Behind every unique leather-working technique is a tale of tradition, beauty, and quality that gives Italian shoemaking its lifeblood. Each shoe carries the inestimable wealth of know-how and mastery accrued by decades of practice and dedication of artisans.
Let’s take a closer look at each indispensable process:
Design & Illustration
The shoe designer is a true artist - merging aesthetics, collection coherence, functionality and comfort into one product. After having the shoe concept in mind, the creative idea is then conveyed through sketches and illustrations, where they will be passed to the shoemakers as well as for marketing and presentation purposes.
Leather, rubber and other textiles are sourced from the finest Italian tanneries and textile manufacturers. Materials such as cotton can be used to reinforce the leather, providing increased strength and breathability.
At this stage, sophisticated leather processing techniques and hardware add-ons are also chosen to give the shoe its unique personality, such as interlaced leather weaves, silk-screen printing, embroidery of accessories and jewellery, or material distressing like stonewashing.
It’s the pattern maker’s job to analyze and interpret the designer’s concepts and provide the technical support necessary to create an initial prototype of the shoe. The pattern maker’s first concern is to select the perfect shoe last – the wooden chassis on which the shoe is built.
The shoe last is most often selected from available shapes, but for particular and unique designs, it is created and built from scratch. These are sourced from a variety of shoe last manufacturers in ISM’s Network, which includes a variety of high-performance workshops dedicated to custom-made and robust shoe last production.
The pattern maker then builds a paper body on top of the wooden shoe last base to represent fully all the discrete elements of the shoe. Once set, the paper body is removed from the shoe last and set aside for the clicking phase, where the material is being cut to the desired shape before the actual product is built.
“Clicking” is the traditional name for the process of leather hand cutting – it comes from the sound of knives cutting through brass-bound pattern. During the process, the clicking artisan cuts all the leather pieces necessary to make the linings and the upper (part of the shoe sitting on top of the foot).
Clicking is a very specialized skill for examining leather for defects, scars, or growth marks – any flaw in the leather must be avoided before cutting each piece by hand. A qualified clicking artisan needs to be an experienced leather worker in order to minimize material wastage while retaining the utmost quality.
Afterwards comes the edging process – flattening the edge of the pieces of cut leather to create crisp, neat seams between leather pieces for a comfortable fit and finish one would expect from a pair of hand-crafted shoes.
The cut leathers are then sent to the “Closing Room” where technicians perform operations such as hole-punching, edge staining, hand sewing, binding, machine stitching and skiving. Here, the upper and lining are assembled and reinforcements are applied to the toe and heel, which are essential to make the form solid and firm.
Here the artisan is guided by binding marks, paths for the needle and thread, before giving the leather various edge treatments known as “skiving”. The different parts of the upper will be sewn together, eyelets will be inserted, and raw edges are stained. These operations require a very high degree of skill and experience with cutting and skiving tools to work the materials into a three-dimensional shoe form.
The Making Room
The completed uppers are dispatched to the “Making Room” where they are combined with the last and a leather insole. After the insole has been attached to the wooden last, the upper is pulled over the last by hand and nailed to the insole to complete the shape-and-fit process and create a “lasted shoe”.
After several further trimming iterations, the lasted upper is ready to have the welt sewn into the shoe. The choice of welt is determined by customer requirements – it can be an all-rounder, three-quarter, flat, storm, or reversed sewn welt.
Following the welting process, cork material is utilized to fill the space between the insole and sole. Cork has always been the traditional material of choice for this and although expensive, it gives excellent flexibility and insulation to the shoe. Artisans will stitch the sole and welt together in a channel that can either be left open or folded. Finally, the heel will be made from layered pieces of leather for increased cushion and shock absorption and nailed to the shoe.
The experienced hands of a finishing artisan addresses any remaining imperfections whilst finishing the assembled shoe. Hot wax is applied to provide a waterproof seal and the heels are attached, trimmed and scoured for a smooth finish.
Various decorative processes and finishes are applied at this stage before a final polish to provide a distinct appearance.
A final quality inspection is performed by QC specialists before placing them into professional shoe packaging essentials such as cotton shoe bags and shoe boxes. Only the finest crafted shoes reach the end of this meticulous process as we do not ship anything we are not completely happy with.