September 14th, 2018
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.
Northamptonshire is the spiritual home of the brogue. No English gentleman’s wardrobe is complete without a pair of handcrafted Goodyear welted brogues from one of the county’s traditional shoemakers. However, the brogue did not originate in the Midlands. Originally it was worn in the wilder reaches of the Highlands and Ireland, the punched holes designed to allow water to drain from the shoe after walking through boggy terrain.
Meet Brendon Drage-Dawes, the Manager of our factory in Kettering, Northamptonshire. Brendon is a highly-experienced and very valuable member of our management team. He has worked in the shoemaking trade for nearly three decades.
We invited Craig Langdale, editor of men’s fashion and lifestyle site MenswearStyle, to choose the key shoe styles that should have pride of place in the discerning gentleman’s wardrobe. The selection and styling advice that follows is by no means exhaustive, but it explains why there’s more to men’s shoes than having a signature pair.
Named after Oxford University, even though the shoe was originally found in Scotland, the Oxford shoe style is great for everything. With this style available in so many different materials and colours, you won’t be hard done by to find something that suits you. Using leather for suits and suede for smart-casual means you’re good to go before you’ve even decided what outfit to wear. Just make sure to look after them.
The Chelsea Boot was originally a women’s shoe style. More recently this has been trickling into men’s fashion and rightly so. The boot has an elasticated side to help pull them on which allows easier access but also keeps the shoe tight around your foot. As the boot has this elasticated cut out, working these into an outfit with skinny jeans will sharpen up your bottom half by keeping it tight and defined.
The rustic design which features on the Brogue shoe gives an intricacy to your style that provides the impression that you spend time thinking about what you wear. The style is a lace up type with a solid shape that a shoe-tree would be great for maintaining. A slim pair of jeans rolled up to allow the shoe to be fully shown is a great way to display them, and a tan or brown option would look great with denim of any colour.
Monk Strap Shoe
Double strap, single strap or a low topped buckled boot are some of the options of a Monk shoe. With a technical design that uses no laces, only buckles, they look great under a pair of suit trousers. In terms of formality though, the Monk shoe style is less formal than an Oxford but more so than the tan Brogue. The slight heel that some of the shoes have will give you a little extra subtle height, but also the range of colours available gives you the versatility to round off your style for any occasion.
Desert Boots are almost posh high-tops, worn by the British Forces in World War II. The Desert Boot (such as our Sahara style), used to be made with calfskin leather, but more recently the use of worn suede has given the shoe a smart sandy look. Finding the right boot for the mood is a little harder here as they’re predominantly a smart-casual uniform wear shoe. Using darker colours with some fitted suit trousers, making sure to not clash the colours too much, is a great way to style them.
Pull-on shoes could bring back memories of horrible, wrinkled faux leather shoes you were forced to wear back in Primary school. But a well-made, smart Penny Loafer is a good option for easy, comfortable wear. The shoe has no buckles or laces, a solid shape and is one of the most versatile formal shoes you can own. The Penny Loafer isn’t a smart-casual shoe by any means, but if you’re feeling a little brave then wearing slim light trousers or formal chinos and no socks will bring the shoes into the outfit.
This is the section where we like to highlight English craftsmanship in all its forms – an opportunity to revel in the wonderful skills of others, not necessarily linked directly to the shoe trade. Our first choice was Andrew Richie and the story of his remarkable folding bicycles, which are made in London; this time, we want to focus on Robert Thompson’s Craftsmen Ltd., who make extraordinary oak furniture in North Yorkshire.
These wonderful craftsmen are making things that are both useful and beautiful and, like us, they are doing it from a natural material that is, by its very nature, difficult to work with. We know that no two pieces of leather are the same and each piece will react differently to the various stages of the shoemaking process – and behave differently when it comes to the finishing stages too. The trouble that we go to in order to acquire the best leather available would bore most people outside of the shoe-trade rigid. But, I’m sure it’s every bit as hard to find the very best English Oak, especially considering that the wood for one of Robert Thompson’s tabletops will take about four years to dry (naturally, with air of course – not kiln-dried), and the lengths to which they will go to get this material are astonishing.
Recently, they purchased an exceptionally large burr oak tree that had stood for over 450 years on farm land in Cumbria. The tree was starting to show signs of die back and root rot, so it was important that it should be felled, rather than leaving it to rot and decay. The log has now been converted into planks of varying thickness and these planks have been laid down for between 4-6 years to enable them to season naturally. When fully seasoned they intend to make the planks into some of the most amazing burr oak table tops that have ever been produced.
In all forms of art and craft, it’s right that we celebrate the special skills, knowledge and expertise of those who do really extraordinary things.
We invited David Evans, author of Grey Fox – one of our favourite fashion and style blogs for the older man – to put together an outfit he would wear with his choice of Loake shoes in an AW14 style edit.
David chose our Dovedale boot and teamed it with his own choice of garments to create an outfit that could be worn for an autumn or winter weekend walk.
For men over forty it can be hard to decide what to wear and how to dress. Grey Fox is a personal blog that describes David’s journey to find a style of his own. We think he does it rather well.
Commenting on his selection, David says:
“Clothes need to be warm, dry and, above all, comfortable. Footwear forms the basis for any selection – the Loake Dovedale boot is robust, comfortable and grippy in all conditions. I like muted colours for weekend walks, preferring to merge with my surroundings. Soft blues, greys and greens add to the relaxed feel of your weekend excursion.”
In response to growing consumer interest in the provenance of the products they buy, Andrew Loake gives a frank and honest account of Loake’s position on the “country of origin” question.
We’ve noticed a big increase in the number of people who are interested in where things are made. Since the advent of the Internet, consumers have become ever more knowledgeable and demanding, and one result of this is that more and more people want to support local economies and local manufacturing. We’re very pleased about that!
However, if you want to find out where something was made, it can be very difficult. That can certainly be the case in the world of footwear. So, I thought we should try to shed a little more light on the subject.
Approximately 99% of all footwear sold in the UK is now sourced from overseas but it is interesting to note that, within the EU, there is currently no legal requirement to label goods with their country of origin. Consequently, most brands (including many “English” brands) do not mark their products with the country of origin.
We at Loake, however, believe that footwear should be marked with its country of origin – so we mark it. We are extremely proud of our manufacturing heritage and tradition and we take pride in the fact that we produce our own shoes – even though some of them are made overseas. Marking all of our shoes with their country of manufacture also means that we can export them to countries outside the EU in the knowledge that we are complying with the regulations.
As many will know, in addition to our main factory in Kettering, we have a second factory in India, which we set up some years ago to give us extra production capacity. The majority of our Goodyear Welted shoes (including all those in the “Loake 1880” and “Loake Shoemakers” collections) are made in our factory in Kettering, and there are some styles in the “Design Loake” range that we can produce in either factory. We set up our own factory, rather than just sourced shoes from existing factories, because we were adamant that we didn’t want to sell Indian shoes – we wanted to make English shoes in India. So, the development work is all carried out here in Kettering and we supply almost all of the materials from here. We specify every single detail – from what kind of thread should be used to how many stitches per inch. If the same style is made in Kettering and India, they are indistinguishable – the only difference is the cost.
But, when you look on our website, every product page clearly shows the country of origin of each and every style. We have also now started to mark the Indian-made shoes more clearly in the linings (rather than under the tongue) so that people who want to support British manufacturing can be sure of doing so.
So, if you want to buy really good quality, stylish shoes that are great value for money, our “Design Loake”, most of which are made in India, range will provide just that. If you just want a basic, but still good-quality, Goodyear welted business shoe, our “L1” collection, which are all made in India, provides unbeatable value.
In both of these factories, we only make traditional shoes by the Goodyear welted construction. So, the shoes of other constructions – moccasins, boat shoes, desert boots, driving shoes, etc. – are all sourced from overseas. The origin will depend on where we can find the best factories for these particular styles. So currently, for example, our moccasins come from Italy and India, our boat shoes and drivers come from Portugal and our desert boots come from Italy. All of these more casual styles are branded “Loake Lifestyle” and, of course, are all marked according to their origin.
But, if you want to know that you are buying an English-made Goodyear welted shoe, and want the best quality available (but still at a good price), then you can choose anything from our premium “Loake 1880” collection or our mainline “Loake Shoemakers” range, all of which are made in Kettering, here in the heart of Northamptonshire.
Anyone who makes anything in England will certainly want their customers to know where it’s made, so it will usually be labeled accordingly. I suppose the ‘rule of thumb’ should probably be: “if it doesn’t say on it that it’s made in England, you can probably assume that it isn’t”.