My next 2 pairs on this thread will be from Vass.
It is useful to explore more on what the term "handmade" means when applied to Vass shoes, particularly when nearly all SF approved shoe makers label certain lines of their shoes handmade or handgrade. Traditionally shoemaking has been divided into a number of tasks, of which the most important ones are:
• Last making, the production of the last or form on which the shoes are made
• Pattern making , the creation of patterns that can be used to cut out leather pieces that can be sewn together to form the upper design
• Clicking, cutting out the pieces of leather that form the upper
• Closing, stitching the pieces of the uppers and lining together
• Lasting, pulling the stitched-together upper and lining over the last and affixing it to the respective last
• Welting, stitching the upper and a narrow leather strip called the welt to a carved-out rib on the underside of the insole called a feather, completed by the rand
• Making, stitching the welt to the outsole and the building of the heels of the shoe
• Finishing, polishing the uppers and soles, smoothing down the heel and sole edges, applying the edge dressing to the sole and heel edges, etc.
For RTW and MTO shoes, the last making and patternmaking will have been completed long before the maker starts making a pair of shoes, so I will leave them out of further discussion.
Many shoemakers will call a shoe handmade if a pair of hands touches the shoes at some point during the manufacturing process. This usage of the phrase can be seen as misleading to some. A typical top tier factory-made pair of shoes from a company such as Edward Green will have the upper leather hand-clicked. The pieces of the upper and lining are then stitched together using a sewing machine guided by hand (the exception, of course, being handsewn elements like the apron stitch on the EG Dover). The finished uppers are first tacked onto the last by nails then lasted using a machine that pulls the upper’s toe across the last, and then side lasted by hand. A Goodyear welting machine, guided by hand, does the welting and making. Workers finish the shoes by hand, some makers with the assistance of a buffing wheel. It’s very reasonable to call the products of these labours handmade since there are steps performed entirely by hand and since the ones done with a machine still are done one at a time by a skilled labourer.
Vass takes handmade into another level. As with Edward Green, the leather is clicked by hand and closed using a sewing machine guided by hand. A shoemaker then lasts the shoes by pulling the upper and lining leather over the last using shoemaker’s pliers and nailing it in place. The upper is carefully and skilfully hammered to fit the three-dimensional shape of the last.
The welting and making are also done by hand: using straight needles and awls. The insole, welt and upper are pierced with the awl, which passes through the feather; as the shoemaker sews, he draws the thread up from underneath with one needle, and then down through the same hole from above with another needle. He tightens the thread by force and winds the thread over the awl to pull to even tighter. Nails are removed as the welt are been stitched and he finally compresses the material with light hammer blows and adjusts the welt with his pliers.
The hand lasting and welting as you can see is the difference between Vass and most other Goodyear welted shoe maker, and from the description, a lot more time consuming as each step is done by highly specialised hand operations requiring skill and experience.
While I can purchase Vass for less than 600AUD, and Edward Green for around 1100AUD, why would one spend that much one RTW Goodyear welt? I find the finishing and antiquing on EG and G&G are better than Vass, so they compensate the time saved in machine last and welt by more time spent on the hand finishing, such as antiquing and burnishing. So the end product has a more refined look combined with their elegant propriety lasts, and EG in terms of brand name are a lot more powerful than Vass. Another reason is that factory space and labour cost are much higher in England than Hungary.
Another wild speculation I have, it that in certain cases, it is more economically viable to have a team of artisans than investing in capital equipment like Goodyear welting machines and lasting machines, in addition to the benefits of hand welting. One shoemaker must hit a certain equilibrium point in the number of shoes he wants to sell or make before making this investment.
There had been some heated discussions about hand welt shoes on this forum, in my opinion, under normal wear, like talking in the urban area, a well-executed Goodyear welt shoe might not suffer in terms of quality compare to handwelt, while under more rigorous conditions, the benefits of handwelt will become more apparent. Another thing with Vass’s hand lasting and welting, is that there are variances in size and fit in their shoes, not as much as half a size, but I can definitely feel the difference when they are new, after wear and break in, I find them confine to my feet pretty much the same. I haven’t experienced this much variances in size and fit in Goodyear welted shoes.