The Shoe Making Process
There can be in excess of 200 highly skilled processes in the making of a pair of Solovair footwear. These processes take place in six discrete departments which can be found in almost every high quality Goodyear welted shoe manufacturer and NPS Shoes Ltd. is no exception.
The Clicking Room
‘Clicking’ or cutting is the first process of making any pair of shoes. Leather is carefully selected from our store of premium leather and a ‘clicker’ cuts the individual parts that will be assembled in order to make an ‘upper’. Cutting can be undertaken by hand using a knife, or with a hydraulic press, using cutting knives in pre-formed shapes forged from steel. The art of clicking is to minimise waste leather while ensuring any flaws in the leather are excluded from the footwear.
After the leather has been cut it is sent to the ‘closing room’. The initial process in this department is to (stitch) mark the individual parts of the upper to show where they are to be joined together. The lining of the footwear is stamped with the unique product reference, production ticket number and the footwear size. Subsequently, the different pieces of leather are ‘skived’, this is an operation that reduces the thickness of the leather at the edges to enable more than one piece to be sewn together and thus prevents excess seam thickness. Finally, the closing room team assembles the different parts of the upper, inserting eyelets, staining raw edges and trimming any remaining excess material.
The assembled uppers are then moved to the lasting room. At this point in the production process the ‘lasts’ (wooden or plastic forms which denote the finished shape and size of the shoe) are gathered together. The insole or mid-sole of the footwear is then affixed to the bottom of the last and the upper is pulled over the last to form the shape and size of the final footwear.
The upper is glued and stapled to the insole, after any excess leather has been trimmed the ‘lasted upper’ is ready to have the welt sewn on. This is achieved using a ‘Goodyear Welting machine’, invented by Charles Goodyear in 1872, which chain stitches a long strip of material called a ‘welt’ to the upper and insole of the footwear. The welt is the key to providing a foundation for affixing the sole to the upper. The (outer) sole is then attached separately to the welt by means of either a process called heat sealing, or adhesive.
There is a wide range of different coloured welts available which are made from PVC, these include flat, storm and notched, these welts can be either plain or with a coloured mock stitching. Whichever type of welt is selected they all serve the same purpose as a link to connect the upper to the sole. It should be noted that the thread or stitch around the welt in Solovair products is purely decorative and the thread that bonds the welt, upper and insole together is actually located under the welt. Indeed, the welt can be left plain (i.e. no decorative thread).
Levelling / Making Room
Once the welt is affixed, the sole is ready to be added to the shoe. For a pair of Solovair footwear the first process in the levelling room is to ‘spot’ the sole to the welt. This is a process whereby a heated plate is used to make 7 or 8 temporary joins between the sole and the welt by melting the two PVC surfaces together. The temporary bond is used by the operative to align the sole in relation to the upper and to make sure both are square and level.
Depending on the shape and size of the last, there can be a large overhang between the welt and the sole. The operative will often then use a knife to hand trim the soles to remove any excess PVC. The sole is then ready to be more permanently joined to the welt, which is achieved by a heat sealing machine. The sealing machine heats a brass blade to 700 degrees centigrade, which is then slipped in between the welt and the sole. The skilled operative is then required to quickly and smoothly rotate the footwear 360 degrees whilst keeping the blade in-between the welt and the sole, which will thoroughly fuse the two PVC surfaces and thus create a permanent bond.
The penultimate process involves a secondary trimming of the sole and welt. The operative uses a machine with a blade that revolves at 2,000 cycles per minute to cut away excess material and give a decorative finish. The edges of the sole and heel can either be trimmed perfectly smooth or engraved with thin lines. The rack of completed footwear is subsequently taken to the last slipping station where the lasts are removed from the upper and placed back in storage racks ready for the next order.
In the shoe room the final product is cleaned and polished. All of our footwear is then quality inspected and a heel sock is inserted along with any swing tags containing information regarding the footwear or the retailer. A final quality inspection is then made by our foreman before the shoes are laced, wrapped in tissue paper and placed into a box ready for dispatch to our customers.
The famous production standards of NPS Shoes has secured both NPS and Solovair a reputation with retailers and discerning customers, as a premium ‘Soft Suspension’ product. To maintain these high quality standards, rather than using a continuous automated production line where an operative has a set time in which to undertake their job, the production process at NPS offers the operative time to notice and correct any errors. Each pair of boots and shoes are only passed from one area to the next on a wooden rack when the respective operative is satisfied they are ready. In this context, there is a far slimmer chance that an unsatisfactory shoe or boot will result at the end of the production process. In effect it is a continuous quality control process not employed by many other factories.
How Solovair footwear is made:
This short video demonstrates the handmade production process of Solovair footwear at NPS Shoes. While machines have made production more efficient, the fundamental process has remained the same at our factory for over a century.