Cultivating Future Generations of Shoemakers; Cheaney Apprenticeships

Cheaney has a proud history of crafting beautifully made English footwear using traditional techniques that haven’t altered much since their inception. Yet the skillset needed to produce exquisite footwear is one that is not mastered overnight and cannot simply be learned by reading about such production processes. However, it is an artform that is continually developed through many years of practice, patience and knowledge. A great number of our dedicated craftspeople have been with us, as part of the Cheaney community, for many years, with some joining us straight after leaving school. Dave in our clicking room has spent the last 30 years with Cheaney, our Assistant Supervisor in the closing room, Caroline is at 19 years, Julie has been finishing of our footwear in the shoe room for 10 years and Brian our Pre-Production manager is days away from retiring after 25 years in the role (and we wish him all the best!). Our finished product shines as an example of some of the finest footwear produced globally but behind that product is an incredible team of dedicated, hardworking staff, without which we would be unable to achieve such excellence in shoe making.

Whilst we are proud to champion and support our long-standing staff, it is incredibly important to us as a business to ensure that the shoe making profession, and the roles associated with it, are proactively cultivated. Raw talent has to be nurtured and at the factory, we are always keen to encourage the younger generation of shoe makers to fully hone the craft and refine their skills in whichever way appeals to them.

So when Northampton College placed advertisements in our canteen, two of our factory personnel were keen to progress with us and dedicated themselves to the accredited course. And with that, James from the clicking room and Emily from the closing room enrolled. The course is designed to encourage a theoretical and practical understanding of footwear manufacturing and involves hands-on experience in all areas of the factory. From design and clicking to lasting and finishing, the two students were encouraged to design and fully develop a pair of footwear to their own specification.

Proudly sitting before their creations in our show room, James reflects, “the knowledge that we’ve gained has been unbelievable, and the ability to pass on what we’ve learned is great. I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to do this.” Emily similarly comments “we weren’t just learning the job but we were understanding the separate components that go in to shoe making, the different processes that are done. It was a learning curve.”

Both Emily and James were invited to select all the original materials to be used in their project and design a pair of shoes that reflected their own aesthetic. James was heavily influenced by athletic shoes, specifically basketball trainers and wanted to blend traditional shoe making techniques with a trainer twist. He also wanted to make use of the Joseph Cheaney & Sons logo and experimented with different ways to emboss the seal on the leather to showcase the brand’s identity. He comments, “not everyone will like them, but they will at least notice them, and I’m proud of them.” The hue was also a deliberate choice, with James adding that the blue represented the colours of Carolina State University where famous basketball star Michael Jordan played for three years early in his career.

Emily chose a different route and instead, wanting to keep the traditional boot style but deconstruct it and took inspiration from her vintage mood board by deformalizing a well-known pattern. She also added intricate details by adorning the inside leather with striking mandala patterns and curved brogue detail along the toe cap. “I took a design that was traditional but wanted to make it my own so I took inspiration from a vintage mood board I’d put together and worked on reviewing elements of the design that I wanted to feature,” she reflects.

After two years of trial and error, academic and hands on learning, both Emily and James are weeks away from receiving their certificates in footwear manufacturing. The process was prolonged due to the impact of COVID-19 but both students showed great tenacity and endurance throughout their participation. Kevin Freeland, Employee Development Executive with Northampton college comments, “Both Emily and James have dealt with the work extremely well, they have a passion to learn and have showed up to every day working on their projects with great commitment and drive. Their ethic has been admirable and they should be proud of their final work.”

Cheaney would like to thank Kevin for his continued support and guidance to the students and to Emily and James themselves for their dedication and hard work whilst creating wonderfully unique boots.

L-R: Alex Production Director, Kevin Employee Development Executive, James and Emily, William & Jonathan Joint MD’s At Cheaney Shoes