We Shouldn’t Conflate Heritage And Quality

April 22, 2011

Jesse made a comment yesterday about how we shouldn’t conflate heritage and quality, and I completely agree. Too many consumers, I think, use a company’s heritage as a proxy for quality, and then become enchanted with buzz-phrases such as “will last you a lifetime,” even as they go about buying shoes that are essentially glue jobs. In the end, to learn about quality, you really just have to begin developing an understanding of the manufacturing process.

As such, I thought I’d post this video of Edward Green’s factory – a company that both has incredible heritage and produces amazing quality shoes. Here you can see the incredible craftsmanship that goes into a pair of Edward Greens. These shoes feature more handwork than almost any ready-to-wear shoes on the market. For example, the closing stitches are done by hand, with pig bristles since they’re finer than needles, and polishes are hand applied in order to create a strong sense of depth in the leather. Any machine work done on the shoe is also still guided by hand. This all helps maintain a level of attention to detail, at each stage of the manufacturing process, that machines alone can’t achieve.

The materials on a pair of Edward Greens are also some of the best in the world. For example, the soles of the shoes are made from oak bark tanned leather, a type of hide that has been tanned exclusively from vegetable agents made from barks and fruits. The process takes place inside of an oak-lined pit that is ten feet deep. The hide sits in the solution for about a year. There are no mechanical movements, no chemical catalysts, and the solution isn’t heated; the hide just sits for a year. It’s a slow process, but the leather that comes out is very lightweight, very hardwearing, and very flexible. It is also highly water-repellent, but very breathable. This makes it perfect for soles.

If this level of quality isn’t enough for you, Edward Green also has their Top Drawer program. In their normal made-to-measure program, the company allows clients to choose the last, leather, and sole for the shoes they want. Top Drawer better than that, however. Here, models feature hand-carved fiddleback waists that have an added piece of leather for additional support. The heel is slightly tapered, the sole’s edge is hand shaped into a spade, and the bottom of the shoe features the client’s initials in the form of a nailhead design. Top Drawer shoes also get more attention at every stage of the manufacturing process.

Of course, there are still things to quibble about. The welt, for example, is attached to a canvas ribbing (a process called gemming), which is the white thing at you see in the video at around three minutes and twenty seconds in. Canvas, of course, isn’t as sturdy as leather, and can become brittle over time. As well, many say that a cork filled insole isn’t as good as a full leather insole. However, outside of a few manufacturers such as Stefano Bemer and DW Fromer, very few manufacturers offer fully hand welted shoes made in the most traditional manufacturing techniques. That kind of process is very laborious, and thus incredibly expensive. For ready-to-wear shoes, Edward Greens still represent one of the best shoes you can buy on the market.

The key here is to not assume things about quality just from the heritage of a brand, or even the price, but rather understand how things are made, and be serious about appreciating craftsmanship.

(As an aside, you should thank GW this post. He posted this video over this weekend, and after I laughed about how I was planning to use it this week, he took his down so that I could include it here. The guy is seriously a gentleman – and an owner of Edward Green’s best model, the Dover, I might add. There is a man who knows about quality.)