So I hoofed up to Northampton today and spent 4 hours with Chay and the people of AS. This was my first-ever pilgrimage to the shoemaking capital of England, and my brief stay did not disappoint. I was introduced to Paul and Andrew, the 4th generation Sargents who are very much active in the business. They are both quite personable and were thoroughly welcoming. I saw Paul at on the factory floor at various points during my tour, and he appears very much the hands-on managing director, examining works-in-progress and interacting with team members. Andrew does a fair bit of travel to meet customers, and from his colorful stories over coffee about shoemaking history and trivia I came away with the impression of him as an effective "frontman" for the firm. Now, like many on SF, I am drawn to high quality shoes despite a somewhat limited understanding of the construction process. So what struck me most about my time here was the patience and enthusiasm with which Chay walked me through the making of a shoe, from design and hide quality control all the way through sole painting and upper burnishing. At virtually every step, a team member would explain the intricacies of their particular tasks - what they look out for, what they avoid - and complete those tasks from start to finish as a visual example. The manual dexterity of some of these individuals was really quite impressive. I didn't quite expect such a sensory experience, from the aroma of leather and sanded oak bark to the sounds of operated machinery, much of which appears to have been manufactured 50-100 years ago. What was constant (and unexpected, to be honest) was how genuinely welcoming each of those team members was to an uninitiated outsider such as myself. They clearly have a passion for their work, and this passion was quite palpable during my time in the factory. Chay himself is in his 20th year at AS and has intimate knowledge of virtually every facet of the factory operation and shoe business overall. I suspect that his true passion is on the creative side, as he tinkers with new designs and grows animated as he discusses new ideas and possibilities for the handgrade line. We completed my foot tracing with multiple measurements, and I was surprised to learn that my feet are not too dissimilar from one another (these being the only feet I have, I've always felt my left to be noticeably larger than the right). Chay decided to do up some trial shoes to ensure we nail down fit. I also saw a few new models, my favorite of which was a lovely austerity brogue and a sleek single monk. Enjoy these pics - I took loads more, but many were too large to upload. I thoroughly recommend a factory visit as a worthwhile excursion from London.