The Not-so-easy Process of Sneaker Making

Back in the golden age of handmade footwear, the shoemaker was in charge of the entire process of shoemaking from beginning to end.  Although it may appear that fast fashion has taken over, a lot still goes into the process of creating handmade shoes. High-quality shoes are now made using a nesting manufacturing process, unlike the original cobblers. So, if you’re wondering, “How does a factory make shoes?” then sit back and read on, as this is what this blog post will be looking at.

In the process of shoemaking, the various departments of a factory perform different stages of the manufacturing process in nesting manufacturing. When a department’s role is completed, the shoes are passed onto the next department in line. Bespoke shoes, unlike throwaway fashion footwear, go through a surprisingly high number of stages before they’re ready to wear. The number of steps involved varies depending on the manufacturing methods used by each manufacturer. Looking for a rough estimate? Let’s say a shoe can be made in 70 steps, or it can take 390!

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#1. Making The Lasts And Shell Patterns

The LAST is the first thing you need to make a shoe. The shoe last is a form made of wood, plastic, or metal that gives the shoe its shape. You’d think the last would resemble the shape of a human foot…

and it sort of does. Each shoe style necessitates it’s own last to determine its shape and size. Each shoe size necessitates the use of a left and right last. So, for a standard 14-size size run, you’ll need at least 28 lasts.

Shell Patterns

Once you’ve decided on a last for the style of shoe you’re making, you’ll need to create a SHELL PATTERN to go with it. The shell pattern is simply a flat shape that can be stretched over the previous one to create a three-dimensional shape. This is the art of the shoemaker or patternmaker.

Shell Patterns

“SPRINGING the pattern” is the technical term. When the shell pattern is finished, the designer and pattern master can start working on the shoe parts.


Cutting Patterns

The cutting of materials is the next step in the shoe manufacturing process. Steel dies in a hydraulic press are typically used to cut shoe parts. The shoe part cutting dies resemble simple cookie cutters, but they are extremely sharp. Every shoe component requires its own cutting die. Every part, in every size, requires its own die and the shoe parts represent the shoe pattern.  Many die sets are frequently required to support the production of high-volume shoes in popular sizes. To make the cuts that define the patterns, hand-placed cutting dies are placed on leather or fabric materials before the press closes to make the cuts.

Again, each part of the shoe must be cut, inside and out, padding and reinforcements, etc. If a shoe has 20 parts, the factory will require 20 cutting dies in 14 different sizes. It is not uncommon to have tens of thousands of cutting dies. Following the cutting of the parts, a worker will carefully organize and stack the shoe parts. The parts will then be processed before being stitched. The parts will be marked for alignment, and the embroidery and printing departments will add logos, such as the swoosh for NIKE or the three stripe for Adidas.

The shoe factory workers will organize the parts into kits for the stitching department once they have been prepared.


The Stitching process

The workers in the stitching department can begin work once all of the parts have been cut and organized into kits. The Stitching Department or Stitching Line is the name given to this section of the factory. Depending on the complexity of the shoe, a single stitching line may have 50 to 100 workers. In most cases, two stitching lines can support a single assembly line. Stitchers assemble the shoe’s outer shell, inner lining, and tongue. Reinforcements, hardware, lace loops, collar foam, and heel counters will also be added by the stitchers. The stitching department will also be in charge of heel and toe forming. The pattern part that closes the bottom of the finished upper is attached with the final stitching operation.

This is known as the Strobel sock. The Strobel stitch is the caterpillar-like stitching that runs along the bottom edge of a sports shoe. It’s time for FINAL ASSEMBLY now that the stitching is finished. This is carried out on the ASSEMBLY LINE. Not to be confused with the stock fitting or stitching lines. This is the point at which the shoe upper is joined to the outsole.


Sneakers take their shape and form after the lasts.

At this stage, the shoe is currently loose and floppy, and it is not shaped like a shoe or a human foot. The process of pulling this upper over a form (the last) that allows it to stretch and take the shape of a real shoe is known as shoe lasting. Depending on the type of shoe and the cementing process, the last can be made of wood, plastic, or metal. To aid in the long-term process, the upper can be steam heated.


Shoe outsoles

After the upper has properly lasted, it’s time to apply the outsole on the bottom. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including contact cement, vulcanizing, nailing, and sewing operations. The lasted upper (with the last still inside) and outsole units are primed and cemented together in the case of cementing. A good bond is ensured by a pressing operation. After the last is removed, the shoe is laced up, cleaned, and inspected by quality control personnel before being packed.

After these processes are completed, the completed sneakers are then distributed to customers and retailers. Every single sneaker you wear or see undergoes these processes.


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