When it comes to making great shoes, there are few out there who do it better than Native Craftworks. Having first come to my attention when they were stocked in Oi Polloi in Manchester last year, Native Craftworks have left a lasting impression. Each of the shoes stood out to me despite their relatively simple designs and when this is combined with the resolute committment to quality that the company lives by, I simply had to find out more.
So, I fired away some questions and their main man Danny was kind enough to give the answers. In this interview we discuss the past, present and future of Native Craftworks, the sourcing of raw materials for the shoes and the root of Danny's passion for fine footwear.
First things first, what are you wearing today?
White tee shirt, old grey thick sweatshirt, Lee 101Z and I'm wearing a pair of samples - a new style. If I told you, I'd have to kill you!
How did Native Craftworks set up and how has it progressed to where it is now?
It all started about two and a half years ago. There wasn’t really any shoes out there that I wanted to wear, so I thought I’d have a go myself. Simple shoes, nothing fancy, but using the best quality materials and constructions. When I got the first samples I met with Steve & Nigel from Oi Polloi to show them what I was up to. They liked what I was trying to do and encouraged me to continue. It took a few rounds of sampling to get the last, proportions and construction right, but it was all worth it when Oi Polloi placed their first order.
Where did the inspiration for the name come from?
‘Native’ is both a nod of respect to the creators of the first moccasins and also about being true to where you’re from. It’s important for me that the shoes have a British feel. ‘Craftworks’ kind of speaks for itself I suppose. The shoes are hand made in a small factory, which in essence is a ‘Craft Works’ When and why did footwear become a passion for you? I’ve always loved shoes. My Dad was a buyer, so I was brought up with shoes all over the house. It’s in the blood!
'It’s often the way something is constructed that gives a product it’s unique shape and detail. Using the best materials also helps to give character...'
Your shoes are designed in England and handmade in Portugal. What happens in between these two stages?
I visit the factory to explain the design and then go through the construction, spec the materials etc. Once everything is clear, the factory will make a sample. I'll then make amendments and tweak things until everything is perfect and I have a finished sample. It can take up to four samples to get everything right - sometimes more.
You've gone to great lengths to find the perfect crepe sole. Why did you end up choosing to source them from Sri Lanka?
Crepe is a natural material harvested from the Hevea tree. Like any natural material, there are good and not-so-good sources. With crepe it’s always difficult to get the balance between it being soft enough to give the best comfort and hard enough to give the best durability. We tried and tested many sources and it just so happened that the source that we felt had the best balance was in Sri Lanka.
How do you ensure the leather and suede used is the best out there?
We like our leathers and suedes to be thick, but still soft, so you get both comfort and support. If a leather is too soft it doesn’t support your foot properly. If a leather is too thick it can be uncomfortable. We work with a small tannery that make leathers to our specification. It took a while to get the formula right, but we think it was worth the time and effort.
Can you tell us a bit about the manufacturing process? How's it all done?
I could ramble on all day about how the shoes are made. Each pair takes approximately four hours to make. The uppers are cut by hand, using a very sharp knife. They are skived and stitched on lovely old machines. Back seams are handstitched for re-inforcement. The uppers are lasted by hand, the footbed put in place and the handcut crepe sole wrapped around the upper / footbed and handstitched all the way round. We’re working on a feature for Proper Mag that explains the process in more detail – so look out for the next issue. We’re also working on a short film to show the levels of expertise & craftsmanship that goes into each pair of shoes.
Where does the inspiration for your designs come from?
All over the place. I love looking at how things are made, on really simple designs – take furniture for example - it’s often the way something is constructed that gives a product it’s unique shape and detail. Using the best materials also helps to give character. Sometimes inspiration comes from travel; the Dalesman shoe was inspired by a visit to Ingleborough in Yorkshire.
What kind of person wears Native Craftworks?
Someone who loves simple, well-made casual shoes. Someone who understands and appreciates the quality and craftsmanship that goes into each pair.
What makes Native Craftworks unique?
We’re a small independent company trying to make the best casual footwear there is. Not sure that makes us unique, but we work very hard to make sure our design, construction and quality are second to none. For us it’s about making shoes the right way…not the cheapest or the quickest.
At present there are very few stockists of Native Craftworks. Have you deliberately limited the number of stores carrying the range?
Not really; Steve and Nigel at Oi Polloi were good enough to give us some of their valuable time when we were trying to get started. They also gave us our first order, so we wanted to repay them by letting them have it to themselves for a bit. We’re adding two new stores soon: We’ve got a delivery going into ‘Journal Standard’ in Japan any day now and a small order going into ‘Steven Alan’ in New York towards the end of August. ‘Tomorrowland’ in Japan is another possibility.
What are your future plans for Native Craftworks?
To keep things simple. Design and make the best shoes we can and hope that people love them as much as we do. We’ve also had a lot of emails from people asking for styles / colours that Oi Polloi no longer stock, so we’re looking into a small online shop. We’ll also be able to make available small runs of Japan-only product.
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