Steve Horne, whom we have previously interviewed (here), is slowly passing on the mantle to our new Assistant Leather Buyer, Dan Page. Dan will be supporting Steve and continuing his good work in sourcing only the very finest leathers for our handmade English shoes, alongside our Managing Director… but the learning curve is long and steep!
Dan, have you always worked in shoemaking?
Yep, I’ve been in the shoe industry since I left school – for 14 years now. I’ve been with Crockett & Jones for half that time, and I worked for another Northampton factory before this.
That previous factory made some good shoes, but they didn’t Click shoes by hand so I reached a point where I felt I’d fulfilled my potential there. Crockett & Jones offered me an opportunity for growth and a place where I could learn new skills. I was a lining cutter when I first came to C&J, but I wanted to learn how to cut other parts of a shoe’s pattern too.
Talk us through your first few years at Crockett & Jones?
I started in the Clicking Room and went on to assisting the Room’s foreman. We’d started talking about me taking over the foreman’s position when he retired, but then the chance came up around 18-months ago to move into leather buying. I discussed it with Jonathan & Nick Jones and of course Steve Horne, the company’s long-standing Head Leather Buyer and it was an opportunity I really didn’t want to miss. I’ve always been interested in the materials we work with and how they impact the finished product.
What does it feel like to be stepping into Steve’s shoes, so to speak?
That’s a difficult question. Steve is such a knowledgeable man, I don’t think I could ever step into his shoes! This has been a great opportunity to learn. I’m picking up a huge amount from Steve at the moment – his experience is unbelievable.
Leather buying was totally new to me when I moved across from clicking; as a Clicker you learn about the way leather behaves as a material and what makes good quality leather, but it’s only in the past 18 months that I’ve learned about the tanning process and the work that goes into producing high-quality leather in the first place. It’s a whole new ballgame.
And what are some of the things you look for as a leather buyer, then?
As buyers we look at the quality and handle of the skins we select. We are also checking for substance (thickness) and colour consistency across the skins and also batch deliveries. This is particularly important; for a skin to make high quality shoes, its fibre structure needs tight with a good ‘break’ so that during wear it will stand up to continual flexing. If you make shoes from leather with an open fibre structure, it’ll stretch quickly and the shoes’ shape will collapse. That’ll never do at Crockett & Jones!
Looking back on the past seven years with Crockett & Jones, are there any achievements you’re particularly proud of?
Well, stepping up to be Assistant Leather Buyer is the big one, obviously. Aside from that, learning to Click by hand was important to me. My previous company didn’t make handmade shoes – everything was done by machinery. Making the leap from press cutting to hand cutting was a massive learning curve.
Now, Steve has passed on the task of cutting exotic leathers to me, which is a totally different skill in itself. With Crocodile, for example, you can only cut a single shoe from one skin, so you have to try and find the closest pair of skins you can in terms of colour, pattern, and the shape of the scales, so that both shoes work as a pair. To figure out how to cut a pair of shoes across multiple skins is a real challenge.
Any advice for apprentices who want to get into shoemaking?
It’s a great trade to get into. If you want to learn a set of skills and progress through an interesting industry then the opportunities are there. Just get your head down, enjoy it; learn about leathers, learn about the business, absorb everything you can. Ask anyone at Crockett & Jones and they’ll say “you never stop learning”. There’s always new things to get your head into, new techniques to try, new ways to experiment. It’s never a case of “this is how we do it and that’s it”.
And just for fun, do you have a favourite pair of Crockett & Jones shoes?
That’s another tricky one, I’m proud of all the shoes we make for different reasons. If I had to pick one model, I think I’d say Pembroke in Dark Brown Scotch Country Grain – it’s a true classic if ever there was one.