Woodcut of shoemakers from 1568.

Shoemaking is the process of making footwear.

Originally, shoes were made one at a time by hand, often by groups of shoemakers, or cobblers (also known as cordwainers). In the 18th century, dozens or even hundreds[1] of masters, journeymen and apprentices (both men and women) would work together in a shop, dividing up the work into individual tasks. A customer could come into a shop, be individually measured, and return to pick up their new shoes in as little as a day.[2] Everyone needed shoes, and the median price for a pair was about one day’s wages for an average journeyman.[1]

The shoemaking trade flourished in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries but began to be affected by industrialization in the later nineteenth century.[2] Traditional handicraft shoemaking has now been largely superseded in volume of shoes produced by industrial mass production of footwear, but not necessarily in quality, attention to detail, or craftsmanship. Today, most shoes are made on a volume basis, rather than a craft basis.[3] A pair of "bespoke" shoes, made in 2020 according to traditional practices, can be sold for thousands of dollars.[4]

Shoemakers may produce a range of footwear items, including shoes, boots, sandals, clogs and moccasins. Such items are generally made of leather, wood, rubber, plastic, jute or other plant material, and often consist of multiple parts for better durability of the sole, stitched to a leather upper part.

Trades that engage in shoemaking have included the cordwainer's and cobbler's trades. The term cobbler was originally used pejoratively to indicate that someone did not know their craft; in the 18th century it became a term for those who repaired shoes but did not know enough to make them.[1]

  1. ^ a b c Mathew, Scott. "7 Common Misconceptions About 18th Century Shoemaking". 18th Century History. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  2. ^ a b Grubbs, Patrick. "Shoemakers and Shoemaking". The encyclopedia of greater Philadelphia. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  3. ^ Stern, Boris (1939). "Labor Productivity in the Boot and Shoe Industry". Monthly Labor Review. 48 (2): 271–292. JSTOR 41815683.
  4. ^ "Made-to-measure shoes". How to spend it. 17 November 2015. Retrieved 29 May 2020.