DNA of our Shoes
Here is the story of one of our old family favourites, the Khoza pump.
Inspired by all things African, our trend-conscious designers put pencil to paper to create a conceptual design of a shoe. The hand-drawn design was then transferred to a carefully taped last, giving the designer a life-size model of how the shoe would be shaped. From the 3-D model, he cut a pattern by hand from which a sample of the shoe was be made.
The sample, called a prototype, was then test-fitted to make sure it not only looked good on the foot, but that it was genuinely comfortable too. After a tweak here and there, and only once the designer was 100% happy that the shoe was worthy of a place in the collection, did the hand-cut patterns leave the Design Office and move to the Pattern Room. Here, they were transformed from paper to computer with every design detail and size considered.
Now that the blue-print for the shoe was in place, it’s was ready to go into production and what better place to start than in a warehouse filled with the best leathers in the world! For this particular shoe’s journey, the leather was a soft navy blue leather.
"After a tweak here and there and only once the designer was 100% happy that the shoe was worthy of a place in the collection, did the hand-cut patterns leave the Design Office and move to the Pattern Room."
The first stage of production, called ‘Clicking’, is a department of highly skilled people who are responsible for cutting each piece of the upper (the top half) of our shoes. An expert on the characteristics of leather, the Clicker ensures each hide is cut to maximum use whilst still retaining the highest quality by carefully examining the leather for any defects or scarring.
Colour marked to differentiate one size from the next, each piece of the upper was then laid out and aligned to a die (a template), so it could be marked to show how each piece must be sewn together. This was the beginning of its journey in the Closing Department. Depending on the style of the shoe, this includes the hands of as many as 30 different people, each one in synchronisation: stitching, gluing, trimming, stamping, punching and shaping all the individual pieces of leather into a single upper of a shoe.
"An expert on the characteristics of leather, the Clicker ensures each hide is cut to maximum use whilst still retaining the highest quality by carefully examining the leather for any defects or scarring."
With a fondness for detail some styles adorn unique pieces, like the flower on this pump – a Tsonga signature. The flower petals, like the rest of the upper, were also cut by hand, embossed and then sent to the Tsonga hand-lacing ladies to add their magical touch… stitching unique detail into every petal.
Alongside the process of making the upper of the shoe, the bottom (sole) of the shoe had also begun its own journey. From liquid, the sole was moulded using a carefully mixed polyurethane compound, which was then later padded with a soft memory insole engineered to mould to the contour of your feet.
Now that the upper and the sole of the Khoza pump had been made, it was time to put them together.
This is where Tsonga is special.
Working together with people from our surrounding rural communities, using a simple needle and wax coated thread, each pair of Tsonga shoes is stitched together by hand. In comparison to conventional shoemaking methods, our hand-stitched technique means that our shoes are softer, more flexible and lighter underfoot. Comfort that is unmistakably Tsonga.
This Khoza pump spent 80 minutes in the skilful hands of its lacer.
The Tsonga women are dedicated and meticulous in their craft. Depending on the style, a pair of Tsonga sandals can take approximately 30 minutes to hand-stitch and a boot, 180 minutes. This Khoza pump spent 80 minutes in the skilful hands of its lacer.
Although the shoe was now essentially put together, it still needed to be given its shape, be quality checked, packed and dispatched. Returned back to the factory, it was softened using steam; a last inserted (a last is a shoemaker's model for shaping a shoe); and its beautiful shape set as it travelled through a heat-setter. It was also here where creases were smoothed and the leather buffed for its brilliant finish.
Before being packed and sent to retailers and boutiques around the world, all our shoes go through the last process of production, aptly called the ‘Finishing Department’. Here, the soft leather sock was inserted, the gusset for added comfort was trimmed, and the shoe carefully checked to make sure it was exactly as it should be.
How many people altogether were involved in making this one pair of shoes you may ask…98.