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Shoe Construction 101

What makes a $50 pair of shoes different from a pair that costs $500 or perhaps a $1,000? One thing that affects the price of these shoes is their construction or the way in which the upper is joined to the sole of the shoe.

The upper is the leather (it could be another material) that covers the foot, and the sole is the bottom portion. The sole also has two parts, the insole or the part that comes in contact with your foot, and the outsole, which is the one that touches the ground.

Aside from the upper and the sole, one thing that can impact the price difference is the welt, a leather strip in the perimeter of the outsole. The welt is responsible mainly for attaching the upper to the shoe’s outsole.

Shoe Construction 

There are three types of shoe construction, each of which has its pros and cons. Knowing how these are made or built will give you an idea why some shoes are more expensive than others.

Cementing

Photo courtesty of ShoeInfo.net

This is the most basic type of shoe construction. It is considered cheap and fast, which is why many shoe manufacturers use this type of shoe. It requires only an adhesive to attach the upper to the sole. The moment the upper has been shaped on the last, it will be attached. This does not require welting. Usually, shoes that have rubber soles make use of cementing.

While this method indeed makes it faster to produce shoes, it somehow affects the durability of the shoe. The weak area is the connection between the sole and the upper. Another downside is that shoes constructed using this method cannot be re-soled. When the upper separates from the sole, it cannot be repaired.

While cementing does not make use of welts, the other two shoe construction methods do. These two are the Blake welting and Goodyear welting. Between the two kinds, the former is considered the most commonly used.

Blake welting

Photo courtesy of PrimerMagazine.com

Blake construction is a method of making shoes invented in 1856 by Lyman Reed Blake. The stitching is made inside the shoe, not on the outsole’s perimeter. The upper is then wrapped in the insole, where a single running stitch is made. This stitch runs from the outsole to the insole. Modern shoemakers often include a lining to hide the stitch. Some shoemakers, however, simply leave the stitch visible, but this often creates a sense of discomfort around the feet.

Blake welting is not suitable in hard-wearing boots because moisture tends to wick up through the stitch. Although this often occurs during tough weather conditions, this drawback is offset by the elegant profile. It has a sense of lightness and flexibility because the welt and midsole have been omitted. In terms of price, shoes with Blake welts are less expensive than other welt shoes. They also allow for resoling, helping users save in the long run.

Goodyear welting

Photo courtesy of PrimerMagazine.com

Considered the oldest form of shoe construction, Goodyear welting is still very popular today. It is regarded as the welting that produces the most durable shoe and involves a series of processes, all done to ensure a tough shoe.

The insole is initially prepared for stitching. Shoemakers have different approaches in creating the “rib,” which runs across the shoe’s insole. This rib can either be done using a machine or by hand. Next, the shoe is lasted. The outsole and insole are attached to the last. Finally, the shoe is welted. Stitches are made to run on the outsole. Two levels of stitches are used in a Goodyear welt, which makes the shoe easier to resole when necessary.

While it is indisputable that the Goodyear welt makes for durable shoes, the only downside is the price and flexibility. The labor-intensive requirement and the added layers add to the cost. At the same time, you sacrifice flexibility due to the added layers.

So, when it comes to choosing the type of shoe construction you need, your feet will decide for you. Whether you go for comfort or durability, the decision will always be yours.