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), who thin the edge of
the leather, work with such a pace and fluidity of movement that each
leather 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.