A couple of weeks ago, together with my photographer friend, Alex Blake, I visited one of the most prestigious shoemakers in the world, the Edward Green factory in Northampton, England. We were warmly welcomed and hosted by the team and taken on a tour of the production facility by Euan Denholm, who is responsible for brand and business development at Edward Green.
Edward Green crafts high-quality, ready-made and made-to-order shoes from carefully selected leathers in the classic English style. Paying attention to every specific detail in the production process, Edward Green employs 70 craftspeople and makes 14,000 pair of shoes on average a year. All of their shoes are made using the Goodyear-welt technique which is associated with traditional English shoemaking. A Goodyear-welt is a strip of leather or rubber that is sewn around the bottom edge of a shoe attaching the uppers, the insole, and the leather or rubber sole together. Invented by Charles Goodyear Jr. in 1871, the Goodyear Welt sewing machine allows shoemakers to stitch all parts of the shoe easier and faster.
Edward Green was established as a high-end shoemaker in 1890 by Edward Green, who started his career as an apprentice in the industry when he was only twelve years old. Managed by the founding family for decades, Edward Green was later sold to Marley Hodgson, a leather merchant, in 1977. Soon after, the company was acquired by John Hlustik, a shoe designer, in 1982 due to financial debts and after Hlustik passed away in 2000, Edward Green has since been managed by his partner, Hilary Freeman. Based in Northampton with many world-renowned shoemakers, Edward Green shoes are sold in prestigious menswear shops and department stores globally as well as in its own retail shops in London, Paris, and Tokyo.
Northampton is the capital of the shoemaking industry not only in Britain, but also in the world. Records show that the industry in the town dates back to the 15th century however, some argue that the first shoe atelier was set up in the 13th century. There are several reasons that led Northampton to become the centre of the shoe industry in England such as the local cattle markets that supply quality leathers, tanneries, clean water for the tanning process, leather merchants, shoe designers, its central location for distribution across the country, and the well-established, skilled workforce. The Northampton shoemaking industry used to be cottage based until large-scale factories were established in the 19th century. With mechanisation, self-employed shoemakers carried their skills to factories and the production of shoes sharply increased. In the latter half of the 20th century, the majority of shoemakers shut down their factories and started outsourcing production to cheap labour countries however, Edward Green has been crafting its flawless shoes in its Northampton factory since its establishment.
The factory tour started in the clicking room where the leathers are cut out by the clickers from the highest quality calfskins. The name of this process is called clicking due to the clicking sound made by the craftsperson’s tool while cutting out materials. Cutting the finest parts of the hide by hand to create these impeccable shoes, Edward Green only sources the best French and Italian calf leathers.
After the leather components are cut out, they are sent to the closing room where the leather pieces (the uppers) are sewn to each other. The uppers are the top part of the shoes and boots, including the interlining. In the closing room, the team is divided into groups of two people. One person prepares the uppers and one person closes them together with a sewing machine getting one step closer to the finished product.
The tour continued with a visit to the lasting room. Lasting is the process where the uppers are pulled over a last to give the shoes their shape. At Edward Green there’s a great deal of hand calibration, ensuring that the finished shoe has a particularly defined feather, the line where the upper curves in to meet the welt. These days Edward Green’s lasts are mainly resin, as they are less prone to shrinkage that the wooden lasts of yesteryear, resulting in more consistent sizing.
The making process follows the lasting phase as it is when the uppers and bottom parts of the shoes are attached to each other. Here, the Goodyear-welt is stitched to join the uppers, the insole, and the leather sole together. Then, the shoes are ready to be filled with cork before finally the soles and heels are attached. The leather soles used in production are sourced from Germany where they are tanned in an oak, mimosa, and spruce bark solution for nine months.
Following the completion of these stages, the shoes are ready to be hand polished. This is called the finishing process where the edges of the heels and shoes are smoothed, and the uppers are burnished.
There is a small room in the factory where the aprons of some models are stitched by hand. Alex and I witnessed the artisans while they were sewing the aprons of the iconic Dover’s by hand, which takes around two hours of intensive handwork. The entire shoe making process takes about two months from start to finish and the end results are the beautiful boots and shoes which are worn for years to come.
Edward Green also has a repair department at the factory where shoes are sent after years of being worn to be re-soled and re-dyed. This is proof that the well-crafted Edward Green shoes are made to last and are worth investing in. Lastly, there is a tiny factory shop in the production facility offering shoes and boots at advantageous rates compared to its retail prices.
Alex and I were impressed with how carefully Edward Green considers every step of the production phase, how they dedicate themselves to traditional English shoemaking and how their quintessential shoes are made. I am thankful to the Edward Green team and ZDLUX&Co. for making this factory visit possible and getting first-hand experience at how these timeless shoes are made.
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