Shoes — Part 3: Lasts
The single most important part of the shoe, is the last that it is made on. There are so many factors associated with the last that can tremendously affect the outcome of the final product. The slightest curvature or proportion measurement can make or break the look and feel of the shoe. Yet, many of us don’t think about this. Too much emphasis is placed on the importance of the designer, the person who simply sketches out a drawing. But it’s not them that deserve all of the credit. It’s the technical people who then have to make the last and then the pattern, both of which are the things that truly create the magic. These are the people that turn that drawing into a real-life product. And like I have said before, it does not matter how cool, unique or original your design is, if your last shape is ugly or disproportionate or your pattern does not fit the curvature of your last, the final product will not look right. If this becomes the case your shoes will not sell, unless you give them away for pennies. Yet, we don’t think about this….or do we?
There are two type of lasts: wooden and plastic. In the mass-production industry (AKA RTW), the lasts are going to be made of plastic. The reason being, is because plastic does not crack, especially when you are drilling holes through it, putting metal springs in it and affixing it to a machine that is able to duplicate it. A wooden last, simple could not go through what a plastic last can. It’s needs to be molded, shaped and replicated by heavy machinery and I believe that all of these stages would end up breaking a wooden last.
RTW lasts are also (generally) on the bulky and lack-of-shape side. The unfortunate reason being is that when you are trying to fit a population of people, you need to make something that is able to accommodate at least 80-90% of those people or else your products won’t sell that well. But the down side of this is that RTW shoes end up looking so bland, shapeless, common and ultimately, ugly. Where is the happy medium? That’s the question. But I believe that there is one. A way that you can blend bespoke and RTW lasts together to make a last that stands above the rest. This is what I am trying to do with my line and we shall see how it comes out. But I cannot guarantee anything, especially since the old saying goes, ‘if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.’
Bespoke lasts are amazing. Not only do they have character, but like I stated earlier, they have all of the shapes and curves that end up creating a beautiful product. As for their material, they will always be wooden, or at least they should be. And this is attributed to many reasons. First and foremost, this is what they had to work with many many years ago, when shoemaking came about. There was no plastic or heavy machinery to create mass runs of lasts. Traditional last makers created them scratch, using a block of wood and a big sickle-like blade that would shave off the pieces of the block like one would shave off coconut shavings onto your ice cream. However, this practice is rarely done these days, if not extinct as it take a tremendous amount of time and precision. Now days, most last makers will take from an existing last, and alter it to fit the measurements of the customer. Some find this to be cheating, but in reality, with the way the world is these days (financially), it does not make sense to do it the old way, nor does it really matter. It’s really just a point of pride, being able to state that something was done from start to finish, by hand.
So next time you are in the market for a pair of shoes, study them first. Look at the shapes of the shoes, how they curve, how they accentuate at the joints and how the arch actually exists, instead of just being flat. And the shoes that you find with more shape to them, with more of an emphasis on their last, will be the shoes that not only look better but fit better.