The design process starts with an idea – the designer has something in mind … let’s choose the new-in-2013 Loake Apethorn on the left – a chunky brogue with attitude! This must be converted to a drawing like the vintage-Loake exampl (of a brogue boot) shown on the right – probably by hand. The designer will have already chosen a last that fits the style of shoe that he/she has in mind – you can see the “Last 59/7” written on the drawing. The Apethorn is made on a last called “Pennine” as befits a substantial, country-style shoe. Other designs may require a slinkier last, with perhaps a narrow waist (the bit just ahead of the heel) and a pointy toe. In any event, the choice of last (see a pair on the left below) is vital and is part of the design process. The next step is convert the 3-dimensional idea in the designer’s head, as represented in his/her drawings, to a set of flat bits of leather than can be stitched together and “persuaded” to become 3-dimensional, attractive and comfortable!
In Loake’s “design flow” this is achieved by the following series of steps:-
1) Cover the chosen last in masking tape (yes, from B and Q!). Masking tape works well, as it is slightly stretchy and can emulate the behaviour of leather to some extent.
2) Draw the shoe design on to the masking tape
3) Cut the “masking-tape-shoe” off the last with a Stanley knife and into its various components (toecap/vamp/quarters/etc).
4) Flatten the components and tidy them up to form a pattern for leather, in order to make a trial shoe (or two). This is often done using a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) package that allows the shapes to be manipulated on a computer screen. Loake actually scan the hand-drawn, made-of-masking-tape shoe “kit” and use that as the basis for the CAD work, so the influence of the human hand and eye is very important.
5) Use this pattern to cut out a trial shoe and “close” it (ie sew the bits together). This makes a funny-looking thing as shown on the right- a floppy shoe upper with no sole.
6) Complete the shoemaking process, on the chosen last, adding sole, welt (if appropriate) heel, etc. During this process, it may be discovered that some of the design decisions made at the outset make the manufacture of the shoe difficult or impossible. Then it’s literally “back to the drawing board” and back through (1)-(6) again!
7) If the finished “trial shoe” is a success, make lots of them. This may mean creating new die for cutting unique components and perhaps even a new last. This all adds to the cost of designing and manufacturing a new shoe. As a result, several shoe designs tend to use the same last and in some cases even the die used to cut out (for example) the wingtips
In all, the design process, like every other part of the creation of a handmade pair of shoes, uses human creativity and skill (also perseverance!) to make something that looks nice, wears well and is kind to your feet.