Its history, however, is as rich as anyone shoemaker's. The company was founded in 1880 in Kettering, a little less than an hour's drive from Northampton by the Loake brothers, Thomas, John and William. It has remained in the hands of the Loake family ever since. Andrew Loake is the current custodian.
There are three broad quality categories of dress shoes that Loake produces. Loake 1880 and Loake Evolution are full grain, burnished calf leather shoes for around 200 pounds. Loake Shoemakers shoes are mostly made of polished leather, knocking the price down to around 150 pounds. Both these lines are Goodyear-welted and made in the Kettering factory I visited. Finally, the L1 line's polished leather dress shoes are Goodyear-welted shoes made in India, which can be had for closer to 100 pounds.
At each price point, Loake takes pride in providing as high a quality shoe as they can. There's an honesty and integrity to what they do, reflecting how seriously they take the name they stamp on their products. On the tongue of every L1 shoe, you'll see the “Made in India” stamp, which is refreshing in a world where other companies might just send the shoes to an English factory to have the laces put in and call them “Made In England”. These shoes are made by a factory in India in close cooperation with Loake, using lasts from the Loake Shoemaker line.
But there are significant advantages to paying more to get a pair from the Loake 1880 line, or the Loake Evolution, which is similar to the 1880 except that it uses a more flexible leather sole for more out-of-the-box comfort. Each line uses lasts that are more refined than those used for the Loake Shoemaker. These top level shoes also use full grain calf leather, which means that the shoes will only look better with every polish. The leather in the other lines comes already “polished”, meaning that the tannery treats them with a sort of gloss to hide imperfections. These might look great when brand new, but they will not age so well as the burnished calf used for Loake's highest quality level.
And really, 200 pounds is a bargain for a genuine English-made, Goodyear-welted, full grain leather shoe. They're well made enough that you can make them last for decades, and beautiful enough that you'll want to.