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The first time I have heard about Carréducker, I was intrigued: a small company dedicated to the manufacturing of custom made shoes for men, each pair hand sewn, uniquely fitted to suit a particular pair of feet, and the specific taste of each client. You may call it indulgent or extravagant, but I would suggest another word to describe it: refreshing.
Ironically enough, seeing a traditional process of bespoke shoemaking being respected nowadays is, simply put, refreshing, as far as I am concerned. It is a long and complex process indeed, requiring a few personal consultations and fittings, over 200 production steps and the involvement of several craftsmen, but the end result is well worth the effort and the patience. Suitable for both the Beau Brummels of today and the more conservative gentlemen seeking comfort in the kind of highly personalised services which were the norm in the good old days, such shoemaking seems to address a substantial demand still present in the current market.
So when I actually met the charismatic duo behind the brand name, I was absolutely hooked. Because it was then that I realised that Carréducker was a rare find: sensibly balanced between a firm hold on traditional values and a contemporary aesthetic, and brimming with genuine passion for their craft, the pair seems determined to share their love for superior quality shoes with as many as possible.
On their website, for instance, you can find a link to their very own Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a Shoemaking Blog, a friendly, approachable platform, where they showcase current projects and discuss specialised procedures. Their eagerness to communicate on the subject doesn’t stop here however.
Even more impressively, Carréducker also organises various types of shoemaking courses for aficionados in London and in New York. I call that impressive because it is a clear indication not only of their transparency, but also of their generosity. It shows an ongoing commitment towards raising awareness about this particular activity and towards sharing their know-how with creative individuals who may thus discover their true calling.
I had the pleasure of meeting Deborah Carré and James Ducker recently during London Craft Week, and they were gracious enough to answer some of my questions. I am now happy to share this interview with you, in hopes you will enjoy their thoughts and stories as much as I have
Carréducker is one of the very few shoemakers in London that still follow a traditional manufacturing process. What drove you to choose this niche industry?
We came to shoemaking from very different directions – James was teaching English as a foreign language in Barcelona when he discovered the craft and returned to England to take up an apprenticeship with John Lobb; I produced my degree footwear collection with R.E Tricker Ltd. in Northampton and loved the experience. After a career in marketing I won a QEST scholarship (Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust) to become a shoemaking apprentice with the same master shoemaker as James.We share a passion for the craft. We are ardent fans of beautifully made and designed footwear – especially hand sewn footwear – and champion its considerable benefits in terms of quality, style, longevity, corporate responsibility, manufacturing and materials….hence our consulting, teaching and lecturing on the subject.
A niche business also means a niche target audience. What did you find was the best way to reach your clientèle?
We are in one of the most niche businesses! (Shoemaking and leather work is the second oldest craft known to man!). We are still finding new ways to reach and engage with potential and existing customers. In the early years we joined with other niche businesses to create a Bespoke Club so that our customers could enjoy the benefits of commissioning work from a variety of craftspeople. Our customers are not easily defined and range from lawyers to artists and gamers to farmers. They are self-confident, often self-made, entrepreneurs, businessmen (with a modern dress code), busy and international.
There are two ways that we find best to engage with new clients – face to face through talks, discussions and demonstrations at events, and online. London Craft Week is a great example. Online we have an interactive website where customers can choose their favourite details from the shoes on show and make their own wish list; a well-followed blog; and we use social media extensively to share our work, news and stories. We are featured from time to time in articles about craftsmanship, luxury and the bespoke world; our students go forth as ambassadors for hand-sewn shoemaking; and we take part in events to promote British luxury to an international audience including the Concours d’Elegance and The GREAT Festival Istanbul.
How would you describe the Carréducker signature style?
English, stylish with a modern aesthetic. Our customers are individuals and we design and make to suit each one rather than having a ‘house’ style. Where we stand apart, is by designing every style onto the customer’s last to ensure balanced proportions; focusing on detail, colour and contours.
Image courtesy of Carreducker
Which is the project/commission you most fondly remember?
The most memorable commissions are those where discomfort is a constant for the customer and we are able to help them to walk tall again or where we can spread our creative wings, such as making a pair of toddler’s shoes for an exhibition at Buckingham Palace.
On average, how long does it take to create a bespoke pair of shoes, and how many people are involved in the process?
We quote six months for the first pair (depending on a client’s availability for fittings) and 12 weeks for subsequent pairs. It is a lengthy process because feet are one of the most complex parts of the body and so it is vital to work with experts in all aspects of the shoes’ creation. There are three specialist trades involved in our bespoke shoes.The journey starts with a consultation between us and the client when we take their measurements. The last maker then transforms the client’s measurements into a pair of wooden blocks (lasts) to make the shoes on; the closer makes the patterns from the lasts, cuts out the leather and stitches it together – the uppers; and the shoemaker prepares the insoles, lasts the uppers over, sews the welts, stitches the soles, builds the heels and finishes the shoes. The finished shoes and the lasts are then returned to the last maker so that bespoke trees can be made to fit the shoes.
Image courtesy of Carreducker
In a time when specialised craftsmen are increasingly scarce, what can be done to raise awareness and stir the interest in traditional crafts?
I think that there are still small treasure troves of craftsmanship, in couture, watch making, car making and furniture for instance. And there is a renewed interest in the people behind the craft. That story, that heritage, that pedigree is becoming increasingly important to certain customers. There is a shift towards investment pieces products with heart and integrity, collectibles and pieces to treasure.
Programmes like London Craft Week are vital to show people what is often on their doorstep where they can see and meet craftsmen and feel confident in commissioning work.
Nowadays we may seem spoilt for choice, with an invasion of brands offering such a huge array of ready to wear shoes in the mainstream market. Why should we invest in bespoke shoes instead?
Choice is one thing, but quality is another. Mass production means that the quality and fit of the shoes available varies enormously. It would be unrealistic to think that everyone should invest in bespoke hand-sewn shoes, but they should invest in the best quality shoes that they can afford and make shoe-buying a considered decision not an impulse purchase.
We strongly advocate looking after your feet – happy feet mean a happy you – so here’s some things to look out for:
– You should buy the best quality shoes that you can afford
– They should be leather lined (to wick away perspiration)
– They shouldn’t slip at the heel (to avoid blisters)
– They shouldn’t be too tight over the top of the foot (the instep)
– They shouldn’t be too tight across the widest part of the foot (joint)
– The toes shouldn’t be too long (Sorry a personal bug-bear, but you will look like a medieval jester after a few weeks – not cool!)
– Your toes shouldn’t touch the end of the shoes
– Don’t rely on the shoes ‘giving a bit’.
– Wear your shoes in – an hour a day at home – before you venture out all day in them
Different styles fit differently – Oxford and Whole-cut shoes are a closer fit, Derby shoes are more flexible; Loafers need to be snug (but not too snug)If they are ‘not quite right’ when you try them on, don’t convince yourself they will be any more comfortable at home.If the budget allows, we believe that bespoke hand-sewn are a necessity for men, not a luxury. They deliver an excellent return on investment.
What does Carréducker plan for the future?
Our plans include a ‘complete shoe wardrobe’ service for our bespoke customers; developing our own ready to wear; venturing into retail on and off line; men’s accessories; and training more shoe enthusiasts and apprentices.
The word “luxury” has been used so heavily in promoting products in the last few years; we seem to have diluted its actual meaning. What does luxury mean to you?
The word bespoke has suffered the same fate and has become ubiquitous.
From a personal perspective luxury is not necessarily about a product, but more about an experience. It could be an afternoon off with the family, going to the cinema on a weekday, reading undisturbed, taking a long car drive on the coast, sitting at a café, browsing at a car boot sale, seeing exhibitions.
Professionally we are looking for new ways to articulate what both bespoke and luxury mean to our clients. Our shoes are both luxurious and a necessity. They hold the client’s foot in just the right way, are made from the best quality materials using the best craftsmanship and echo the client’s personal style and personality; they can be repaired over and over again; they are an inheritance piece in their own right; they are an investment that rewards year after year!