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.
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”.
In Part 2 of our focus on last shapes and fit, we take a look at the most popular contemporary shaped shoe lasts used in our ranges.
Matrix (F Fitting)
Matrix is used within our Shoemaker range to give a contemporary twist to classic formal shoes, such as the Smith toe cap Oxford or the Jones brogue. Matrix has an elongated toe shape with a rounded point. This last generally runs true to size and is comparable to our traditional F fitting last shapes in terms of fit.
Legend (F and G Fitting)
Legend is a well-established last shape that has been in use for some years. It features a squared off toe shape of standard length. The sizing of this last in F fitting should be true to size. The G fitting version of this last offers a more generous fit in terms of width.
Blade (F Fitting)
Blade is used within our Design Loake range. It offers an elongated toe with a squared off tip. Blade has a sleek low profile and is probably less suited to those with a high instep. Blade tends to run a little on the large side; depending on your fit characteristics you may need a half size smaller in this last.
Swing (G fitting)
The Swing last has a distinctive curve to the outer edge and an elongated, slightly pointed toe shape. It is one of our roomier last shapes and due to the fitting and the properties of the last, you may need a half size down if you normally take F fitting shoes. Swing is used for our formal G fitting shoes in the 1880 range.
Duke (E fitting)
The Duke last is one of the few lasts we use which is an E (narrower) fitting. This last features a standard length chisel toe with an overall sleek appearance. Whilst this is a narrower last than most, it is also a relatively tall design; those who take an F fitting may well find that they can wear this last in their normal size.
033 (G fitting)
Used in our L1 range, the 033 last has a broad, squared off toe of standard length. This last usually runs true to size. Whilst this is a wide fitting last, it is also relatively low profile; those with a high instep may be better suited to a more traditional G fitting last such as 3625 or 026.
Jack (F Fitting)
The Jack last is used within our Design Loake range for both shoes and boots. It should run true to size for those who wear F fitting footwear. Jack also has extra cosmetic length in the toe, with a rounded end to the toe shape.
A shoe last is the foot-shaped former over which the finished upper of the shoe is shaped during the manufacturing process. The last gives the shoe its distinctive shape and fitting properties. Loake use many different last shapes and alternative width fittings to cater for the different needs of our customers. Here we take a look at the most popular traditionally shaped lasts used in our ranges.
Capital (F fitting, Medium Width)
One of our most versatile shoe lasts, Capital is used for several of our 1880 styles from formal shoes such as our ‘Aldwych’ toe cap Oxford to boots such as ‘Pimlico’ and ‘Hyde’. It is a medium width last with a slight chisel shape to the toe and runs true to size. Capital has been a popular choice with our customers since its introduction, currently nine styles are made on this last.
024/Colt ( F fitting)
024 is one of two country last shapes Loake use currently. It is used for less formal shoes such as the ‘Chester’ brogue and the ‘Burford’ boot. Like most country style last shapes, 024 is a little roomier by design to allow for thicker socks to be worn. The toe shape is rounded on this last. Colt is a variant of 024, with a taller and bolder toe. This is a cosmetic change only; the fitting properties of the two remain identical.
Pennine (G Fitting, Wide)
Pennine is another Country last shape, but in G width, which is a wide fitting. It is a roomy last, designed to give the wearer extra space within the shoe. If you normally take a medium width in Loake shoes, you may find a half size reduction to be necessary in order to obtain the right fit.
Claridge (F Fitting)
Another versatile last shape, Claridge is used for both classic English styles and more contemporary shoes. Claridge is a medium width last which should run true to size. There is a little extra (cosmetic only) length in the toe of this last, which has a slightly rounded point.
026 (F and G Fitting)
The 026 last is available in both medium and wide fitting. This last is very much a classic English last shape, with a rounded toe of standard length. Customers who need a little extra width from their shoes should select this last in a G fitting.
1639 (F Fitting)
This last is shorter in the toe than some, but also broader in this area. It gives shoes such as our famous Royal brogue a bolder appearance. This last shape generally runs true to size, but is a little roomier toward the front compared with other F fitting lasts.
97 (E Fitting, Narrow / Medium Width)
This is one of our narrower lasts and is also shorter in comparison with most others we use. Customers with wider feet will not find this last suitable. If you take F fitting Loake shoes normally, you may also find this last a little tight in your usual size. You will note the photograph shows a wooden last; 97 is one of our older last shapes. We still use some wooden lasts, but you will see that our newer last shapes are made using moulded plastic which most last manufacturers adopted some years ago.
In the first of our series My Loake Life we talk to Raj Barot, the manager of our Bow Lane store in the City of London. Raj has 25 years experience in retail and has worked for Loake for over three years.
What does your typical day/week involve?
When I’m not serving customers, which keeps me pretty busy, I have to ensure that the shop is always clean and tidy; we are the face of Loake and first impressions always last. Then there’s daily invoicing and making sure that our stock is in order and regularly replenished. It’s also important that shoes are always priced, polished and properly displayed.
What is the best thing about your job?
Dealing with customers, because every new face brings a different challenge! It’s surprising how many people I meet who are not wearing correct fitting shoes. It’s great being able to explain why this is and then find the best pair for them. They leave happy, with new shoes that not only look fantastic but that wear well and remain comfortable throughout the day. These customers usually return to make another purchase.
And what is the worst?
Very occasionally I have to deal with a customer who believes there is a manufacturing fault because his shoes have not worn well, when in reality the problem has been caused by how he has worn or cared for his shoes.
Have you always been interested in footwear?
I have always been interested in customer facing retail and have worked in retail since the beginning of my career. My interest in footwear started to grow when I worked at George Cleverley Bespoke Shoemakers. It is here that I first experienced English craftsmanship, something that Loake is also renowned for.
What’s happening at the moment in terms of men’s formal footwear trends?
Leather soled, Goodyear Welted, English made shoes are still very much in demand. This is particularly noticeable among younger wearers. It’s good to see that the new generation appreciates fine, handmade footwear.
Tell us something not many people know about you.
I’ve played in the Badminton Premier League.
How do you spend your time outside of work?
Apart from playing Badminton, I’m a film buff and keen photographer.
If you weren’t working in footwear, what would you be doing?
I’m still waiting for my lottery numbers to come up! Until then I’ll always work in retail and if I wasn’t working for Loake I’d like to work in menswear retail.
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Life is what you make of it. Work hard but work smart.
What is your favourite Loake style and why?
I have two: Aldwych and Strand. Aldwych is a formal toe-cap Oxford and looks very smart. Strand, a semi-brogue, is in a class of its own and is more versatile; it can be worn formally or informally.