250 individual operations and eight weeks of production are what separate your feet from hand-sewn welted shoes. If you choose to buy a pair of Church’s, you’ve made a decision that will last a lifetime. That’s the credo of this Northampton-based shoemaker’s.
Some gentlemen still drop off the shoes they inherited from their fathers for a freshen-up. Up to 500 pairs a week find their way back from around the world to the picturesque factory located between Victorian terraced houses. Sewn-welted shoes produced by hand can be dismantled into their individual parts and then reconstructed. Which is why the shoes here are made by hand: quality is the overriding principle. After all, Northampton has its reputation as a shoe Mecca to think about.
Founded by Thomas Church in 1873, the company is exclusively dedicated to classic, English design. Brogues, monk shoes, Oxfords and Derbies: you can’t go wrong with shoes like these. Even though the designs have become somewhat more playful since the company was taken over by Prada, they nevertheless remain timeless, English classics.
Pillars of society
The various kinds of leather – mostly calf leather, more rarely cowhide, as well as specially bred crocodile and horse leather for custom-made models – lie on high shelves in the leather department. The pieces are cut to size, punched and then sewn to the upper. There are no templates or lines: the women who sew here rely on the naked eye. Thomas Church hit the jackpot with the “Adaptable”: he produced a right and a left shoe. Beforehand most brands’ pairs had actually been two shoes of the same shape.
Another department is responsible for hammering and shaping: the shoe is constructed around the last and the upper pulled over the top. Unsurprisingly in a company of this stature, there are lasts ranging from narrow to broad feet, from flat to high insteps. Prior to this stage, the hand-sewn upper spends some time in the sauna: like our tense muscles, leather becomes suppler in steam. The most important part, the welt, is what connects the upper to the sole. The two are sewn together with some leather thread. That is done on decades-old Goodyear machines; developed by the son of the American tyre manufacturer, they went out of production years ago. So the company stocked up on replacement parts and now employs engineers whose only task is to maintain this essential equipment.
A springy cork mid-layer ensures comfort, while the heel is built up in several layers. The last is only removed at the very end of the process. The painstaking finish takes up to one and a half hours. It involves working in beeswax and polish until the shoe has acquired the desired colour. Every week some 5,000 pairs of shoes take the first steps of their journey around the world.
The craftsmanship, the passion, the perfectionism, the company values: those are the most essential criteria to make a sought-after brand. Something that you can best sense when you’re surrounded by the goings-on in the heart of the company. We have been permitted to visit the studios of the labels in the Goldenes Quartier and look over the shoulders of the creative minds who work there.
Part 4 in the series: Church’s.