We traveled to the Alden factory in eastern Massachusetts for a tour of the operations and to work on some custom styles for the Steven Alan store. The day started with a (very early) morning commute on Metro North to Westport Connecticut, where Mr. Floyd Landis, head of Alden’s North American Sales, met us at the rail station, and accompanied us on the final leg of our trip.
Floyd Landis holds a die that is used to create perforated designs like wingtip patterns .
Floyd, who is well into his 60th year of service with Alden, was a treasure of friendliness, gentility, and local history on the once-booming shoe industry. Having worked his way up from apprentice level in the factory during his teens, he had an intimate understanding of, and connection to the shoe-making heritage at Alden Bootmakers. Floyd kept us entertained for the three hour drive with his well-honed opinion on an array of topics; the keys to a proper shoe fitting, the state and future of traditional manufacturing industries in America, and what it feels like to play eighteen holes of golf with Lawrence Taylor, were among his areas of expertise.
Upon arrival at the factory, tucked behind a quiet road on the edge of Middleborough, we were treated to a tour of the welted shoe production process. The welted shoe design grew from the need for a dress shoe that could be resoled after continued daily use. Rather than sew directly into the soft upper leather of the shoe–which would ultimately give out over time–the outsole is stitched to a stiff leather “welt” edge which is then attached to the upper, reducing the amount of wear and tear to the top portion of the shoe.
It is an incredible process to witness first hand, involving almost 170 separate operations to craft one pair of shoes: from the cutting and forming of the upper over the shoe last, including the hand-stitched moccasin stitching; the insertion of the steel shank and natural cork in the midsole which offers support and cushioning; to the heavy stitching of the Goodyear welt, which attaches the upper to the outsole with a chain of heavy thread.
Alden exclusively uses high quality cowhide, suede, and Cordovan leather from the famous Horween tannery in Chicago. There is a limited supply of this beautiful horsehide which is only taken from the rear haunches of the animal and hand-tanned using natural vegetable dyes and oils, rendering a beautiful reddish-brown and the deep vibrant black color seen in their Shell Cordovan styles. The tanning process takes nearly six months to achieve the desired supple quality and color saturation. Floyd was proud to point out that Alden also spends more on the high quality glove leather and pigskin lining of their shoes than many other companies spend on the actual upper quality.
Traditional last shape (left) and the Alden modified last shape (right).
The assortment of custom Alden styles we have created for Steven Alan are based upon the Alden Modified Last, which provides a combination of orthopedic innovations suited to a variety of foot types, and lends itself to a remarkably comfortable shoe the very first time you wear it. In fact, Floyd told us, you should never have to “break-in” a shoe because, if fitted correctly in terms of length, width, and instep, it should feel right from the initial wear.
We were really inspired to see Alden, a manufacturer right here in the United States, still innovating and producing goods of the highest caliber after more than 120 years in business. Alden is enjoying a robust period of production, presently working at maximum capacity, but ironically has more orders than they can fill. The highly skilled labor and experience it takes to craft certain elements of the shoe-making process takes months and sometimes years to master. Unfortunately, most of these skilled craftsmen and women are now retiring, with very few apprentices electing to work long enough to attain the higher skill set needed to carry on the tradition.
Hides are stamped under pressure to cut the upper shapes (left). Moccasin stitch being applied by hand to upper (right).
We hope that the renewed dedication to, and interest in traditional American brands and manufacturers among our customers will ultimately help sustain these historic institutions. We are really excited and grateful to be able to work with the Alden Boot company, and honored that the exclusive designs we are creating for our stores can be woven into the rich and storied history of this iconic American brand.
Steven with Floyd and a long-time Alden employee.
-text by Jesse Rowe and Steven AlanThis entry was posted on Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 at 3:08 pm and is filed under Have a Seat. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.