviously is the most experienced of them, is the one that makes the most crucial elements in the manufacturing process, for example cutting the leather and the Blake- and Rapid-seams.
The leather is cut out by hand, so called clicking. We have templates for the various patterns, and Claudio place them on the leather so that the parts that are most visible and most strained on the shoes are cut out of the parts closest to the spine, where the leather is of the best quality. Other parts are placed out to the sides.
How many pairs of shoes that are made of one skin varies widely, it usually depends on the quality of each skin and what kind of model it is. Wholecuts are those that require most of the hides. With patterns made of smaller pieces it’s easier to deploy good pieces of leather and avoid less good parts, than when it comes to the big parts used for wholecuts. In addition to the leather for the uppers, Claudio also cut leathers for the lining. Vegetable-tanned leather is used for the lining, and here cosmetic blemishes in the leather doesn’t matter that much when used for the inside of the shoe so more of the hides are used for the lining than the upper.
The parts of leather are then put in the car and transported to the neighboring village of Monte San Giusto. To Celestina Petrini, a lady of 60 years of age who worked as head closer at a local shoe factory for several decades, but who for 15 years has been running her own business and work together with the Marini family and a couple of other men’s shoe manufacturers. In a room of just a few square meters in the basement of her apartment building stands three different sewing machines and a TV which shoes Italian soap operas and talk shows throughout the day.
The closing of a wholecut are obviously a relatively simple process compared to models with more parts and patterns. Nevertheless, many elements have to be made. First Celestina sew together the lining which in this case consists of a large part that covers the entire inside except the heel, where we use a piece of suede. Suede is a not entirely unusual solution in the heel part of the lining as it keeps the heel in place a bit better and minimises heel slippage, the downside is that it can wear down a little faster and you have to go to the shoemaker and attach new heel liner about a year earlier than with regular leather in the heel part. The tongue is also attached to the lining.
The upper leather is sewn together with an inverted seam in the heel and with a so-called “dogtail” on top at the back, where it needs to be stronger than just an inverted seam. Celestina then glue on reinforcements in various places, on the inside of the vamp, including a leather strip in the area where toe stiffener’s rear part will end up for not having the edge to appear too much on the outside, a piping along the top line and leather reinforcement along the same, and a sort of textile where the lacing is to ensure that there is no risk that the leather breaks when pulling the laces tight. Then she sews together the upper and the inner lining along the entire top line, and with very sharp scissors she cut away the abundance of lining leather.
Two elements of the closing is then made back at the Marinis’. It’s attaching a leather thread as reinforcement at the bottom of the lacing. We also put a thin leather patch of the same shade as the vamp under the medallion. At Marini’s preparations of the insole is also being made as it is attached to the last and edged trimmed down, making them ready for the lasting process later.
Next stop for the uppers is a bit special. When making wholecuts you have limited ability to have the uppers shaped in advance, so to speak, than when it comes to shoes with more parts where you make the pattern so that they follow the last shape. Last 29 which is used for several of Italigente’s shoes, the model Napoli being one of them, is quite aggressive in shape at the rear of the vamp. To ensure that there is no space between the last and uppers we help the leather a little bit by forming a slight bend just below the lacing.
This is made in a place in the central parts of Montegranaro which at first feels a bit like an American “self-service laundry” but instead of washing machines other machines are lined up. In one of them two uppers at a time is inserted, which warms up the leather while it is formed, and get this indentation which is needed.
Next stop for the shoes is in the outskirts of Montegranaro, at a backyard where a horse is standing and chewing oats in a small corral that faces a larger paddock. In the nearby building the company Strappa Tullio & CSNC is housed, founded by Tullio Strappa and now run by his sons Giuseppe and Giacomo Strappa along with their wives and children. Here shoes from a number of manufacturers in the region are being lasted. First the shoes are laced with temporary lacing. Thereafter glue is sprayed in the heel part and a heel stiffener made of so-called leather board is fitted and pressed in a machine. Leather board is a material made of leather dust mixed with glue and pressed together. The stiffeners are preformed so they have roughly the same shape as the lasts, then during the lasting process they form to the exact shape of the lasts. Leather board molds itself better to the foot than thermoplastic or celastic which is commonly used for budget quality shoes and a some midrange manufacturers, but it’s not as good as real leather, which is used by some of the most expensive RTW manufacturers or in Eastern Europe, and in bespoke manufacturing. For the toe stiffeners, however, the mentioned celastic is used, which is a textile impregnated plastic. It is flat and flexible when glued in place, then heated and formed simply to the form of the last, and quickly solidifies when it comes away from the heat. The ease of attaching celastic is one of the major reasons it’s used, and since the toe stiffener isn’t supposed to adjust to the shape of the foot in the same way as the heel stiffener, it works better here. Basically all RTW manufacturers, including premium brands, except some in Eastern Europe, use celastic or thermoplastic for toe stiffeners.
Then it’s time for the lasting process. First the uppers are moisturised with a water shower. Then we start by pulling the front part of the shoe. The machines used in the lasting is real high-tech monsters, where you save settings for all lasts that you work with in the machine’s computer. It is very important that the shoe is placed correctly in the machine, where a lot of sort of arms grab the leather and pull it over the last. In the next step heel and arch of the shoe is lasted. This is made in it the same way, just with the addition that the leather is put in a steam machine to make sure it gets the proper shape in the arch of the foot.
When the uppers are pulled over the lasts, it’s time for the making, and now we are back in the Marini’s garage again. What happens first, however, is that Deborah paint the shoes with leather color, if it’s not our black shade or the dark brown Caffe. The model Napoli are made in the shade Castagna, where a light brown leather is painted with two darker shades. This is a process that takes about 30 minutes per pair, and it will also be treated with shoe cream and polish when the shoes are finished in production. The reason we paint the shoes in this stage of the manufacturing process is to avoid it becoming a gap in the staining at the edge of the sole, which is more difficult to access neatly after the soles have been put on. The first layer of color Deborah paints on with a sponge. She also uses a brush to get leather color in the brogueing holes. The shoe is then allowed to rest a bit before she go over the shoes with a hot iron, to really make the paint go into the leather. In the next element she puts on another coat of paint with a cloth, to get a proper depth and a fine mottling.
The making process starts with the work to grind away the abundance of upper leather underneath the shoes, and smooth it out a bit with the insole. On a Blake/Rapid-sewn shoe, it will be hardly any cavitiy at all between the insole and the next layer which is a midsole. It thus becomes more like a hand welted shoe in this aspect than a Goodyear welted shoe, since the latter has a canvas rib glued to the insole which makes a very large void that has to be filled with large amounts of cork pulp. On Italigente’s shoes we now put a small piece of latex material that fills the small cavity. Looking ahead, however, these are going to be changed back to a small thin layer of cork, which was used earlier, one of the reasons for this is since it’s easier to replace than latex when the shoes are old and has been fully run-down. The models recently launched has cork filling.
Then a leather midsole is glued into place. One take a midsole in a larger size, where we then draw out the size of the shoe on it with a little margin, for knowing where the glue is to be added. The bottom of the insole is also glued, and then get the glue gets to soak in for about 20-30 minutes before putting them in a pressure machine. Then the edges are trimmed down roughly.
Now it’s time for the first stitches when the Blake stitching is to be sewn. The fact that a Blake stitch is made right into the shoe cause the needs to remove the last. The lasts has a hole in its top, and when the last is to be taken out you turn the shoe upside down and place it on a pole with a bracket that fits here. Before this step is done we also take away the lacing. The last is then taken out by prying the shoe down firmly on the front part so that the last is divided in half and slides out of the shoe.
Then a seam is stitched with a Blake machine, or McKay machine as they are often called. A seam through the midsole and insole. On a typical Blake shoe its more ore less finished in this stage, in some cases followed by closing the channel in the outsole, but on a Blake/Rapid shoe you only reached halfway through bottoming process. If you compare the Blake/Rapid-stitched shoe with a Goodyear welted it’s in this section that the biggest difference is. That the seam is sewn so it goes into the shoe is a disadvantage for Blake/Rapid compared to Goodyear welting, where the guts of the shoe is completely intact, so to speak. However, an advantage of Blake/Rapid shoe is that the entire construction is attached with stitches, unlike Goodyear welted ones where the canvas rib which the welt is sewn to is only glued to the insole, so called gemming. It’s not really common that there will be problems with gemming, but it happens sometimes. How big the problem with gemming is thoroughly discussed among shoe aficianados.
When the Blake stitch is made you put in the last of the shoe again on a Blake/Rapid shoe, since part of the making remains. The good thing about this is that the stitches on the inside now is pushed into the insole even more, which means that even people with very sensitive feet do not feel the seam.
One then add a new layer of glue on the bottom of the midsole and the outsole. They are once again laid to rest for a while before pressing them there with a different kind of pressure machine. Italigente use chestnut bark-tanned leather soles from an Italian supplier named Volbi, which is of great quality. The soles of Volbi comes with a channel that is already cut, it goes straight in from the side of the sole. Here it is of course important that you order soles that suits the differents lasts and the various sizes fairly well. After the sole is on, we open the channel in the sole so that there is access to sew Rapid seam.
The reason this seam is called a Rapid stitch is since it’s the name of the most common manufacturer of sole stitching machines. This stitch is done in exactly the same way as a Goodyear welted shoe, with the same machines, and when a Blake/Rapid-sewn shoe are resoled, it’s just this stitch that is removed, so in other words, a resole is the same as on a welted shoe, and all cobblers are able do this. After athe sole stitch is sewn on and the channel i laid down with some glue in it, so the seam is hidden under and the sole is completely smooth.
The heels we use are made of leather distances, where the bottom part is in the same chestnut bark tanned material as the soles, and at the back part is, as usual, of rubber.
This was as far we could cover the work with the Italigente for Shoegazing model Napoli, since we only spent two days this visit. So the final stages shown here are when two samle shoes are being made at a workshop doing sole and heel edges as well as the sole finish.
This place is also in Montegranaro, and the one who does the job is a man with nine fingers, he lost one finger in one of the machines in the workshop when he trimmed sole edges on a pair of shoes a number of years ago. Here the shoes go through a long series of machines that makes the edges of the shoes soles and heels smooth and refined, before both these and the soles are painted. The sole edges with a thicker color, while the soles are made with a bit of brown shade painted on with a sponge for a nice look.
Thereafter, only the final finish is left, this being made back at the Marini’s. Lasts are pulled out and a half-sock lining leather is placed inside the shoes. Finally they are treated with shoe cream and polish, they are laced and packed down in their boxes. Voilà – they are done!