A Time-Honored Craft
Pom d’Api has been producing high quality children’s shoes since 1973, with shoemaking heritage dating back to 1870, passing down shoemaking savoir-faire (know-how) from generation to generation. From the first stitch to the finished product, countless hours of love and care go into each of the more than 200 steps involved in producing a pair of Pom d’Api shoes. In this part of the Pom d’Api ‘making-of’ series, we aim to share with you our passion for this unique profession.
Beginning with the ‘last’
It all begins with the design phase, where the final look and form of the shoe is determined. This step is crucial and requires a high degree of accuracy. The width, the volume of the instep, and the degree of the raise at the tip of the shoe must all be precisely measured and calculated. These characteristics are prepared using a last (a mechanical wooden form in the shape of a human foot) upon which a plastic shell is then molded to allow the pattern designer to begin to draw the design on the last.
Tracing over the last
Using the sketch provided by the design office, the pattern designer will reproduce the design on the plastic shell covering the last with a thin graphite pencil. Years of experience are needed to acquire the precision required to trace over the last. This step is vital as the final shoe will be an exact replicate of the design created in this step by the pattern designer.
The next stage is for the pattern cutter to cut the leather pieces required for both the outer section and inner lining of the shoe. These two parts will eventually come together to form the ‘upper’ of the shoe which is attached to the sole. Using the pattern created by the pattern designer the pattern cutter cuts each leather piece required to compose both the outer section and lining of the shoe. The first ‘last’ model is created for one size, to create the last models for the full size range, the first model is used as a basis from which new last models are then created using a system of gradual increments used to enlarge or shrink the original pattern to the new dimensions. The result is a last model for each size in the range. Once the first sample is made, several fittings are done to verify the shape and fit of the model and the accuracy of the fitting properties. Any necessary further adjustments can then be made by the pattern cutter.
Preparing the inner
The inner lining is formed during the cutting of the leather and involves several steps. Using the ‘last’ model as a guide and a technique known as ‘mounting’, the inner lining is then created. In the model in the making-of video, you can see that the preparation of the inner lining requires a highly degree of delicacy and level of ‘savoir-faire’.
Following the same process as the leather pieces used in the outer section, the inner lining is cut from select pieces of high quality leather. It is then hand died in a mixture of natural dyes. The golden label is then affixed; in a process known as ‘Marquage à chaud’ (hot marking) or ‘branding’.
The inner lining is then pierced very precisely at 10 different points, positioned on the inside and the outside of the sole, used to enable the fitting of the outer section during the next step. During this operation, it is essential to be extremely accurate. As a result, the workbenches of the experts in this task are lit by bright lights which resulted in this process becoming known as ‘the lights’.
Then, the inner lining is positioned in a custom made mold which is then mechanically pressed to create the desired shape in a process known as ‘the preforming’. This step is particularly essential for the models with an arched instep and/or a back enhancement, as seen in the video.
From heel to toe
Finally, by adding other elements which compose the model such as the ‘stiffner’ and ‘cap’ (rigid pieces which are put in the heel and on the front of the shoe between the lining and the leather) or elements used for fastening (zip, buckle, eyelet,...), the model is ready for the stitching and construction.
Upper, lasting and finishing
In the second part of the making-of, we have seen how a Pom d’Api shoe goes from sketch to the individual components needed to put the shoe together. At this point, all the distinct elements which will compose the final shoe are ready to be put together. Part 3 of the Pom d’Api ‘making-of’ series looks at how these components become the finished shoe.
The upper is the first part to be worked. An additional preparation step is needed for the leather pieces that have designs such as stitching patterns or ornamentations. Ornamentations are attached to the leather pieces using small perforations and stitching.
The outside section and inner lining, which together form the upper are stitched together using the perforations made during the ‘lights’ step in the closing workshop. The stitching requires a great deal of dexterity and precision to guaranty the highest quality in the end product. The upper is then positioned on a plastic last, ready for the lasting.
The lasting consists of the final fixing of the outer section to the inner lining. As you can see in the picture below, following "the stitching", the bridles of the outer section the go through the inner lining need to be the bended and pasted. This specific technique of lasting is known as ‘traditional hand lasting’. Several different lasting techniques exist, each of them having special characteristics depending on how the outside section and inside lining have been fixed together.
As an aside
Along with the stitching to the lasting, there are numerous other steps that we have not mentioned in detail however each of these is vital in the shoemaking process. For example, once the upper and the lining are pieced together, each edge is hand-dyed, with a brush, along with a mixture of natural dyes similar to the color of the leather. This meticulous attention to the little details is a key reason why Pom d’Api has become known worldwide for their high quality shoes.
The final step of the assembly of the shoe consists of attaching the upper section of the shoe prepared in the steps above to the outsole of the shoe. In the case traditional hand lasting, the outsole is fixed by a pasting process. The pasting process involves a number of steps, known collectively as ‘cemented construction’. These steps involve optimizing the pasting process to ensure a perfect link between the sole and upper. Examples of some of the steps involved is ‘carding’ which consists of a fine scouring of the under of the inner lining and placing the shoe in an oven to further optimize the adherence of the paste.
The outside sole is bonded with a special paste that is activated by high temperatures. The upper, which remains on the last, is placed onto the sole which is then moved into the oven. The paste that is used on the sole is then re-activated by the heat. This process is repeated multiple times to optimize the adhesion between the upper and the sole. It is at this point that the upper to sole connection is once and for all cemented.
After further drying the sole is then buffered to remove any small imperfections. The pair of shoes is then cleaned and inspected by hand. The cleaning process differs depending on the different final looks desired for the outer section leather. Together, these steps are known as ‘the finishing’.
With the pair of shoes ready to be shipped to customers across the globe, only one more step is required. Each pair of Pom d’Api shoes is carefully wrapped in tissue paper and placed inside a Pom d’Api shoebox, ready for a customer and ending the 200+ steps that have seen the shoes go from design sketch to finished product, from a small shoe store in 1870 in ‘la Gaubretière’ in Vendee, France to across the globe.