I’ve been a fan of Bristol Shoes ever since I bought my first pair. Their leather-soled shoes are sturdy and feature classic styles. I greatly admire that they still continue to produce leather-soled shoes even though the Philippine market prefers molded soles.
I have always wanted to visit a shoe factory and see how shoes are made especially a brand I admire. I contacted the offices of Bristol Shoes asking them to visit this blog and see if they would be interested in being featured here. After a few more phone calls and SMS exchanges I was set to visit their factory in the City of Marikina, the shoe capital of the Philippines.
When I arrived I was welcomed by Gee Abacan, a third generation member of the family who started Bristol Shoes. He oversees the design of shoes and marketing. l was first led into a room full of prototype shoes that they were working on and saw some styles I immediately liked such as a burgundy chukka boot and a brown single monk strap. When asked why they haven’t sold these shoes they told me that they didn’t think there was a market for it.
Gerard tells me most of the shoes they currently produce feature molded soles, are of the slip-on variety (loafers and driving shoes), use heels made of compressed sawdust so they are lighter and are more loose as this is what the majority of their customers prefer. Personally, I prefer lace ups as they are dressier, fit a bit tight as I know the leather will stretch over time and should have leather soles as they are more elegant even if unfit for the occasional wet weather.
Next we visited their stockroom of raw materials. Before we went in I was telling Gerard how I wanted to see more shoes in chocolate brown. Upon going inside he showed me rolls of exquisite chocolate brown leather just waiting to be transformed into a beautiful pair of shoes. If you look at the photos above and see the light shining on it you know it would look great polished to a high shine. The room was filled to the brim with almost every kind of leather you can imagine and in different colors too.
During my visit they weren’t making any leather-soled shoes but I still got a good glimpse of how the shoes were made. Above you can see the different patterns hung on the walls and split suede being cut into different pieces based on the patterns.
When the different pieces of the upper are ready they are sewn together. In some cases the uppers are hand sewn such as moccasins.
After the uppers are put together they are then attached to a last, an object in the shape of a human foot. The upper is made to conform and wrap around the last using a hammer.
When this process is complete the bottom of the upper looks like this.
Bristol Shoes started out by making shoes with leather soles and I was pleased to see leather soles being shaped by hand. Leather soles are truly elegant compared to molded soles.
The Landis 36 is a machine whose sole task is to stitch the soles to the upper. Both leather and molded soled shoes are stitched using the same machine. There is another area of the factory where molded soles are fused to the upper but I wasn’t able to see them in action.
The last stages involve a machine blowing hot air over leather and being rolled in order to eliminate creases. Soles are painted and the insoles are inserted. Before they go into the boxes shoe polish is applied and a machine polishes the shoes.
Erlinda Abacan, Gerard’s mother and daughter of the founders, arrived as I was touring the factory. She oversees the manufacturing process. We talked briefly at the factory floor and continued in their offices. I talked with Erlinda and Gerard for quite a while. We discussed different shoe makers, styles and shops to visit whenever they travel abroad especially Hong Kong. I also opened the idea of collaborating on a line of shoes.
Before I left Erlinda gave me a pair of shoes and I was free to choose whichever I liked. I chose the Leonard which features a rounded square toe with brogueing (but without a medallion) in brown leather. Of course it came with leather soles. I thanked them for their hospitality & gifts and hope to be back soon.
If you’re looking for quality shoes that are made in the Philippines check out what Bristol Shoes has to offer. Choosing leather soles will also encourage them to continue producing these kinds of shoes and keep the craft alive.