WHY DO WE USE LEATHER?

What is it about leather that’s so special?  When we talk about fine leather footwear, it’s usually obvious that we’re talking about something that’s inherently desirable, but what is it about this material that makes it so special?  And how did it come to gain it’s place and status in the modern world?
 
Selecting leather at the Loake factory in Kettering, Northamptonshire

In the beginning

We know that prehistoric men used animal skins to keep themselves warm and this is the beginning of mankind’s love affair with leather.  Like every other species, humans had to forage and hunt for food.  Fruit, berries and vegetables were relatively easy to source in the wild, but we also needed protein – and that usually came in animal form – so early man needed to hunt.  The animals that he caught would provide meat, and the skins and fur could be used for rudimentary clothing.  As livestock breeding became more prevalent, skins were in greater supply and could also be used for making tents.

In future generations,  life became more sophisticated and we would learn how to cook our food and also how to process our leather.  Unprocessed leather becomes stiff when it gets cold and it rots when it gets warm, so the various things that were done to improve these properties eventually became the basis of the tanning industry.  To begin with, animal fats would be rubbed into the leather to make it more supple and durable, but an alternative method was to smoke it over burning leaves and branches.  In time, the processes were gradually refined and developed and one of the world’s oldest industries was born.

Wet salted hides

The next stages

Still in ancient times, it was discovered that the tannin contained in the bark of some trees, notably oak, had a positive effect, as did the use of alum, a mineral which was widely available, particularly in volcanic areas.  As the properties of leather became more controllable and its appearance was improved, it became more widely used for footwear, shields and harnesses, furniture, water containers and even as a covering for rafts.

Possibly the biggest changes in the last 100 years or so were the discovery of the tanning power of chrome salts and the replacement of tanning pits with the rotating drums that can be seen in most modern tanneries.  These two revolutionary changes shortened the tanning period from months to a few days and led to the growth of a much more productive and efficient industry.

Tanning drums

The modern process

The main stages in the modern process are:

a) Curing with salt. To stop putrefaction and infection and remove excess water from the skins.
b) Soaking. In water to remove the salt and bring the moisture content back to a desirable level so that the hide or skin can be treated with aqueous chemicals.
c) Liming. To remove the hair and get the skin into the right condition for satisfactory tannage.  The remaining hair is removed by a dull knife or machine (Scudding).
d) Pickling. The skins are treated with a mixture of salt and acid to bring down the pH to a very low level so as to facilitate the penetration of mineral tanning agent into the substance.
e) Tanning. This can be either vegetable or mineral.  Vegetable tanning uses tannin, which occurs naturally in bark. Vegetable tanned leather is flexible and is used for luggage and furniture and the soles of shoes.  Mineral tanning usually uses a chromium salt.  In the raw state chrome tanned skins are blue and therefore referred to as ‘wet blue’.  Chrome tanning is faster than vegetable tanning and produces a stretchable leather which is excellent for use in handbags and garments.
f) Finishing. Depending on the finish desired, the hide may be waxed, rolled, lubricated, injected with oil, split, shaved and, of course, dyed. Materials such as suedes and nubuck are finished by raising the nap of the leather by rolling with a rough surface.

Hang drying leather

So, why leather?

So, now we come back to the original question: Why do we use leather?  Or, more appropriately, in an age of modern synthetic materials, why do we still use leather?  The short answer to that is simply because, as a material, leather is absolutely brilliant!  But the longer answer is a strange one – because it’s born out of compromise.  If we think of all the properties that we want our shoes to have, leather isn’t really the best answer for any single one of them.

• If we want our shoes to be waterproof, the best option is a wellington boot.  Rubber or plastic will keep your feet dry from the rain – but it won’t breathe and your feet will perspire.
• If we want our shoes to breathe, the best option would be a sandal – but that won’t keep your feet dry.
• If we want to run fast, a trainer will be great for flexibility and shock-absorption – but think what are your feet like at the end of the day after you’ve been wearing trainers!
• If we want to lounge around the house, a fabric slipper will give instant comfort – but it won’t offer much support or be very durable if we venture outside.
 

Fine leather Loake Goodyear Welted shoes

But, if you want a material that is reasonably water-resistant, breathes, is flexible and yet durable, there is simply nothing like leather (particularly a full-grain calf leather).  After thousands of years, and in an age when scientists are constantly exploring and discovering new materials, leather, along with other natural materials like wool, linen and cotton, continues to provide an absolutely unparalleled balance of all these features.  And, when made into fine, handmade shoes, it can look just great!

Leather ages with dignity and, over time, can take on a lovely patina and character.  At Loake we would even go as far as to say that it can, especially when in the form of fine handmade shoes, take on a little of the personality of its wearer.

What should the well-shod gentleman be wearing when the temperature heats up? Despite the seasonal invasion of a plethora of unflattering, open toe styles, you’ll be pleased to know that you don’t have to ditch your ‘proper’ shoes just because it’s summer.

While leather is definitely still appropriate for more dressy occasions and the office, opt instead for suede styles that work better with your summer wardrobe. Suede is a lighter weight option and a good substitute for bridging the gap between formal and casual wear.

We have many suede styles in our collection, but here are five of our favourites that cater for most looks and occasions. We’ll leave the thorny ‘socks or no socks’ decision to you.

 

Buckingham

This classic Oxford full brogue is available in our premium 1880 collection. The addition of a suede option in mid Brown for Spring/Summer 17 should prove popular for this tried and tested style, adding versatility for both formal and informal wear. Buckingham uses our Capital last shape for a slight chisel toe and is available in standard/medium F width. Made in England.

Eton

A long-standing and perennially popular style, our Eton penny loafer has become one of our most iconic suede designs. Now available in four new suede colours in addition to the traditional Brown – including the Plum suede pictured, Eton uses our 019 last for a relatively short toe with a rounded point. Eton is from the Loake Shoemakers range and is made in England.

Foley

Part of our Design Loake range, our contemporary Foley Derby semi-brogue is now available in a Brown suede as well as Black and Tan calf leather. It features a striking contrast blue welt and a natural edged Goodyear Welted sole. The Ridge last used gives this style a longer, squared-off toe and is also a little more generous than some of our F fitting designs. Made in India.

Cannon

Now an established favourite in our Loake 1880 range, this elegant and distinctive double buckle Monk shoe comes in two suede colour options – mid Brown and Navy. As with Buckingham, Cannon is made on the Capital last and has a slight chisel toe. Available in standard/medium F width. Made in England.

Lincoln

Although essentially a traditional tassel loafer design, here Lincoln is given something of a twist in Navy suede with a contrasting, natural edged sole for a more relaxed look. Part of our mainline Loake Shoemakers range, Lincoln – like Eton – is also quite short in the toe, with a rounded point. Made in England.

FIVE OF THE BEST: GROOM’S SHOES

When it comes to wedding day attire, grooms have stepped up the style stakes in recent years. A pair of fine standout shoes are now the finishing touch to the groom’s outfit, rather than an afterthought. At the same time, the dress rules have relaxed considerably since the morning suit was de rigour and the groom’s wardrobe choices range from conventional to casual or even unorthodox.

When it comes to footwear, the key considerations should be which style will work best with the chosen outfit and making sure the shoes are properly fitted so they remain comfortable all day. For the latter we recommend visiting one of our Loake shops where our knowledgeable staff will be happy to advise.

While a Black leather lace-up is still the popular choice for traditional dress, for navy suits or a more relaxed look, mid to dark Brown shoes are recommended. But of course there are many other styles and colours available, and there’s nothing to stop you working the casual look with more adventurous colours, or switching the traditional Oxford for a Monk shoe or Brogue style. Just don’t forget to spruce up your shoes with a good brush or polish before the big day!

The following list is by no means exhaustive, but here we present five of our favourite styles for impending newlywed Loake wearers. They cover both traditional and less conventional styles, including an option for wider feet. If you are getting married this year, we hope to welcome you to have some shoes expertly fitted in one of our shops soon.

Aldwych

This classically styled, premium toe-cap Oxford shoe is suitable for all formal occasions. Aldwych is made using our Capital last shape, which gives these shoes a slight chisel toe whilst maintaining a timeless look. Aldwych is a medium F width shoe, and should fit true to size.

Churchill

Using the Swing last shape gives this shoe a G fitting, which is a suitable choice for those with wider feet. Churchill has a longer toe shape than our Capital last shoes, with a rounded point. Customers who normally wear our F fitting shoes would be advised to try this model a half size smaller.

Smith
Using a polished leather for a high shine finish, Smith is a contemporary styled toe-cap Oxford shoe. The Matrix last shape gives this shoe a longer toe with a rounded point not dissimilar to Churchill on the Swing last, yet in a standard F fitting.

Cannon
Since its introduction, Cannon has become an extremely popular alternative style choice. This double buckle Monk shoe is made in Black and Dark Brown burnished calf leathers, as well as two suede versions. Cannon also uses the Capital last and this Dark Brown variant would complement a navy or grey suit.

Tarantula
This distinctive two- tone brogue is available in three different colour combinations, including this Tan calf and Navy suede option. Tarantula has a natural edged sole and is made using our Claridge last, giving it an elongated, rounded toe. An F fitting, this last shape is slightly more generous than other F fitting styles.

 

We Are Loake: Adam Ficek

adamficek_2

We consider ourselves privileged to have so many loyal fans and to be able to share their experiences with other members of our extended Loake ‘family’. When longstanding Loake wearer Adam Ficek contacted us about repairing his beloved Chester brogues, we asked if we could tell his Loake ‘story’. Happily, he agreed.

Once best known as the drummer in notorious British Rock act Babyshambles, Adam is now an established artist in his own right. Roses Kings Castles was the early moniker he used as a solo artist, initially ‘as an outlet when Babyshambles were on holiday’ and then when he left the band and was writing and recording his own unique catalogue of acoustic pop songs.

“I continually write, whether it’s big band arrangements, electro riffs or folk-pop songs. I just needed an avenue to walk down,” he told us. Since Roses Kings Castles, Adam has been ‘busy recording and writing for other acts, DJ-ing internationally and playing a continuous stream of small intimate acoustic gigs’. He is currently finalising the release schedule for his first solo EP Adam Ficek EP 1, set for release in February 2017.

adamficek_1

Adam’s relationship with Loake began over ten years ago. “Loake were always one of the brands I aspired to, but being a jobless musician meant I couldn’t afford them,” he explains. “Then when I joined Babyshambles, I was finally able to buy my first pair of Loake tassel loafers. I was one of the first on the indie music scene to adopt such classic footwear, and I used to get slightly odd looks. But I have always been drawn to things that are traditionally made and have a sense of sincerity about them.”

Adam’s love for our Brighton loafer has not changed, but he has also developed a taste for our Chester brogue, which he can be seen wearing in the pictures he has shared with us here. When he called saying his brogues were on their last legs, we put them in for repair. You can see their journey back to life in the pictures below.

chester_before

af_montage_3

chester_repair

Needless to say, Adam is very pleased to have his old friends back. For more information on our repair and refurbishment service, click here.

www.adamficek.com

Five of the Best:
Brogue Boots

For several hundreds of years, both brogues and the majority of boot styles were restricted to country and outdoor wear – brogues having originated in the boggy terrains of Scotland and Ireland where the punched holes were designed to drain water, and boots because of their primary function of protecting the foot and leg.

Today however, ‘dress boots’ are a credible style alternative to shoes, particularly in the colder months, and the brogue boot in particular has grown tremendously in popularity for both casual and formal wear.

Nothing says ‘modern classic’ quite like a fine Goodyear Welted brogue boot. Here are five of our favourites from the Loake range.

burfordBurford
A longstanding Loake favourite, this is a classic country-style boot featuring Tan burnished calf uppers and a Goodyear Welted double leather sole. Made using our 024 last shape in an F fitting, it is a little more generous in fit to allow for the thick socks traditionally worn with this kind of footwear. Also available with a Dainite rubber studded sole.

bedale

Bedale
Another traditional country boot, Bedale uses our Pennine last shape which has a wider G fitting. It has a distinctive bump toe and our Goodyear Welted Victory rubber sole with grooved tread for improved grip and longevity. Bedale is available in Tan burnished calf, and Mahogany Brown grain leather.

hyde

Hyde
This Derby boot with punching detail on the toe is a more refined style, so arguably versatile enough to wear with trousers or a suit, but it’s Goodyear Welted Dainite studded sole means it is also hard-wearing. Hyde is made in Black calf, Brown burnished grain and Dark Brown burnished calf using our Capital last which gives a standard F fit.

thirsk

Thirsk
This classic market boot Chelsea design also features brogue detailing on the uppers. It is available in Tan burnished calf with a Dainite rubber studded sole, making it a practical boot for all weathers.

rimmer

Rimmer
A stylish Derby brogue boot, Rimmer comes with additional ski-hook fastenings in Tan or Dark Brown distressed leather for a casual, vintage look. It has Goodyear Welted leather sole with a rubber forepart for extra grip and durability.

We are Loake

ANDREW LOAKE SPENDS FIVE MINUTES WITH… 

It’s something of a cliché to say that a business is defined by its people – and, although I have a dislike of clichés, they usually become clichés because they’re true.  So, Loake Shoemakers is defined by its people – the people who make our shoes, the people who sell them, the people who wear them and the people who get so excited about them, they want to tell others about them.

By sharing a few words with some of the people who appear in our “We Are Loake” marketing creative, here we hope to give an insight into life at Loake and in particular the lives and dedication of those who make our shoes.


ChrisProwse_cropped_1

CHRIS PROWSE

What does your typical day involve?
My job involves stitching shoe uppers and in particular shoes that are sent back for repairs.  There’s a wonderful satisfaction in making things last longer.

Favourite style?
If I have a favourite style, it would have to be the “Brighton” loafer – but that’s probably because I make the uppers for them.

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this job?
I previously worked in retail and merchandising, and I suppose if I didn’t have my current job that’s what I’d still be doing. But I’ve always had a passion for shoes.

Advice?
One of the best pieces of advice I have been given is that you get out of life what you’re prepared to put in – and I think that’s the key to job satisfaction. The best advice I could pass on would be to live every day as if it was your last.

Something others might not know about you?
At one time I seriously considered emigrating to Australia. And my pet hate is spitting!


SteveAbbott_cropped

STEVE ABBOTT

What does your typical day involve?
I’m a sole-stitcher, sewing leather (or rubber) soles onto the welts.  To do this I operate one of the most heavy-duty sewing machines in the industry.  It can stitch through 1/2 inch of leather!

I’ve worked in the shoe trade for most of my working life (although I did have a brief spell in a fish-and-chip shop) and I’m one of the many people who have been with Loake for more than a quarter of a century!

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this job?
If I wasn’t working in the shoe trade, I’ve always dreamed of being an airline pilot.
But the thing I’m most looking forward to right now is having a well-earned pint after a hard day’s work.

Advice?
The best advice I have been given is to keep safe and healthy (although my main vice is smoking).

Something others might not know about you?
I‘m something of a jigsaw fanatic and I Iove cycling. My pet hate is washing up.


SteveAllen_cropped

STEVE ALLEN

What is your role at Loake?
I’ve always loved shoes and have been in the shoe trade ever since leaving school. It’s just never occurred to me to do anything else. Before I joined Loake I had my own footwear business. It was very stressful, but I’m glad I gave it a go. I work in Quality Control now and feel the same sense of satisfaction every time I see a finished pair of shoes carefully wrapped and packed into their box.

Something others might not know about you?
Although I’m known as a bit of a joker, I’m actually quite shy.

Advice?
Always treat others as you expect to be treated yourself.

Biggest vice?
Not admitting to the wife when I’m the wrong!

Favourite style?
It’s got to be the Chester brogue in Tan. They look great with jeans and have become justifiably one of Loake’s signature styles.


PhilAllen_cropped

PHIL ALLEN

What is your role at Loake?
I’ve worked in the shoe trade for most of my life, although prior to this I did have a short spell as a delivery driver. I’m now in charge of what’s called the Making Room.  That’s the part of production that begins with the uppers being lasted and attached to the insoles and ends at the point where the heels are attached.  I’m responsible for ensuring work is of the highest quality and also that production targets are met.

The best part of your job?
Friday! In all seriousness though, I’m proud of my part in guaranteeing the craftsmanship for which Loake is renowned.

And the worst part?
I’ll go to great lengths to avoid paperwork.

What are you most looking forward to?
Most days bring new challenges – so a day that runs totally smoothly would be very welcome!


ShaneHales_cropped

SHANE HALES

What does your typical day involve?
I currently work in the Making Room, but having been in the shoe trade since I was 15, I’ve been able to take the opportunity to master most of the processes required to make a pair of Loake Goodyear Welted shoes. At Loake, we aim to be proficient at as many of the highly skilled processes as possible. The best part of the job is seeing a really good finished product. The worst part is making a mistake and having to do it again, but this doesn’t happen very often!

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this job?
If I wasn’t in the shoe trade, I’d like to have an outdoor job – something in the countryside, maybe a gamekeeper.

Pet hate?
I don’t like bad manners and people who have no respect for others.

Biggest vice?
I think you’d be best to ask my partner that one!

Andrew-E-Loake-Signature

 

 

Andrew E Loake