How Quality Shoes are Made

Sh41,300 A traditional wing tip brogue Derby with classic features such as Storm welt, punching and a durable rubber sole. PHOTO | COURTESY
Sh41,300 A traditional wing tip brogue Derby with classic features such as Storm welt, punching and a durable rubber sole. PHOTO | COURTESY 

I started wearing ‘bespoke’ shoes from a very early age. When you grew up with a dozen siblings and did not live in a castle, ‘ready-to-wear’ Bata shoes only came during Christmas on a good year.

Bespoke was footwear designed by Mzee Kiarie, a cobbler, who in my entire childhood sat on the same stool outside a general provisions store in Nairobi’s Ngara estate making shoes with no brand name, but that never failed.

Today, bespoke means luxury, high-quality, comfort and include the George Cleverley, Bally, Church’s (Prada), Crockett & Jones, Santoni and Carmina.

In Africa, very few shops stock designer men shoes and most of them sell them at a fortune. However, globe-trotting wealthy Kenyans buy or order the shoes from shops abroad.

Franca Mills, the head of retail at Barker in London’s Regent Street, said they are receiving ‘‘more and more customers from Africa.’’

Their best selling design is the multi-coloured Valliant.

‘‘It is a fun, lively and sure to get you noticed,’’ he said.

If you think buying a cheap shoe is being frugal, think again. Most mass-produced shoes are ideally less than half their retail price.

If you buy a shoe for between Sh5,000 to Sh10,000, you are getting a pair that cost less than between Sh1,500 to Sh2,500 to make, considering that there is the middlemen’s mark-up, shipping costs, advertising, taxes and profit margins.

This shoe, if worn consistently, will give you only two years of useful service before you have to throw it away. That is assuming you wear it only once a week.

Now that we have determined that you are getting less value for a cheaper shoe than premium footwear, there are three main construction methods for formal shoes, cemented, Blake stitching and Goodyear welt. The construction type describes how the uppers are linked to the sole.

A typical man’s shoe is made up of five parts. The upper, insole, midsole (welt in some cases), outsole and the last.

Cemented (bonded)

This is a shoe with sole glued to the uppers. This type of footwear is cheaper and quicker to produce. They will use low-quality leather uppers (in some cases faux leather).

Expect to pay between Sh5,000 and Sh12,500 for a shoe worth Sh2,500.

Blake stitched

These shoes are much sleeker and lighter. The outer sole is stitched directly to the leather uppers and the midsole. Because the soles are thinner, they are more flexible and therefore more comfortable to walk in. Higher quality hides are often used but prices still remain relatively affordable ranging between Sh23,000 to Sh40,000 depending on customisation, hide used and accessories. Expect to pay between Sh20,000 and Sh30,000 for a standard pair.

Goodyear Welted

This construction method normally results in a heavier, more durable shoe but sometimes less comfortable to walk long distances in. This technique is very detailed and each shoe requires more time to complete. This typically makes them pricier, especially when they use full grain calf skin, cordovan and certian exotic leathers. Some shoes go through between five to seven craftsmen before finally reaching the buyer.

Expect to pay between Sh30,000 and Sh120,000 for a standard pair.

Mr Mwai is a luxury brands consultant