Let’s start at the beginning, when did you join Crockett & Jones?
Before shoemaking I was a lifeguard and gym instructor for three years, but I joined C&J when I turned 19-years-old, and I’ve been here ever since. At the time I just fancied a change, and a friend saw the factory was taking people on, so I went for it. Nine years later, I’m still here!
Did you expect to enjoy shoemaking when you applied?
To be perfectly honest I had no idea what to expect. I’d never been in any kind of factory before, so it was quite nerve-racking at first. The factory is packed, and noisy, and filled with machines whirring away, so I had to get used to a much busier environment than I was used to. But, once I’d done a few weeks I started to relax and really enjoy it – there’s a great bunch of people here, so it’s hard not to love it.
Tell us a bit about your role as a Toe Laster?
Well, I started on some of the simpler jobs like shaping insoles and side-lasting, but I’ve been working as a toe laster for around nine years now. It’s the trickiest part of the lasting process; you have to pull the shoe’s upper onto its last toes-first to start creating shape in the shoe, and you have to match up how the leather sits on the left and right feet as closely as possible by eye. You also have to get a clean toe box into every shoe, whether on a chiselled toe, almond toe or round toed last, which can be tricky sometimes.
How exactly does that work, then?
You have to understand the different shapes of shoe and different styles. Some leathers need steaming before you can last them to soften them up and stop them from cracking, but then you can steam some leathers and not others, because some can dry out or lose their finish. Every leather stretches and moulds differently. We probably toe last about 300-pairs of shoes a day, so you start to develop an instinct for how different materials can behave.
What’s day-to-day life in the factory like?
It’s pretty straight-forward really once you’ve learned your job, which can take a few months to really get a feel for. Some days a batch of shoes will come through that are trickier to last than others, but you just put your headphones in and take it in your stride. There’s also a great sense of community here and we all like to have a laugh. Shortly after I joined, a fair few other young people joined too, and some of the lads will go down to the pub for a beer every now and then. The factory Christmas party is always good fun too.
Did you ever expect to be a craftsman?
No, not really, but it’s great to be learning a craft – it’s quite unusual nowadays, I guess. The other thing about C&J is that everything we do is made by hand. If you work through 300 pairs of shoes a day, mistakes are bound to happen once in a while, but the management are understanding of that here. It’s nice to be part of a family business too.
What’s been your proudest moment at C&J?
When Prince Charles came to visit a couple of years ago. That was quite something. He came over and shook my hand and I wasn’t sure what to expect but he was very kind. It’s not every day that you get to go into work and meet a Prince!
Favourite pair of C&J shoes?
One of the suede boots I’d say; maybe Coniston in Rough-Out Suede with a pair of jeans.