I had an opportunity while in London to go visit Edward Green in Northampton. Tony Gaziano, who is in charge of their bespoke offering, was very gracious in letting me spend some time with him and in giving me a nice tour of their facility. Tony is also in charge of designing new lasts and developing new models for the Green RTW range. I thought that some things I learned while there might be of interest to readers of this forum. As fans of Green shoes know, their shoes have beautiful, patinated finishes, particularly in the various brown shades they offer. Unlike most (virtually all?) other shoemakers, many of the leathers Green uses are purchased directly from the tanneries in a "crust" stage, i.e. they have been tanned/dyed (often using vegetable tanning, not aniline), but they have not been glazed, so they look nothing like the finished product; glazed leather already has been treated to essentially look like the finished product, whereas the "crust" product is quite pale and shows only a limited resemblance to the color of the finished product. After the shoe has been constructed, the folks in the finishing area of Green add and buff the appropriate stains and waxes to bring the product up to its final appearance. READY TO WEAR The ready-to-wear production process is, in many ways, similar to the making of a bespoke product, in that many things are done by hand that in most shoe factories would be done by machine. These include: all clicking done by hand; gimping of leather and closing of upper done one at a time by a sewing machine operator; building of the heel by using layers of rough cut sole leather, rather than ready-made heels; staining and burnishing of sole edges by hand; finishing of shoes one by one, by hand (assisted by buffing machines). Also, Green uses a leather heel counter, unlike many shoe manufacturers. Green is also famous for their "skin-stitched" aprons and toe seams; this work is done by hand by two gentlemen who do it full-time, using very fine boars-hair bristles as their sewing needles. Having discussed the difficulty of this skin-stitching with a bespoke "closer," as well as admiring it on many completed Green shoes, my guess is that these two gentlemen are the best in the world at this task. While the lasting, welting, and out-soling are done with the assistance of machines, production is still one shoe at a time, with the machine operator always guiding the machine. I imagine this is very similar to the way it was done 100 years ago. There is nothing in the way of hands-off automation or computer controlled production. BESPOKE Tony has developed a nice range of sample shoes for the bespoke line. They feature a variety of different toe shapes, leathers, and styles. I found many of them to be quite handsome. For those of you in NYC or SF who see them, note that most of the samples are made from aniline leathers, rather than the "crust" finished leathers that I describe above. Aniline leather generally takes a higher shine, which many prefer in bespoke shoes; however, Tony has a huge range of leathers available for his bespoke offerings, so if you like the traditional Green finish, that is of course available. Tony performs the measuring, last making, pattern making, and clicking for the bespoke shoes. The lasts are made from a "blank" last that is roughly the size and shape of the foot, from which Tony files/rasps wood to bring the last to its final shape. The clicked uppers are sent out with the finished lasts for closing and making; Green is using some of the finest outworkers in the business. For example, one of their makers is perhaps the best maker in England (based on independent information I received from a couple of highly respected and knowledgeable industry insiders). Tony gets the made shoes back from the makers, removes them from the lasts, and does the final polishing and shoe-tree production. Green offers a fitting of the welted upper prior to the final making. I think Green has a bright future in the bespoke business. While I cannot comment on his lastmaking/fitting skills, Tony's attitudes toward customer service and quality, and his obvious enthusiasm and love of shoes will be great assets in building the business. I contrast these to the lack of the same from some of the traditional London shops. Also, Tony's responsibilities for Green's RTW line allow him to travel to tanneries across Europe to source interesting and unique skins; in contrast, the other bespoke makers mainly buy from leather distributors such as A&A Crack of Northampton. Adding these characteristics to the name recognition and quality reputation that Green has, I conclude that Green will likely take some business from the London bespoke makers as well as, I hope, generating new business for the bespoke trade. A final note. If anyone is going to London, Northampton is only one hour away from London's Euston train station, with very frequent service. I got a "cheap day return" train ticket, which cost me about $30; the Green plant is a $8 taxi ride from the train station. The Lobb factory store is nearby, as is the C&J factory store (which I was told may only be open on Fridays -- I didn't visit it). If you want to visit Green, you should call Tony and see if he can accomodate your request; Green does not formally offer factory visits, so their availability will be at Tony's discretion. Also, Green will be moving to a new facility in this autumn.
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3/8/04 at 1:45pm