The Shoe Snob Blog

December 4, 2014

Saint Crispins Factory Visit

Saint Crispins shoes
It’s amazing how a brand can come onto the scene and explode within a matter of months, going from virtually being unknown (in the grand scheme of things) to becoming the talk of the industry. In a sense this happened to Saint Crispins a few years back. It’s not that they were “unknown” per se, but that the people that did know them were only a small fraction compared those that know them now. I always wonder how it happened? Was it because Leather Soul started stocking them? Was it because Leffot did? Who knows really. But I will say that there was a transition of power in the ranks at SC that may have had something to do with it. You see, the company was started way back when by Michael Rolling but then about 10-12 years ago, his cousin Phillip Car, joined the ranks. Not going into detail, I think that they had a difference in the way in which they wanted to take the company, so Michael set off on his own to start Zonkey Boot and Phillip was left in charge to turn SC into what it is today. And the rest is history…

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bevelled rubber waists? That's impressive

bevelled rubber waists? That’s impressive

Shaq is a customer?

Shaq is a customer?

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Saint Crispin himself?

Saint Crispin himself?

Got holes?

Got holes?

Leather Swatches

Leather Swatches

Fast forward to present day and let’s talk about who SC are today. In essence they are a company that makes shoes pretty much 95% by hand in a small factory in Romania (but the company is Austrian) using top grade leathers and craftsmanship and to be dead honest, produce some of the finest shoes known to man. They have positioned themselves as a MTO type of company as each shoe is really made one at a time. There is not some grand production line. It is a pair by pair operation which allows people to customize their shoes to quite an extent and virtually get what they want without having to pay your typical upcharge that most ‘factory brands’ impose. This, I believe, has been a huge part of their success as people love the idea of customization and love even more that they don’t have to pay more for that customization.

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leather...

leather…

nice upper....great design

nice upper….great design

the pattern cutting table

the pattern cutting table

craps from clicking...

craps from clicking…

the tool for clicking

the tool for clicking

Saint Crispins shoes

fixing shoes is just as important as making them...

fixing shoes is just as important as making them…

real old school sewing machine...

real old school sewing machine…

cool cloths for shoemaking

cool cloths for shoemaking

insoles and things...

insoles and things…

the customized last

the customized last

patterns

patterns

Lining

Lining

Saint Crispins shoes

On the flip side you have your skeptics, who say “are Romanian made shoes really worth those prices?” These are usually your European elitists who believe that good shoes can only be made from a handful of countries, not including Eastern Europe, which is quite a flawed mentality to have in my opinion. I will say, without saying who but I am sure that many of you can guess, that one of the top shoemakers in the world (and English) was very impressed with SC the first time that he saw a pair in person. From shoemaker to shoemaker, that is the top compliment someone could receive. And what I love about that, is that it just goes to prove the concept that good shoes can be made anywhere in the world. It is not about the country, nor the history, but about the passion of the people and the greatness of leadership from the owner of the brand. That is what makes good shoes, not origin nor anything else. Hard work, passion, attention to detail and good materials. And SC has all of those things!

love that boot!

love that boot!

The view...and where Freudenberg leather used to be...but not anymore

The view…and where Freudenberg leather used to be…but not anymore

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£1000 golf shoes? Why not!

£1000 golf shoes? Why not!

Tidy finishing...

Tidy finishing…

Unique medallions

Unique medallions

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The goose feather effect, done with a goosh feather and by hand...

The goose feather effect, done with a goosh feather and by hand…

Saint Crispins shoes

one of the few machines...i believe making sure the sole is on properly by pressing the shoe together

one of the few machines…i believe making sure the sole is on properly by pressing the shoe together

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So I was fortunate enough to be able to see the production process of Saint Crispins shoes and I must say that it was quite a nice set up. I have seen many workshops of bespoke makers, and larger factories, but never really a small in-between. And it was like the two of them put together to make a happy medium. Keep in mind that Saint Crispins only makes around 1500 pairs a year. That is about 6 pairs/day. So while it may seem like they are big, in reality they are still quite a relatively small company in terms of production. But when keeping quality high it is important to not try and do too much and I think that Phillip always has this in the back of his mind too. Biting off more than one can chew leads to other problems and quality tends to suffer because of it. So SC is happy with this output, so long as it does not decrease.

Cutting the insole

Cutting the insole

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putting the welt on

putting the welt on

Saint Crispins shoes

a pegged leather shank

a pegged leather shank

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wooden pegs

wooden pegs

pegging the waist

pegging the waist

preparing the toe taps

preparing the toe taps

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Re-sole/repair job

Re-sole/repair job

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As I mentioned, the shoes about 95% handmade. That 5% is attaching the sole, which is done by a very old hand-driven machine that stitches on the sole. Phillip tells me that the results are nearly identical (providing that one is skilled with this very old-world machine), but the time to attach the sole is drastically reduced using the machine, so in his mind it only makes mathematical sense to do so. And presuming that he is accurate, I can’t say that I can disagree with that notion. And from what I have seen of their sole stitching, it looks quite tidy to me and I have never heard of sole separation before, so why not use it instead of doing it by hand?! However, funny enough, when they do a re-sole, it is done by hand and not using the machine.

some ladies shoes

some ladies shoes

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recraft

recraft

half sole job

half sole job

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the making of their bags

the making of their bags

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As you can see from the pictures, everything is very hands on and done in-house, from the shoe bags, to the shoe boxes, to the shoe laces and even the shoe trees. It’s quite impressive that they do it all. But for me that is the best way as it is all controlled to ensure that the quality of everything is down to the owner of the company. And if the owner of said company has high standards, then you can trust that when receiving their product, you will be getting the best of the best. And that is why even at €1250 per pair, their shoes are flying out the door like hot cakes. Because at the end of the day it is a good shoe for a good price and made by people who truly care about the quality of their product. And that is Saint Crispins for you….

the factory/workshop from the outside

the factory/workshop from the outside

Saint Crispins shoes

'no smoking'

‘no smoking’

Saint Crispins shoes

what the shoe trees start as....

what the shoe trees start as….

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cutting the channel

cutting the channel

Saint Crispins shoes

channel cut and ready

channel cut and ready

the sole stitching machine....

the sole stitching machine….

and a hand stitched job on a repair

and a hand stitched job on a repair

the finished product...

the finished product…

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the boxes and a tricycle just in case one needs a quick getaway!

the boxes and a tricycle just in case one needs a quick getaway!

 

  • RogerP

    Justin, I cannot begin to tell you how much I have been looking forward to this report, and how much I have enjoyed reading through and taking in all the terrific pictures. This clearly took a lot of time to put together and I very much appreciate the effort. I will confess to a near giddy admiration of and enthusiasm for this brand. I have had the pleasure of meeting (and being fitted for a customized last by) Mr. Car and count myself fortunate to own a few pairs of their exquisite shoes and boots. I am envious of your opportunity to visit there in person, but this pictorial account is surely the next best thing. Well done!

  • dan

    hey, great story. “loc pentru fumat” doesn’t mean “no smoking”, but quite the opposite actually: “smoking place”. This is where workers CAN smoke

  • blonderealist

    Wow, I didn’t expect to see so very many pictures of the Saint Crispin’s workshop and shoes. Impressive and interesting. Lots of styles I like and many interesting details.

  • Ramon Cuberta

    Mr. Justin, congratulations. Another great work of another great effort with other major e interesting jewel information from the world of well-made shoes lovers, one of the best houses in the world, made with very high quality and integrity. Thanks again!

  • Jeffrey Frank

    How ironic that the internet is the root cause of the success of old world crafts by making such companies known to the world overnight and by linking the small community of like minded people and potential