Custom shoe and ready-made shoe – the difference

Again and again I am asked what the difference is between a made-to-measure shoe and a ready-made shoe. Very briefly summarized: The ready-made shoe is a serial product that is manufactured in standardized sizes for the end customer (often industrially in mass production). In the upscale segment, this form of fashion is also often called prêt-à-porter collection (translated as “ready to wear”). The made-to-measure shoe, on the other hand, is completely customized to the future wearer from the very beginning and is made absolutely by hand as a one-of-a-kind item.

But let’s go into detail for a moment. In my comparison, we assume a classic, welted men’s shoe with leather sole and leather heel.

The high-quality ready-made shoe is priced between 600 to 1,600 euros and, as already mentioned, is usually produced in an industrial manner. This means that machines such as pinching machines, cap preforming machines and many others are increasingly being used here. These machines all need to be set to appropriate last shapes so that they can work accurately. The upper of the shoe (it’s called the upper) is cut to hydraulic punches using special metal templates rather than a knife by hand, which of course saves time more than anything else. Even the sewing machines, which are then used to sew the shaft together, are set to a certain thickness of thread. To better illustrate this at this point, let me give you an example. For example, if you want to make a seam more prominent and thus more conspicuous on the shoe, then you need a thicker yarn for this step. This, in turn, leads to significant additional work due to the need to readjust the machines to this yarn count. The same applies in principle to the materials used. Materials with the same properties as far as possible are used in a series. In concrete terms, this means that the leather thickness and stretchability should be as identical as possible so that the nipping machine can work properly. For example, within the same series, it will be very difficult to tweak a shaft made of a very soft, thin deerskin to the same quality as a shaft made of a rather stiff cow box leather. This aspect is further reinforced by the fact that in series production, supplied and ready-made components are often installed in order to keep further costs as low as possible. One such component is, for example, the outsole. This is prefabricated by an external sole maker, referred to in this context as ready-made, and delivered to the shoe manufacturer.

In order for such a ready-made outsole to now fit on the shoe, it must not deviate from its standard shape. So that’s why there are only a limited number of lengths and width options for the ready-to-wear shoe in terms of last shape, so that machine production can continue to be possible and costs stay within bounds. In machine shoe production, there are various parameters which, as soon as they are changed, mean a great deal of extra work in production. This means that machines have to be set up from scratch, and it is not uncommon for individual work steps to continue to be performed manually – the cost savings of the series are thus null and void. All these examples illustrate that only a very small scope of individual work steps is possible in ready-made clothing. Everything that goes beyond that is in the custom shoe league – an absolute one-off, unique, one-of-a-kind and therefore naturally also significantly higher in price.

The made-to-measure shoe is therefore the “measure of all things” in the shoe sector, which is ultimately also reflected in the price – this starts at €2,500. Here you literally start with a blank sheet of paper – just about anything is possible! Lasts individually tailored to the wearer serve as the basis for the made-to-measure shoe. These are fitted directly to the foot of the future owner. Since no two feet are alike, larger deviations from both feet can now be taken into account here.

After the model discussion, a template set for the individual socket parts is created based on these measurements. The upper parts are then cut by hand from the selected leather hide. In this step, you have a direct influence on the entire range of the material used. Depending on the shoe type and intended use, the optimum material and color selection can be made here. From the gallantry shoe made of the finest Chevreau (goatskin) to the weatherproof boot made of Waterproof leather (robust, highly water-repellent cowhide), everything is included. That’s the beauty of custom shoe manufacturing – there are plenty of customization and unique options. Here there is no framework within which the shoemaker must move, because everything is made to measure and individually according to the customer’s wishes. The upper is shaped / tweaked by hand over the last, so the experienced shoemaker can respond to the requirements of the upper during processing quite individually. You won’t find any ready-made soles at the made-to-measure shoe either. The outsoles, for example made of leather, are based on the specific shape of the insole (shape of the underside of the last). The heel is built up by hand in layers and individually adjusted to the height required by the customer, nailed with wood and pinned. The shoe is of course pricked by hand. Depending on the style, this means that the insole, upper, midsole and outsole are joined together with several hand-stitched seams. Unfortunately, this is often equated with the so-called Goodyear style (machine stitching), which can be found on virtually all classic, welted men’s shoes in the prêt-à-porter segment.

However, to equate the hand seam with the Goodyear methods is simply wrong, because it is a machine seam. In contrast, hand-stitching (for a hand-stitched shoe) is extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive, and is still in a class of its own – both in terms of technical sophistication and durability. Here the terms “handmade” and “manufacture” get exactly the right intention. In addition, in the case of a genuine made-to-measure shoe, much more time and attention is devoted to the cosmetic perfection of the workmanship, which emphasizes the uniqueness of the made-to-measure shoe. Among other things, the sole is glazed by hand. This step is performed with a piece of broken glass. This is used to work the sole until a mirror-smooth sole edge is revealed. Using special, traditional techniques such as water polishing, the characteristic leather color is then brought out and the shoe is polished to a high shine. Here, each manufacture / shoemaker has its own secret to breathe into the shoe its own signature, the philosophy of the house. In the case of ready-made shoes, on the other hand, the finishing processes are optimized for the standardized materials and often take place with machine support in a much shorter time.

As you can see, made-to-measure shoes are actually about much more than just a shoe, because real works of art are created here. But more about this in our blog post “Why actually custom shoes” please click here.

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