Following a couple of difficult decades, the interest in traditional bespoke shoes from Britain is booming and a new generation of skilled shoemakers are now entering the trade to ensure its future. Plaza Uomo met up with some of the young innovators of B
Nicholas Templeman had what many people in the industry would call a dream job, working as a last maker for the globally renowned John Lobb in London. But Nicholas had bigger plans and left the shoe giant to produce handcrafted shoes on his own. Today he works from his home in Islington in central London. To get to his workshop you’ll have to zigzag down a narrow stair lined with toys and a doll-sized pushchair until you reach the basement and the smallest room in the house which is where he’s set up his own workshop. Undeniably this is something completely different compared to John Lobb’s large premises on St James’s Street. “I prefer it here and that’s the most important thing,” comments Nicholas.
The 34-year old is born and bred in the English capital. When he was older, he studied fine art at the University of Brighton where he found himself drawn to more hands-on techniques. The idea of working with shoes, which was another long-held passion of his, came to after spotting some shoemaking tools and shoe lasts in the window of a shoe shop. Nicholas gave John Lobb a call to hear if they had any tips for getting into the shoemaking industry. At Lobb’s they wanted to know if he was calling about the ad for the last-making apprenticeship, something that Nicholas wasn’t aware of. Two weeks later he started his apprenticeship. “Naturally it was an amazing opportunity,” he says.
This was in 2007 and Nicholas was young and eager to learn. Soon he was working for the company as a professional last maker. The last maker is in charge of customer contact; measuring, fitting and making the last using the customer’s measurements, upon which the shoe is later constructed. When Nicholas and his wife had their second child in 2014 he grabbed the opportunity offered by paternity leave to build his own workshop, produce sample models, build a website and create his own brand – Nicholas Templeman Bespoke Shoemaker.
“It was now or never. That’s how it felt to me. The opportunity to take control in a whole different way, being fully in charge, that’s what attracted me to running my own business.”
The business is now three years old and has performed above expectation with an expanding customer base that includes plenty of American clients.
Naturally, Nicholas makes the shoe lasts himself as well as the structuring and the finishing touches, while the stitching of the upper leather and the assembling of the shoe are made by freelancers in London. In many ways the style leans toward the French, and the slightly lighter and softer look, rather than the traditionally British. “These days I make shoes the way I want to, not on somebody else’s terms.”
is London’s number one street for shoes. Much like the pearls on a necklace, the street sees row upon row of British shoe brands and a large number of big European brands. Somewhere in the middle you’ll come across Foster & Son, the sole remaining bespoke shoemaker on the prestigious street. This is where you’ll find Jon Spencer, a last maker who works in the company’s first-floor workshop that he shares with five other employees. Foster & Son has been located here since the 1970s. The company was founded in 1840 a mere stone’s throw away and is one of the most renowned bespoke shoe manufacturers in England.
“There’s a certain sense of added re- sponsibility when you know your employer’s heritage,” says Jon, who is one of two last makers working at Foster & Son.
Jon ended up at the company by a chance of sorts. He’s from the coastal region of Norfolk but decided to move to London six years ago where he worked as a freelance illustrator. A close friend in the shoemaking business heard that Foster & Son was looking to train a new last maker. Equipped with his sketchpad Jon went to meet the legendary Terry Moore who took him under his wing.
“Learning the trade from one of the most esteemed last makers of all times was obviously a privilege,” says Jon.
For the older generation in the industry it’s important to find talented, ambitious young people who are able to pass on the art of making hand-crafted shoes. Today the future of the craft looks brighter than it has for quite some time, thanks to the demand from young people wishing to enter the profession.
“We’re contacted all the time by people hoping to become an apprentice here. All the information, inspiration and opportunities for discussion you get with the internet and social media means that not only are more people interested in buying quality shoes, more and more want to learn how to make them as well. This means that the future is looking bright for a craft that was on the verge of extinction,” says Spencer.
Gaziano & Girling
is among one of the younger companies in the English shoe capital, Northampton, and was founded by Gaziano and Dean Girling in 2006. Since their inception they’ve produced ready-to-wear shoes as well as handcrafted bespoke shoes and amazingly enough the company has enjoyed great success in both areas. Eight years ago Daniel Wegan from Sweden started working as an apprentice in the bespoke department. A department he is now managing. Another Swede has now taken over his place in the workshop. 33-year-old Andreas Reijers used to work as a chef but after watching a couple of YouTube clips about handcrafting shoes he became fascinated by the profession. Three years ago he packed his bags and moved to Northampton in England. He was advised that in order to break into the industry he would have to be where the jobs are. Andreas contacted several shoe factories and soon found himself working for Crockett & Jones.
“But working in a shoe factory wasn’t what I’d been dreaming of. I wanted to make hand-crafted shoes,” says Andreas. At night he’d practice making shoes by hand on his own and on the weekends he’d travel down the A43 to Kettering to learn from Daniel Wegan. When an apprenticeship position came up at Gaziano & Girling he was offered the chance he’d been waiting for.
“It’s an incredibly difficult craft and a slow process. I can see why a lot of people give up but I really like the challenge,” says Andreas.
He’s already proved that he’s got a talent for the profession and is currently focusing on the bottom making, the actual assembly and the finishing touches. Even though he’s only been with the company for a year he’s already working on customers’ shoes. Andreas believes that being relatively young is a prerequisite for him becoming a highly skilled craftsman. On the other hand he doesn’t want to waste any time and would rather work very hard now in order to get to a level where he’s able to make a proper living. As a new apprentice you don’t make an awful lot of money but the more you’re able to contribute to the art of making ‘real shoes’ the better the pay – even if you’ll never earn a significantly amount. Becoming rich and famous is not a reason why more and more people are seeking to work in the trade; it’s all about the passion for the craft.
Nicholas Templeman The Entrepreneur TEMPLEMAN BESPOKE SHOEMAKER
Before starting his own business Nicholas Templeman worked for the prestigious John Lobb.
Jon Spencer LAST MAKER Foster & son
THE SHOEMAKER Andreas Reijers Gaziano & Girling Andreas Reijers is working hard to get to the level of being able to make a proper living from his profession.