Follow Our Journey
A unique look behind the scenes of how the Vekla sneaker was created from scratch. From my first meeting with the factory to the final prototype and eventual launch of the first collection of sneakers. I hope you enjoy the read!
Ever since I launched a collection of classic footwear in the Fall of 2018, people have been asking me to create a line of sneakers. I gave in, and sent out some emails to friends in the industry that might 'know someone that knows someone'. I receive names and telephone numbers of different companies, companies that aren't listed on Google and that are barely mentioned in the yellow pages. This is a good sign, as the best companies do not need the online exposure, rather they go around by word of mouth.
A cluster of factories begins to form, located in the region bordered by the cities of Ancona, Macerata, Civitanova Marche and San Benedetto Del Tronto.
I zoom in on Google, and start browsing at random for 'calzaturificio' or shoe making companies in Italian. Of every company that I find, I try to find more information. How long have they been in business, who owns the business, do they have a website? If they have a website, is it a modern website or some old-school webpage that reminds me of the early days of the Internet? The most outdated websites intrigue me the most. After all, I am trying to find a factory that produces shoes and only shoes, not smoke and mirrors.
Three factories make it to the shortlist. Only three factories where all the pieces of the puzzle seem to fit. At this point, and as it often goes in business, you need to rely on your gut feeling. I send out emails and wait for a reply. When no reply comes, I pick up the phone and ask to meet.
All three factories agree for me to visit them in Italy. I book a ticket to Italy on Tuesday, November 20th, and decide to fly to Pescara, a small coastal city south of San Benedetto del Tronto.
From Pescara, I drive north along the coast for one hour. When you reach Civitanova Marche, take a left and the road takes you uphill on a winding path through the countryside. It's time to visit factory number 1. The tone is set when the factory asks for a 500 pair minimum. Yikes, moving on. Factory number 2 turned out to be another valuable experience. The factory was run by a friendly Italian, but someone who clearly had no affiliation with shoes whatsoever, and simply ran a (very efficient) production unit. Definitely not what I was looking for.
I arrive to the hotel, and prepare my factory visit for the next day. I think of what I will ask, having spent some time in the first two factories. I check my email and see that I have received an email from the last factory on my list:
Very unfortunate news, of course, but there was a silver lining. This email shows the commitment of the factory to their workers, and proved that it was a real family-run factory, which is exactly what I was hoping to find. I agree to meet at 8:30, in the hope that I could have a chance to speak with the owner's daughter later that morning. The next day, I am greeted by Marco, the sales manager, who kindly shows me the entire factory and listens to my ideas about transparency and sustainability. Around 11, the owner's daughter arrives and we tour the factory a second time. When we reach the area where the rubber soles are attached to the sneaker, I am introduced to the real owner of the factory. I'd say he was well in his 60's, and here he is still making shoes while his daughter runs the company.
We spend the afternoon going over different options, in terms of leather, the last and rubber soles. I ask questions about every detail of the shoe, and they keep replying with exactly those answers I was hoping to hear. We agree to produce a first sample based on my design and their expertise. I leave the factory late in the afternoon with a very pleasant feeling.
On my way back to the hotel, I make one last stop at Margom, the factory's main supplier of high quality rubber soles. I explore the different options, take notes and pictures. It is important to match the color of the sole perfectly to the leather, so they agree to send me a box of samples.
It's Lineapelle. The day of the year when you're into leather. Hundreds of companies set up their stand in the largest expo hall of Milan, to showcase the latest and finest the leather industry has to offer. I decide to go, in the hunt of sustainable leather for the sneakers. The factory has given me a list of tanneries they usually work with.
I decide to visit tanneries that I know myself, who have recently come up with sustainable alternatives to chrome-tanned leather, and to also visit the list of tanneries mentioned to me by the factory. Being able to say that a certain factory sends you to a stand, can open doors and be a helpful tool in establishing long term relationships, which is vital in the leather industry.
It doesn't take long before I have a clear idea of what tanneries I want to work with. There are those tanneries that see sustainability as a marketing gimmick, and when asked about it they dig up the tiniest sample card from the bottom of the stack. And then there are those where sustainability has been the company mantra from before it became popular. Later that evening, I fly home with sample cards and contact details from some of the best tanneries in Italy and the UK. These include Gruppo Dani from the Veneto region of Italy, Conceria Sciarada from the Province of Pisa, and Charles F. Stead from the United Kingdom.
The first sample arrives. It is not what I was hoping for. The shape of the toe is too bulky, the leather, while good quality, is the wrong color, and the pattern is completely off. But it's a start. While many brands rely on the factory to create the perfect sample for them, I always insist on my own method, that of combining forces between me, the factory, my own last maker and theirs, and the different suppliers that I pick out.
I cut the sample open, to see what's inside and re-build the entire sneaker from the ground up. This is where the real work begins. When you look at the shoe below, you see a number of different components. The rubber outsole is an obvious one. Glued to this, a thin piece of foam that is there to fill the cavity between the upper and the bottom. Directly on top of that, an insole, that conceals the metal shank and forms the basis of the footbed. The construction felt solid, as was expected from a factory that specialised in making welted footwear before switching to sneakers.
The upper part of the sneaker is made up of the lining, eyelet reinforcements, padding, heel counter and upper leather, all of which gets pulled over the last that gives the sneaker its final form.
I contact Sonny, the youngest generation of the Spring Line last making factory, to help me with the sneaker last. Sketches are sent back and forth, ideas exchanged and eventually work can begin. I leave everything in Sonny's hands while I focus further on the different leather suppliers. Not long after, I receive an email from Sonny. We are definitely on the same page.
A shallow toe profile allows the last to sink into the rubber cupsole. The stick length remained standard for a size 42, but we took off 2mm from the last bottom length. The heel curves inwards, allowing for a good grip. The instep, while not any different in size than standard, flows smoothly from front to back.
Picking out leather
The second prototype arrived. I had decided to go old school, and draw the pattern directly on the last. This decision definitely paid off, as the pattern is now very close to how I want it.
Work on the sneaker last continues, and it is now ready to be turned into a first sample last
Second factory visit / more leathers
Sneaker last done
Third round of samples done
Third round of samples done
Final factory visit
Final samples done
Website finished and ready for pre-orders