January 4th, 2019
My family has been making traditional English shoes for longer than anyone can remember. My great-grandfather John opened the first Loake factory with his brothers, Thomas and William, back in 1880. Today, five generations and more than 130 years later, the Loake association with fine, handmade shoes lives on.
Cameron Buchan is a full-time athlete with British Rowing hoping to secure a seat for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. His increasingly popular Instagram and rowing vlog on YouTube also include a regular #suitmonday post which has featured Loake shoes. Here Cameron speaks to us about his passion for rowing, his sartorial influences and his growing social media profile.
Is it true that originally your favoured sport was basketball and that you were part of the GB U20 team? How did you make the transition to rowing?
Yes, I played basketball from the age of seven through to age 18 when I switched to rowing. I played for Scotland and GB all the way through. My transition through to rowing is a long story, but to save on detail I went to America for a year to increase my chances of being recruited for a basketball scholarship and during this year fell in love with rowing and earned a scholarship to row at Northeastern University in Boston
Rowing at Leander club is special. It is renowned throughout the rowing world for its long record of achievements. Between them the club’s members have earned over 100 Olympic medals, which is just amazing! We walk in the same footsteps as some of the world’s best rowers, such as Sir Steve Redgrave CBE and Sir Matthew Pinsent CBE. Medals, achievement boards and photographs around the club remind us every day of what it is possible to achieve.
You have been producing social content on behalf of both British Rowing and Leander Club, gaining notoriety and a wide
following fairly quickly. What is the motivation for this?
I really enjoy making content, so when I have an opportunity to do this for other people I jump at the chance! My aim is to take this content production skill, hone it over time and see where it takes me!
You clearly work hard to capture, produce, edit and post a substantial amount of video content almost every day. How do you manage to fit this around your busy training schedule?
There is a lot of planning each day. We know our training schedule in advance and of course that comes first, followed by recovery time, but I plan when I can edit after that. I try to edit at the same time each day, but life gets in the way sometimes and things have to change. Initially editing was taking up quite a bit of time, but now I am over 240 vlogs in, I am more familiar with the software I use and have been able to cut down dramatically the time each edit takes.
Your vlog provides an insight into life at Leander Club and the GB Rowing Training Centre at Caversham that is usually off limits to all but top athletes and coaches. How is your social influence received behind the scenes?
I get teased here and there, as is to be expected, but in fact all of my teammates are very supportive. Most of the time I try to keep filming at the training centres fairly low key, so as not to interfere with what anyone else is doing.
Your #suitmonday posts are an unexpected but welcome addition to the rowing content on your social channels, showing a well-developed sartorial awareness. Where do you think your dress sense originates and how would you describe your style?
At first, I used my #suitmonday posts to break up the many training posts, but they have developed into a popular feature of my feed. My dress sense has definitely evolved over the years. At school I was always happy to wear the shirt, tie and blazer combo, then at university I experimented a bit more – if you asked any of my university friends, they would probably remember the bright, all red tracksuit I used to wear to classes! Now I like a suit and a good pair of shoes, but I also have the confidence not to steer away from what might emphasise my 6ft 9 frame.
You mentioned that you have admired Loake shoes ever since your grandfather showed you his pair that had been repaired multiple times but were still in great shape. What is it in particular that you like about our shoes and the Loake brand?
Yes, my grandfather showed me how he used to maintain his Loake shoes and taught me about the repair process. He had a pair of black, double strap Monk shoes which he took pride in keeping polished. My Loake shoes are comfortable, look great and are very well made. What else can you ask for in a shoe? To me, Loake is synonymous with good craftsmanship.
Leander Club and Loake both have a heritage that stretches back to the 1800’s. In a recent #suitmonday post you featured our low cut Chelsea boot style Nene from the new Loake Legacy collection. What does the term legacy mean to you?
Legacy, to me, is what you aim to ‘leave behind’ for the next generation. Institutions like Leander and Loake have legacies that have been built and carefully managed over a long period of time. Both have well-deserved reputations.
How important do you think shoes are to an outfit and can you tell us what would be your perfect suit and shoe combination?
Shoes are a huge part of an outfit. Even in my birthday #suitmonday post I had shoes on! Shoes can make or break an outfit and I am still on the lookout for the perfect combination – aren’t we all? The perfect suit has to fit well to look good. I get so excited when I can find a blazer, trousers or suit that is long enough for my tall frame and doesn’t need tailoring. When a suit fits well, it boosts your confidence! My perfect look would be mostly blue; I imagine a light blue, tweed suit with a pair of Loake Thompson two-tone brogues in navy suede and tan calf leather.
As we move into the New Year and ever closer to the next Olympics, what hopes and aspirations does 2019 hold for you?
I suffered a huge blow at the beginning of this year when I contracted glandular fever and was told I could not train until I was fit and strong again. This year has been all about getting back to where I was – on the GB squad and pulling personal bests. We have the personal bests coming back for 2019 and my aim is to master these and be rowing at the World Rowing Championships by Summer. Outside of rowing, my plan is to show as many people as possible what I and my fellow athletes do on a day to day basis through my vlog and social posts. I’d also like to venture further into filmmaking and see what I can do there. 2019 will be an exciting year, with hopefully rowing success and lots more #suitmonday posts!
Thanks Cameron, we look forward to following your progress !
Images courtesy of @werowofficial and @buchancameron
At Loake, we are always proud to support new talent, so when Daniel Rynne – winner of the Graduate Fashion Week 2017 ‘Debenhams Menswear Award’ – got in touch to talk through his ideas and inspirations for a collaboration as part of his new this brand new 15-piece capsule collection, we were delighted to help!
An amalgamation of Daniel’s Graduate collection and everything learnt in his first year of the fashion industry, the collection combines considered details, utilitarian shapes and a tonal colour pallet to create a contemporary take on traditional workwear, inspired by the photography of Dorothea Lange.
Earlier in the year, we invited Daniel to our factory here in Kettering to learn more about the processes involved in the shoemaking industry including the leathers and finishing, as well as meeting our craftsmen, and importantly, see his shoes in production!
Daniel told us, “Collaborating with Loake was an obvious choice for this collection. The heritage and authenticity of the name stands hand-in-hand with my concepts and inspirations. Visiting the factory really hit home about the importance of the art of manufacture and making in this country and I’m honoured to have the opportunity to work with this institution among manufacturers in the U.K.”
Crafted from premium leather, the shoes themselves are made using our traditional Goodyear welted construction, and feature classic punched brogue details, rugged rubber soles, contrast lace-up fastenings, and the designer’s name lovingly stamped inside.
Congratulations Daniel, it was a pleasure working with you on this collaboration!
For more information, follow Daniel’s progress and design journey on Instagram at @unionbrand.
Murray’s Handbook for Travelers, published in 1878 says: “The visitor to Northampton will at once be reminded by the leather aprons and grimy faces which haunt the streets that he is in the land of shoemakers.” However, the tradition started a long time before then. The first known reference to shoemakers in the county is Peter the Cordwainer (the medieval word for a shoemaker), who is mentioned in early 13th century records.
By 1401 Northampton had established a Guild of Shoemakers and from the 16th century an important trade had developed.
The shoe industry grew up around an already thriving leather trade, for which Northamptonshire had all the necessary ingredients: good loamy soil which provided excellent pasture for cattle; extensive oak forests (the oak bark, combined with water from the River Nene provided the ideal conditions for tanning leather) and a thriving cattle market. So, a good supply of material and its central location for distribution made the area particularly suitable for shoemaking.
In 1642 a consortium of local shoemakers won a contract to supply boots for use in the English Civil war. Northampton had formally declared its allegiance to the Royalists (although it subsequently became clear that they had backed the wrong side!).
By the 18th century shoemakers were beginning to store shoes in communal warehouses and shoes were being produced in bulk quantities, but the shoemakers usually had workshops in their homes, where wives and children helped out and often worked on Sundays to earn more cash for the pub on Sunday nights. They had to be highly literate, keeping records and conforming to measurements to ensure that shoes fitted correctly.
By the mid-19th century, the industry had grown to nearly 2,000 shoemakers, some of whom were now described as ‘manufacturers’, employing a large number of craftsmen, supplying them materials and selling the finished product to buyers.
Businessmen at this time began to recognize that mechanisation meant profit, but the change led to the mechanisation dispute of 1857-59. In 1858, the Northampton Boot and Shoe-makers Mutual Protection Society was formed to oppose mechanisation, and in 1859 when the manufacturers of Northampton issued a statement confirming that machines for closing (stitching) shoe uppers were to be introduced, the Society called a strike urging shoemakers to seek work outside of Northampton. However, the strike failed as many shoemakers did not object to machines if their jobs weren’t threatened.
The new age of the factory
Some employers persevered however and wanted all of their shoemakers to work inside the factories, trying to entice them with ‘appeasements’. In the end, the fixed wages and hours represented an end to the workers’ autonomy the shoe factory with machinery powered by steam engines had arrived.
With new mechanised mass-production methods, footwear manufacture was much faster and cheaper. In Northampton, many rows of terraced housing were built for the workforce, much of it very close to the centre of the town.
Around 1870 Charles Goodyear patented his own variant of the traditional welting process. Welting involves stitching the upper of a shoe to the insole with a strip of leather (welt) but, in the Goodyear method, the welt is stitched by machine instead of being hand-sewn. By the time this happened, almost half the men living in Northampton were shoemakers.
Welt-sewing by the Goodyear method
During the early 20th century the number of shoe factories in Northamptonshire continued to rise and almost every town and village in the county has had a flourishing footwear industry at some stage, each with its own distinct specialism. Long Buckby was famous for the very high quality of its long boots, Wollaston for its work boots. Other towns like Rushden and Kettering owe some of their character and size to the shoe industry.
Northamptonshire shoemakers were often responsible for providing military footwear. During the Napoleonic wars, at the beginning of the 19th century, the Navy Office had frequently ordered thousands of pairs of boots and shoes from Kettering shoemakers. Shoemakers in the county were responsible for supplying around 50 million pairs of boots to the allied forces during World War One. In 1905, a group of shoemakers from Raunds negotiated a standard rate of pay for producing army boots when they marched from Raunds to the Houses of Parliament to demand fair pay. In the 2nd World War shoe factories once again produced large quantities of boots to supply the allied forces.
John White and Co. of Rushden were hugely successful in the 1930s/40s
But changes in the latter half of the 20th century meant a decline in footwear manufacture in the county as boots and shoes could be produced more cheaply elsewhere. A large number of old shoe factories have been converted to offices or accommodation, some of which are still surrounded by the terraced houses originally built for factory workers. The boot and shoe industry in Northamptonshire became smaller and more specialised, but it certainly wasn’t the end.
The local leather trade has long since gone, but the tradition of shoemaking continues to thrive and shoes made by the Goodyear method are still generally regarded as being of the highest quality. The Northamptonshire region is still the largest area of Goodyear welted manufactured shoes in the world and has provided fine footwear for the discerning and the famous: from Darth Vader to Doctor Who, from Sid Vicious to James Bond, from Sir Ernest Shackleton to Jumbo the elephant.
Today, the county’s craftsmen and designers continue to perfect their skills and processes and still produce some of the finest footwear available anywhere in the world.
There’s an inherent problem with long-established businesses, particularly with those that have been owned and run by the same family for generations. The irony is that this problem arises from the very things which many modern businesses crave: History and Heritage.
These are both very valuable assets to any business, but they should be used carefully. Almost every brand wants to talk about and display its heritage and this is understandable – it’s one of the things that can give a brand authenticity; that defines its identity and its values – the trouble is that many of the brands that do try to draw attention to their heritage have created it themselves, or hi-jacked it, to use as a marketing tool. A good example of this would be “authentic” foreign beers that have their bottle labels, or part of them at least, printed in a foreign language. The idea is to appear ‘authentic’ but sometimes, on closer inspection, it turns out that they’ve been brewed and bottled under licence in the UK. In this case, the heritage has been used to give the product a recognizable identity and, if you buy the beer, I guess it’s worked – but, if you ‘rumble’ it, the brand might lose your trust. So History and Heritage can be valuable marketing tools and can be useful for the purpose described above, but they should be used with care and respect. It’s important to remember that history and heritage only ever point backwards. It’s good to know where a brand has come from – but more important that it knows where it wants to be the day after tomorrow.
The Loake Factory in Kettering was established in 1894.
In Victorian times, Britain was a factory for the world and there seemed to be no limit to what we could make and export but, after decades of manufacturing goods, we began to export our nation’s knowledge and skills to the East. Now, interest in British manufacturing is growing again. Globalisation has its pros and cons, but it can’t be a healthy state of affairs when most of what we need has to be shipped half-way round the world. After we leave the EU, we will have to have a slightly more self-sufficient outlook but, in any case, sustainable local economies are a good thing. But we all know that manufacturing in Britain is not without its problems. Because labour is relatively expensive here, much of what we make will, by necessity, be rather expensive and this is particularly true of craft industries where the work content is high. If we cannot compete with the rest of the world on price, the only viable alternative is to justify a higher price by making things that are either unique or intrinsically better than what can be made elsewhere. Branding and advertising can help, but these can only emphasise the authenticity of a product – not enhance the product itself.
Steve Abbott, one of our most experienced shoemakers.
Here in Northamptonshire, there is a cluster of extremely good shoemaking companies who make some of the finest men’s shoes available anywhere in the world. Most are long-established businesses using traditional manufacturing techniques and their biggest challenge is the extraordinary level of skill required by its workforce and the need to pass this on from generation to generation. Effective training can only be carried out ‘in house’ by those who are able to hand on their skills and knowledge but, as production gradually moved away from the UK in the 1970s and 80s, it became harder to find suitable recruits to train. Schoolchildren were encouraged to work hard and pass their exams with the threat that, if they didn’t, they’d end up working in the factories and, as a result, everyone wanted an office job and the chance to keep their hands clean.
The good news is that, at last, things are changing. Universities, after a period of rapid expansion, are now fighting each other for the next intake of students. People are realising that not everyone wants to pursue higher education and there is once again growing interest in craft industries. The language has changed a little: we tend to talk about ‘craftsmanship’ rather than ‘manufacturing’ and ‘workshops’ instead of ‘factories’, but that’s not important. What matters is that is that we’re making things – and the things that we make in Britain have a tendency to be really good.
It’s all in the details – Goodyear Welted Construction
In this industry, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we’re making something that is not only useful but, in its own way, beautiful and as good as anything available anywhere in the world. We have the joy and the frustration of working with a natural material and the knowledge that we’re doing it in a reasonably environmentally-friendly way and without inconvenience to anyone else. It’s a very congenial way to make a living. But there’s a well-known saying, an equivalent of which exists in most European languages that goes: “Clogs to clogs in three generations” or “Rags to riches and back again in three generations”. The idea of this is that a man with some entrepreneurial spirit starts a business and succeeds with it. In due course, his son or daughter takes it on and develops it further and the business expands healthily – but, by the time it’s passed on again, things have changed. Life for the third generation has been a little more comfortable and they’ve never known the need and hunger that drove the founder to start the business in the first place. As a result, the energy has gone, complacency has set in and the business struggles and eventually fails.
I found these sayings rather sobering and poignant because I am a member of the fourth generation.
My family business is now 138 years into its history and in the hands of the 5th generation and we have a phrases or motto that allows us to pay homage to our past but encourages us to keep the entrepreneurial spirit that must propel us in the future: “Look to the future. Learn from the past”.
In an earlier article, we wrote about leather and why it’s such a good material for shoemaking. It covered the history of leather, from prehistoric times when early man used animal skins to make basic clothing, through to the modern leather industry of today.
Here we look at the different types of leather that are available for shoemaking, consider the various features, advantages and disadvantages of each and explain some of the terminology that’s used to describe them.
What is real leather?
Leather can be made from the tanned skins of many different animals. The most common are cattle, goats, sheep and pigs, but it can also be made from antelopes, camels, snakes and lizards, crocodiles, ostrich, seals, sharks, etc.
If the finished leather has a surface coating which is more than 0.15mm thick or which is more than 30% of the overall thickness, then it should not be described as genuine leather, but as ‘coated leather’. If the tanned hide is broken up into fibrous particles, and reformed into sheets with a binding agent, then it should be called ‘bonded leather’. Neither of these are suitable for high-grade footwear.
Sheepskin is often used for clothing leather as it has a soft feel and is comfortable to wear. It is very good for lightweight moccasins and slippers, but doesn’t have enough tensile strength for shoes of heavier constructions.
Pigskin is plentiful and relatively cheap, but it does not have a fine grain structure and tends to look a little coarse.
Bovine leather (i.e. from cattle) tends to be the most popular for shoemaking and it blends fine appearance with strength and durability. Calf skins are usually best for the finest footwear as they are softer and have a tighter grain structure than the bigger skins of older animals.
It is generally recognised that European countries such as Italy, France and Spain have the best climate, pasture and farming methods for breeding the best cattle and therefore produce the best skins. Although there are large quantities of leather produced in other areas of the world, much of it is not of good enough quality for high-grade shoemaking.
Shoe upper leather
Most shoe upper leather is chrome-tanned – a process that gives it the water-resistance, durability and suppleness needed to withstand the constant flexing that occurs when we walk.
Shoe lining leather
Our lining leathers are usually taken from kips, which are young cattle from India. These hides are soft and therefore very comfortable and suitable for using inside the shoe where they are near the foot.
The best lining leather is vegetable tanned, or semi-chrome (with a higher vegetable content than chrome-tanned), which makes it more porous and allows it to absorb natural perspiration during the day and then disperse it again when the shoes are taken off.
Shoe soling leather
Good quality soling leather comes mainly from Europe and the Americas, and is vegetable tanned. This produces a lovely plump, round feel which is resistant to abrasion. The leather is compressed to compact the fibres and increase its wearing properties.
The leather industry is beset with mystery and myth and, when it comes to identifying the various types of leather you cannot beat proper training and experience. But, with a little knowledge, care and patience, anyone can do it. Ask yourself how it feels. Aside from appearance, how the leather feels and handles is a big clue to its type. ‘Aniline’, full-grain leathers feel like real skin – supple and flexible, whilst a heavily pigmented (or protected) leather can feel rather like plastic. Leather upholstery in cars is almost exclusively pigmented to protect it from years of heavy use, as is most domestic upholstery leather. One of the current challenges facing the leather industry is to produce lighter, aniline-type leathers that have the durability and resistance to soiling that pigmented leathers have.
Here is a mini glossary of some terms that you may have come across and wondered what they mean:
Full grain – the grain surface is left intact before applying the finish, so the hair follicles can usually be seen. This type of leather requires a little more care than corrected-grain, but it will reward you in the long term. When the shoes are flexed, any creases that occur in the leather tend to ‘recover’ and, if looked after, this type of leather can be incredibly long-lasting. It moulds to the shape of your feet and provides the best level of comfort.
Corrected grain – sometimes called ‘polished’ or ‘smooth’ leather. The grain surface is sanded or buffed to remove imperfections before the finish is applied. This type of leather usually has a shiny, smooth finish. It looks smart and, because of its smooth surface, is relatively easy to clean. However, it tends to be a little firmer in feel and is perhaps less kind to the feet than a full-grain calf leather. Another characteristic is that, when the shoes are flexed in wear, the creases tend to remain in the shoes and after heavy wear, the finish can start to crack.
Suede – this type of leather is made, either by abrading and dressing the flesh side of the leather (as opposed to the grain side) to create a velvety ‘nap’, or by dressing a split (the middle or lower section of a hide).
Pull-up leather – sometimes called ‘waxy’ or ‘oily pull-up’. This is usually a full-grain leather that lightens in colour when stretched during lasting or wear to produce a two-tone or worn-in effect with time.
Nubuck – aniline dyed leather which has been lightly abraded on the grain surface to create a velvety finish or nap. In some cases the grain pattern is still visible. The nap is very fine because of the tight fibre structure in the grain layer.
Embossing – a process that heat presses a ‘grain’ pattern into the leather. If not sanded or buffed, these leathers are still considered to be full grain. Embossing produces a much more consistent pattern than the more natural methods of ‘tumbling’ the leather in a drum or shrinking it to obtain the ‘grain’ look.
Aniline – actually, there’s no such thing as aniline leather these days. ‘Aniline’ is a chemical that, in days gone by, was used in the dying process, but it was found to be carcinogenic and was banned. So nowadays the term is used to describe a leather that is dyed rather than pigmented and has a more natural appearance.
Pigmented Leather – perhaps the most durable and used in the majority of furniture upholstery and almost all car upholstery. The durability is provided by a polymer surface coating which contains pigments. The surface coating allows the manufacturer more control over the properties of the leather, e.g. resistance to scuffing or fading, but it will also lack some of the desirable properties of full-grain leather. And, if the thickness of the coating is more than 0.15mm, then the product can’t be sold as leather.
Finished split – the lower layer of the hide, below the top or grain. You need to find a cut or torn edge to distinguish a finished split from full grain or corrected grain pigmented leather. In a full-grain leather, the fibres are much more tightly packed near the grain surface, while in a finished split (lower layer of the skin) the fibres are equally loosely packed all the way to the pigment coating. The lack of a grain layer will also be apparent if a finished split is torn.
We all fall for sales talk at some time. But, when you buy a leather item you expect quality, comfort and durability… and you expect it to be leather too! It’s reassuring to know that, when you buy a pair of English Goodyear welted shoes, they’re likely to have been made from some of the finest leather produced anywhere in the world.
In the fourth of our series My Loake Life, we talk to Kevin Thomas, Quality Control Manager at our factory in Kettering. Kevin has worked with us for 25 years, having started in the Bottom Stock department, and happily his son Samuel is now apprenticed with us. Because of the nature of his job, Kevin is almost always to be found on the factory floor, overseeing the quality inspections at various stages of production.
What does your typical day involve?
I don’t think I’ve ever had two days the same! I start off each day with a clear set of goals, but this usually has to be adapted. I begin by visiting all the departments to speak to the supervisors and then go from there.
What are you most looking forward to today?
My visit to the shoe room and seeing rows of finished shoes ready to be boxed.
What is the best thing about your job?
Being part of the Loake team and considering myself a ‘Loake man’.
Have you always been interested in footwear?
When I was younger, all my close relatives worked in the shoe trade. So I’ve always had an interest in footwear, but I don’t think I really appreciated the level of skill required until I got involved.
What is your career background prior to working at Loake?
Before joining Loake I worked in the production of shoe components for seven years. That’s it – only two jobs!
What has been your career highlight?
Being given the opportunity to help achieve and maintain the highest quality standards possible in Loake footwear.
If you weren’t working in footwear, what would you be doing?
I’d like to think I’d be playing in the centre for Northampton Saints! Failing that, I think something within the care industry, probably with young adults.
Why do you think Loake shoes are still popular after 135 years?
Quality, style and amazing value for money.
Do you think there is a revival in British manufacturing and what do you think the future holds for home grown producers?
Definitely. I think most of the world loves a ‘Made in England’ product. We may not be able to compete with other parts of the world on volume or price, but what we do make in this country is difficult to beat when it comes to quality.
Have you got any hidden talents?
I like to think I’m quite artistic. I once had a picture on show in the Alfred East Art Gallery in Kettering.
What is your favourite pair of Loake shoes and why?
A style called ‘Heston’, a full brogue with a half leather/half rubber sole. It has a timeless, classic look and the fit is perfect for me.
How do you spend your time relaxing outside of work?
I love spending time with my family and I’m a season ticket holder at Northampton Saints. I also run the occasional marathon!
Who is your mentor?
Brendon, our Factory Manager. On a day-to-day basis, he’s a huge source of knowledge and a great support.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, quite apt considering my career choice.