How are Shoes Made?

How are Shoes Made?

The shoe-making process can be complex and time-consuming, varying depending on the type of footwear. Sandal production, for example, differs significantly from hiking boots or formal shoes, and custom-made pairs have unique specifications compared to mass-produced ones from large factories. However, some steps in the process are generally standardized. Shoemakers commonly begin with a pattern and design, including embellishments, before constructing the shoe. Creating the “last,” the essential core framework, is a common starting point. After cutting and stretching the pattern over the last, the shoe is closed and sealed. Polishing, trimming, and buffing are typically the final steps.

Design Process

In nearly all cases, the shoe manufacturing process begins with artistic and stylistic decisions made at the design table. Through a series of progressively detailed sketches, artists establish the desired appearance of the final footwear product, often including notes about materials and tools required. The design serves as a guiding “map” for manufacturers, encompassing soles, uppers, and embellishments like laces or bangles.

Forming the Last

Once a shoemaker, also known as a cobbler, possesses a pattern or plan, the process of building each pair of shoes begins. The first step is usually creating the “last,” which serves as the mold over which the shoes are shaped. Made of wood or plastic, the last significantly influences the fit, feel, and performance of the final product. Cobblers produce a variety of sizes and widths to accommodate individual customer needs.


The shoe’s identity begins to take shape during pattern cutting, where specific parts are crafted. These include the sole, the bottom part; the insole, a layer of foam or material directly under the foot; the outsole, in direct contact with the ground; the heel, the rear bottom part that can vary in height based on design; and the upper, which secures the shoe to the foot.

Cobblers typically cut all of these parts individually, then collect them together and begin actual assembly. Precision is really important here. Missteps or poor measurements can lead to a number of different problems, both in terms of fit and wear.

Closing, Stretching, and Attaching

With all the components assembled, the shoe construction process, known as “closing,” begins. The uppers are pierced, punched, wedged, ridged, lined, and sewn together. During the “stretching” stage, the upper is stretched over the last, which is more manageable with flexible fabrics but can be challenging with stiffer materials like leather. This process requires a certain amount of force to shape the upper over the different points of the last.

In the attachment phase, the cobbler bonds the upper and sole together. This is typically achieved using cobbler’s glue or another strong adhesive, though the method may vary depending on the type of shoe. In some cases, bolts, screws, or stitches might be a better option.


In most cases things aren’t actually done until the footwear has been “touched up” by the cobbler. Formal shoe finishing usually involves the final cutting, trimming, cleaning, and polishing that makes the product ready to hit store shelves. If the shoes are being made for a certain business or brand, they are usually tagged and boxed for distribution during this time as well.

Role of Machines

Modern cobblers often rely on various machines to aid in the manufacturing process. For mass-market footwear, the entire production can be largely automated, reducing costs and enabling manufacturers to produce and sell more pairs at lower prices.

Even high-end custom-made shoes often involve the use of machines, especially for making precise cuts, stitching through tough materials, and measuring patterns. While it is possible to craft shoes entirely by hand, this approach is usually less precise and considerably more expensive.


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