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Last summer Raymond Villanueva went to Europe and came back impressed with the quality of shoes being made there. After his trip he thought of getting into a new hobby: shoemaking. Eager to learn how to make shoes he went to Marikina, the shoemaking capital of the Philippines, and paid a factory to allow him to work there. There he learned how to make a pattern, how to skive leather and how to last — essentially how to build a pair of shoes from start to finish. It wasn’t long until he realised that given the right materials, designs and standards that Philippine-made shoes can be at par or even better than European-made shoes. With this in mind he established Sapatero Manila as a bespoke shoemaker offering shoes that lasts a lifetime, features timeless designs and above all great value.

He hired the two shoemakers he met at the factory who have a combined 50 years of experience making shoes the traditional way. Elsa Carullo is the pattern maker as well as the one who makes the uppers. Ading Torres is responsible for customizing the shoe last, lasting and welting the shoes. The leathers used for the uppers and soles are sourced from tanneries in Europe. The burnished calf leather comes from Mastepelle, Italy and has an even colour and natural shine. The vegetable-tanned calfskin leather comes from Annonay, France and has a colour depth that allows it to develop a beautiful patina over time.

The oak bark-tanned leather used for the soles are from La Querce in Italy. Oak bark and sometimes barks from other trees are used in the tanning process which lasts between six months to a year. It is a costly process that results in a leather that absorbs less water and is much more durable than other kinds of leather soles. This is also the same leather that is used for the insole and the welt but come from different parts of the cow. The insole comes from the shoulders, the welt from the belly and the soles from the butt. The whole shoe is crafted completely out of leather and molds to the feet over time.

All the shoes are made entirely by hand including lasting and welting. Machines are only used for skiving leather and stitching the uppers.

As a bespoke offering the options are only limited by the customer’s imagination and the skills of the shoemakers. For example previous customers have requested custom medallions in the shape of the first letter of their names. In terms of fit customers will find that these shoes will fit better than ready to wear shoes because the idiosyncrasies of each customer’s feet are taken into account. They have five lasts made by Spring Line in Northampton, UK:

976: The English round toe. A classic and conservative style.
977: The Almond toe. A variation of the 976 with a less rounded and higher toe box.
978: The Pointed toe. A sleeker version of the 976 with a sharper toe.
979: The Square toe. For those looking for a well-defined square toe.
980: The Chisel toe. A sleek last with an elongated, chiseled toe.

I visited Sapatero Manila’s temporary workshop in a residential area and was impressed with the work they were doing. When I met Raymond he offered to make me a pair to which I gladly obliged. As with anything bespoke it starts with taking measurements. The outline of my feet are traced on a piece of paper. Measurements of the width and instep are also taken. After the measurements are jotted down we move on to the design. For my first pair of shoes I went with something that is elegant and timeless: a punched captoe Oxford. For the upper I went with a dark brown burnished calf leather. And for the last I chose the sleek 980 that has a chiseled toe but requested for a higher, more defined toe box.

Next: Part 2: Last Customisation, Making the Uppers and Lasting

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