Shoe Manufacturing – How Long it Really Takes – Part 1- Factories
If you go to certain countries in Asia, you can get bespoke shoes in a matter of days. If you get it from some reputable European and/or Japanese makers, it can take up to a year. So the question is, how long do shoes really take to make? Well let’s break it down.
The manufacturing and bespoke processes are completely different so let’s look at each but in separate posts, call them part 1 and part 2.
Part 1: Manufacturing in a Factory:
I feel like the standard for anything whether it be an MTO or stock order is around 3-4 months. This is the norm for most factories. But some factories can do it quicker (usually smaller ones) and others can take much longer (up to 6 months, anything more is a piss-take). But do the shoes actually take this long to make? Definitely not. Do shoes stay on lasts for 2 months. That is ludicrous. So why does it take so long then? Well, let’s put our wants/needs aside (as a customer) and think about it from a business standpoint. Businesses are not infinite in workers nor you will ever be their only client. That means that when you put your order into them, you must realize there is already a queue of people ahead of you waiting for their goods. So yours just sits there until the queue gets to your turn as the factory/business is not infinite in capabilities and production output is limited per day. On top of that one also must take into account all of the bureaucracy that goes into a factory as well. You wouldn’t believe the amount of paperwork there is. And that stuff takes time and is what makes it all go round in a functioning manner.
For example, in my factory, I will put the order through to the boss of production. He will then send it off to the leather/cutting department. They will access the leather that needs cutting. Once cut, it gets sewn. Once sewn it goes to the production department where they find the last and start putting together the shoe. After it is all put together it then goes to the finishing department. If one was to go straight through the process without doing what is needed to make a good shoe nor stopping for anything else, then at its absolute quickest it can take about 2 days, at least for a benchgrade calibre shoe that does not need a new pattern cut. But that 2 days does not include the time that the leather should spend on the last (nor the overnight drying for the dye on the edging), which is at least another 2-3 days. The longer the better.
But it doesn’t happen like they claim in shoe factory videos where they say they leave them on the last for 2 months. That’s just rubbish. They would all be out of business if they did that. The reality of it is, that as soon as I put in an order and assuming the leather is readily available (something you, the client may not think about), it then gets cut and the upper sewn. Then as the queue of manufacturing sets in, all of the uppers sit in boxes for about 2-3 months depending on how big the factory is. Once they start attaching the leather to the last, the process from then until finished shoe is a few weeks as it is a slow moving queue.
Now one also has to take into account whether or not all of the work is done in-house and how that might also add time, especially on MTO where new lasts and/or patterns get made. Some factories are either so big (in demand) that they can’t handle it all or are trying to cut cost corners so they outsource to countries like India to have the uppers sewn there. That takes time as well. And more bureaucracy. Other factories do not have last making in house (most of them don’t actually). Some get the hand-sewing of the aprons done elsewhere. Then the one factory becomes at the mercy of the other. You should start getting the picture by now.
On top of that, one must also take into account that sometimes shoes need to get remade as they come out as a second or break during the lasting stage or get dirty beyond repair etc…. all of these things delay the process. So when a factory or shoe brand, says 3-4 months it’s not because it actually takes that long, it is because that is simply the nature of the business and the norm of the industry. It is like when I used to shine shoes. I would get guys coming in and dropping off 10 pairs to me, wanting the full military shine on each pair. Doing one pair properly by itself took 2-3 hours. Doing more and more makes it less and less time overall per pair as while you are doing one, you let the others dry. I would quote that guy 1 month to get them back. Did it take me one month to do them all? No. But I did have other people before him and quick shines that I had to keep space for, and writing the blog and talking to customers and selling a shoe etc. It all has to be factored in because the day we start over-promising and under-delivering is the day that we start failing as a business.
So when anyone quotes you for a job, start to realize it’s not that it really takes that long, but how long the actual process of every little detail can be as well as how much leeway they have in order to not make it late. And I am sure in your business you can put this idea into reality as well. So to all of you who feel entitled to get things made from scratch extra fast, stop thinking that something should be done especially fast just for you!