BeSpoke Shoemaking

AupairToes never heard of bespoke until she started learning that herself.

After creating the first design with a pair of sandals at The Art of Shoes in Austin, TX, AupairToes was ready to learn more and she found Zoe Rios, who is a half self-taught bespoke shoemaker now based in Austin, TX.

Surprisingly, as the capital of music and arts, there aren’t too many shoemakers in Austin area yet, especially being compared with New York or Chicago area so when AupairToes finally found Zoe, it was a click right away. Like a traditional bespoke shoemaker, Zoe is very cautious about the materials, process and service she gives to each pair made for each customer uniquely (you can find more about her at her website).

Bespoke, according to Tim Skyrme’s book Bespoke Shoemaking, is a British term for clothing made at a customer’s behest, and exactly to the customer’s specification. Bespoke means created without the use of a pre-existing pattern, differentiating it from made-to-measure, which alters a pattern to fit the customer. The word originally means to ask for or order sth, which is rooted in Savile Row, where a customer would speak for a measure of cloth. While Hugo Jacomet talked about his favorite bespoke shoemakers in the world in this video, he gave more details about what bespoke means. As he mentioned, bespoke is very precise while in the world of shoemaking, it’s even more precise. Based on Hugo’s and Tim’s definitions, any shoemaking using existing last or patterns is not counted as bespoke. Zoe would agree with that as she just recently started making her own lasts in wood. It’s definitely not easy for beginners as AupairToes so she will start learning with Zoe not the strict bespoke style but relying on some existing lasts as a foundation. It will still be 100% handmade from A-Z, not the scenario, as Huge mentioned in the same video that some Italians would regard handmade = it counts when any part of the shoemaking process involves handmade.

Bespoke shoemaking is a way more detailed and dedicated process than the fast fashion style that AupairToes learned at The Art of Shoes. The first difference is measurement and pattern making. There are many 1-2 hours workshops/classes in the market to offer experiences of making a pair of shoes in such a short period of time, which is impossible in the world of bespoke shoemaking. In those short classes, the measurement are simply to match your feet with a standardized last, which certainly doesn’t consider the orthopedics around the feet, walking style and muscles involved. In the first lesson with Zoe, AupairToes realized the first time ever in her life that her left side hip is much higher than the right side as the compact pedigraph results revealed. Zoe has knowledge in podiatry which gave her capabilities that other shoemakers don’t have.

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Compact pedigraph test is just the first step of measurement in bespoke shoemaking. The following steps regarding measurement are quite standard industry wise. Both feet need to be measured so the last size can be defined leveraging some average numbers or other details depending on each pair of feet. AupairToes’ feet are the easiest for the shoemakers because they are super standard size and can pretty much fit into any brand on the market. However, 90% of Zoe’s customers have difficulty finding each one single pair from the factory mass production market to fit their daily walking needs and her work based on 100% customization is so necessary

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Accurate measurements are not difficult but key to the right last choice. AupairToes would like to make her first bespoke a pair of pointy closed-toe flat so a normal pair of ballet flat last is ordered after first session with Zoe. Pattern design and making won’t even happen during the first 3 hours session. Comparing to pre-maid patterns as options during those short workshops/classes on the market, AupairToes learned only some basic concepts regarding patterns with Zoe during the same amount of time. During the 3 hours, topics below were covered:

  1. The shoemaker’s circle of consequences (how stiffness, pitch and cushioning work correlated)
  2. Common components of a pair of shoes
  3. Leather materials
  4. Foot measurement with pencil and paper, including compact pedigraph imprint
  5. How a last should fit and choosing a size
  6. Different types of lasts
  7. How to send foot measurements to supplier for last purchase if not making a last from scratch
  8. Components, leather and last suppliers/manufacturers
  9. Basic shoemaking tools
  10. Skiving leathers with a knive and different types of knives

Tools used:

  1. Pencil and paper
  2. Compact pedigraph
  3. Scissors
  4. Cutting board (Zoe uses a piece of granite stone. AupairToes finds a piece of rectangle tile works as well)
  5. Measuring tape
  6. Ruler
  7. Skiving knives (AupairToes end up using this 3/4″ knife available at Lisa Sorrell’s website)
  8. Sand paper
  9. Sharpening stone (AupairToes is using King’s wetstone available on amazon)
  10. Tim Skyrme’s bespoke shoemaking book available at Lisa Sorrell’s website or Tim’s own website

So much to learn during even one session for bespoke shoemaking. AupairToes started practicing skiving the leathers right after. It surely takes efforts but like Zoe said, bespoke shoemaking is never rocket science and anyone can learn to make their own shoes.

(check out AupairToes’ recent skiving skills at this quick clip)

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