Welcome to our second post about the making of Soul Shoes, where we take you through the process, step by step. In part one we looked at the raw materials. Once we've got these and they've arrived at the workshop (sometimes by cargo ship, sometimes in the back of the car!) we need to do something with them! The preparing of all the materials for assembly takes two things; machines and man power!
We have some pretty cool machines in our Wharf workshop, some that we picked up many years ago, some from our friends in the shoe business and some that we've had to painstakingly move!
Cutting: One of our most used machines is our press. This is what we use to cut out the seperate leather pieces and also the rubber soles. We use 'knives' that we have designed and had made with the shoe patterns. The press brings down 15 tonnes of pressure onto the knife, cutting the leather/rubber, leaving you with the seperate pieces ready to be assembled.
We have some designs that are entirely handout and we also sometimes have to do some hand cutting when customers need the pattern adjusting. We use templates, or sometimes just expertise and a good old stanley knife.
Sewing Machines: Of course! We use sewing machines to stitch all of the separate leather pieces into the 'uppers' of the shoe. We have different sewing machines for different products, including a couple of lovely old singers and we also do some hand stitching, which takes a lot of elbow grease!
The 'Shoe Oven': Not it's official term, but that's what we call it! It's actually a 'high intensity cement activation unit' but that's a bit long! Once the glue goes onto the sole, it needs to be heat activated for super stickiness. The uppers and the soles go in glue side up for 30 seconds to get the glue going and it also doubles as a nice hand warmer in winter!
The 'Stomper': Another machine with an unofficial name...this machine uses a spring foot lever the apply pressure to the join where the sole has been stitched to the upper, after gluing and before stitching so that the shoe is held together when being put through the sewing machine. The Stomper has a notoriously annoying squeak sound!
The Grinder: We have a nice big, noisy belt sander that we use to grind down the rough edges of the sole, and where it joins the upper. We do this right at the end of the assembly and just before the shoes are shaped.
The Lasts: When the shoe has been assembled, it needs to be made into an actual shoe shape and also have the seam opened up so a foot can get in! The shoes are steamed and then placed on a rubber last (the wooden ones are a bit old now, but you can still see them around the workshop) and left overnight to stretch and shape.
We also have some extra stretching equipment like 'The Doofer', but that's a trade secret!
Manpower: Of course this all happens in the hands of shoemakers (and bag makers-but that's a different post!) shoemaking is hard graft and there's a lot of physical work that goes into making a pair, sometimes you'll see three of us wrestling to get one shoe on the last for stretching! Every pair of shoes is made by hand, from scratch, from start to finish by a Soul Shoes craftsman.