Loake factory trip part 1

Loake factory trip part 1

It is this time of year when we order our new products for the Autumn-Winter 2011. We buy from a lot of brands, many of them based in Europe, some in America and Australia. In the UK there are only a handful of shoe manufacturers left and one of them is Loake.

Loake produce a selection of premium quality handmade shoes, many of which are classic English style icons. It takes several weeks to make a complete pair and involves over 250 operations. Read on to see how its done!

Loake factory is based in the town of Kettering, about 80 miles north of London. The factory’s is perched among the terraced houses and while the front facing the street does not look massive, the factory extends quite a way back to provide space for the machinery, offices, design and showrooms, returns and the pack and despatch areas.

The first thing you see once you get past the intercom is the certificate of appointment to Her Majesty the Queen.

As you wait to be taken through, you explore the corridor with its impressive antique heel-attaching machine and the old memorabilia hung on the walls.

In the main building there are large office areas for the admin staff and upstairs are the meeting and show rooms, design and prototyping rooms and the tailoring area.

Right below the tailoring area is the room with heavy press machinery where the uppers are cut from large pieces of leather using some very sharp cutters.

The cutters are sharpened on both sides which allows a single piece to be used for the left and the right foot.

As you walk through the factory, you enter another area where larger cutters are used to create the leather soles.

The soles are cut larger than the required size and get trimmed once they are attached to the uppers.

The cutters of all different sizes and shapes are all stored right there, ready to be used.

Each sole is marked with notches to determine the shoe size and are colour coded by individual batches.

In order to attach the sole to the upper, there is a joining layer which provides the original framework and simplifies the handling of the shoe.

The layer is covered with adhesive and a special rib is then attached that will be used to stitch the footbed to the upper.

The placement of the rib has to be very precise as it can affect the contour of the shoe.

The heels are also assembled near by using layers of water-cut leather and rubber depending on the design.

The heels are passed through this machine that shaves off any excess height.

The uppers are fitted with an instruction sheet — ready to have the welted soles attached.

The press above is used to mould the heel into shape and to join the leather with a stiffener and a layer of lining.

Moulded uppers are sent to steam room to replenish leather’s moisture and make is soft and supple.

Once all the parts are ready, appropriate size lasts are picked and matched up to the footbed layer of the future sole.

The future sole is then attached to the last using nails.

The upper is stretched onto the last and attached to the base of the sole by injecting heated cement.

The connection is reinforced with metal studs and the shoe is vacuum enclosed into thick plastic film to keep the upper free of oil and glue marks.

The top part of the welt is attached.

This image shows where the leather sole will be attached.

The sole is reinforced with a strong plate and the front is filled with cork and adhesive mix which offers extra suspension and benefits the shoe’s water resistance.

An extra layer of leather is attached to the heel to make the construction more durable.

The shoes rest allowing the cork mix to dry.

The sole is then covered with latex and the shoes are set to rest until the latex is dry.
Latex is a flexible natural rubber which acts as water resistant barrier if you get your shoes in the water.

The full leather sole is glued onto the shoe using heavy press which also shapes it to make that nice curve and lift the toe up.

About a dozen nails is fired through the heel to make sure the connection is strong.

The sole is then trimmed and at the same time some leather is cut away around the outside to make up the path for the stitching.

The welt is then carefully stitched through.

The rolling press shapes the sole by pressing it to the last with 300 pounds of force.

Make sure to read part 2 to see how the shoes are heeled and finished.
Loake factory trip part 2

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