Making of Cheaney Shoes
Joseph Cheaney and Sons are the makers of our bench-made English leather shoes.
Cheaney has been hand-making shoes in Desborough – a small Northamptonshire town – since 1886. While most shoe manufacturers have outsourced parts of the production overseas, Cheaney has kept its production entirely in England, from start to finish. Many of the men and women who work for Cheaney come from long lines of shoemaking families, with skills passed down from one generation to the next, and it is through this loyal team of craftsmen that Cheaney has built a proud heritage.
Each shoe is eight weeks in the making, a process involving over one hundred and sixty separate stages. The ‘clickers’ – the men who cut out the leathers (the name deriving from the sound of the cutter’s knife clipping the brass bound pattern) – cut deftly and expertly, knowing just where to place the pattern on the leather and in which direction of grain to cut.
They fashion and sharpen their blades themselves, shaping them to their own preference and have their own thick wooden blocks to cut upon.
One man is responsible for the brogue patterns and punches the design into each shoe individually. The ladies who sew the stitch detail (this is still a typically female role) do so solely by eye – skillfully lining up the two rows, one millimetre apart.
And the skivers (this is where the word comes from, though why it has taken on its current connotation is unclear) thin the edge of the leather with such a pace and fluidity of movement that each piece seems to be in their hands only moments.
Yet while these processes have a quickness and rhythm to them, there is an obvious patience and dedication to the task. Every part of the shoe is fashioned and guided by the human hand and human eye, by a deep understanding of how leather handles. This attention to detail shows in the finished article.
However, we don’t simply admire Cheaney shoes for their handcrafted beauty – we love them, too, for their longevity and steadfastness. All Cheaney shoes are Goodyear welted (the welt is a strip of leather that is stitched to the upper and insole of the shoe, as an attachment point for the sole) which means they can be resoled repeatedly and given a lifespan of many years, sometimes decades. The cavity between the welt and the insole is filled with soft cork, providing underfoot cushioning that adapts to the shape of the foot with time – so the more a Goodyear welted shoe is worn, the more comfortable it becomes.
At TOAST we take it as a privilege and a joy to be able to collaborate with Cheaney, to be a small part in the sustenance of such a good – and increasingly rare – tradition.