Part 2: The Shoe; Past, Present and Future


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The peasants’ boot appeared around 500 BC.

The shoe developed into a common item of wear during ancient times.  From Egyptian toe thong sandals, with diagonal straps running around the back of the foot to Roman sandals, so-called boot-sandals as the straps were wrapped up the leg until just below the knee joint, shoe fashion became more and more varied.

Foto-Bundschuh-Germanic_shoe(Source: Bullenwächter - Photo at Deutsches Ledermuseum Offenbach, Germany)

The first closed shoes and slippers came from the influential Byzantine area and date back to the end of the fourth century.

The medieval poulaine-toed shoes and the flat, very wide shoes called cows-mouth shoes or bear paw originated in the high and late Middle Ages.

Foto-SchnabelschuhePoulaines: (Source: Waggerla, Wikipedia in German - Meyers Konversationslexikon)

During the Middle Ages (800 until around 1500 AD), turned leather shoes were the main style worn in Northern and Middle Europe.  The turnshoe construction involved the upper being turned flesh side out, lasted onto the sole and joined to the edge by a seam. The shoe was then turned inside-out so that the grain was outside.    The turnshoe was already beginning to show fashion influences in the High Middle Ages. The length of the toe-cap marked the social standing of the wearer.  „Trippen“ (wooden under shoes) protected the feet against cold and dirt as well as the sole and the long toe-cap against abrasion. They probably also served as a status symbol.
Parallel to these temporary fashions there were always wide shoes, which probably served for working and first became modern in the 16th century. These shoes were produced using the welted rand method (where the uppers are sewn to a much stiffer sole and the shoe cannot be turned inside-out).
The speculation that workers and farmers worked barefoot, or in simple wooden shoes, doesn’t seem viable. Reconstruction trials using the historical turnshoe method have shown that these kind of shoes could be produced easily, in a few hours, and were therefore affordable. Also, old shoes were not thrown away but repaired or completely restored by the cobbler.
The origin of the heel is unexplained, but it seems that they were initially created for men so they could appear “taller and more masculine”.  In the case of women, the effect of the heel was to force a different posture and pelvic position, which enhanced the décolleté leading to a more erotic style of walking. (This is written in Wikipedia – I didn’t invent this!)
Many shoe designs were developed in the 19th century, which are still available today.  Men were wearing loafers more and more. The elasticated band was invented and used as an elastic side insert for slip-on ankle boots (Chelsea-Boots) for the first time in 1837.
The design of ladies shoes only became more creative after 1870 when their full-length skirts started to get shorter.
The industrial revolution changed society and its demands. After the 1860s, shoes were made in factories more and more, which lead to lower prices for good shoes, making them affordable for everybody.
The difference between left and right, well-known by the Romans and Greeks, got lost in the 17th century and wasn’t reintroduced until the end of the 19th century.
The bonding technique using celluloid glue for shoe production was developed by Rampichini in 1910 and allowed new production technologies for mass shoe production.
The two most important development trends to shape the 1920s and early 1930s were the introduction of the loafer and the transition to a fashionable use for shoe ware, mainly for women and young people.
Herbert Ludwig, the founder of DESMA, who came to Achim (Northern Germany) after the 2nd world war, comes from this era. Originally from the Vogtland area of Germany, Ludwig married into a leather and shoemaking family in Dresden, the Willisch family. The Ludwigs thought their chances of making a new life would be improved in the West, and so joined family members who had already started a small business in Achim-Uesen. Together they founded Deutsche Spezialmaschinen Co. U.E. in June, 1946 – now part of Salzgitter AG. For 70 years, DESMA technology has been at the heart of global shoemaking, with more than 3000 customers worldwide.
But back to the late 1940s: Before long Ludwig, Willisch and their tiny workforce were producing not only textiles, garden fences and toys but, sticking with what they knew and understood, machinery for the footwear industry. The breakthrough came in the early 1950s. Shoe soles were made of leather, but leather was in short supply and so footwear manufacturers turned to other materials, such as rubber. The soles had to be stamped from sheets of rubber, trimmed and worked – up to 37 different processes were needed to fit the sole to the upper. Ludwig’s company – now renamed DESMA – developed a vulcanizing press, the DESMA Type VP 100, which was used for making slippers. This was the beginning of a success story – and the so-called direct soling process.
A compact outer sole was placed into the mould and a vulcanizing mixture of India rubber was placed on top. The textile slipper upper was stretched over an aluminium last and placed on the mould. The mould and last were electronically heated for ten minutes and – hey presto! The slipper was ready.
Today this seems a very cumbersome process, but in the early 1950s it was a sensation which caused huge waves throughout the industry. Next they began adventurously working with PVC paste, the fore-runner to PVC granules.
In just one decade, the tiny company in Achim had expanded beyond recognition.
By the 1960s, DESMA was able to introduce one world first after another. Up until the advent of the enormous DESMA 606 machine – which weighed in at 15 tonnes and cost DM 300,000 – it would take a team of 25 workers to produce 700 pairs of boots per day. Following the installation of the DESMA 606, two employees would produce 1,000 pairs.
The 606 was followed by the DESMA 701, with the first machine destined for adidas. The trainer for the German National Soccer Team, Sepp Herberger, came with Adolf Dassler to see the machine in action. Convinced by DESMA technology and trusting in DESMA expertise, companies were ready to invest.
“All members of the German National Soccer Team wear boots made on DESMA machines,” boasted the local newspaper, mentioning almost as an aside that “84 % of all gold medals at the 1960 Olympics were won by athletes wearing shoes made on DESMA machines.”

Foto-4-Wrap-NX-Gruppe-03„Warp NX“ shoe DESMA

The 1970s saw continuous growth and a seemingly unending list of patents and innovations. Customers were demanding more comfort, more colour, more exciting designs in their footwear and manufacturers in turn demanded higher quality and increased capacity and flexibility from their DESMA machines.
At the start of the 1980s, the company Lim Kunststoff Technologien in Austria, under the leadership of Oskar Schmidt, applied for the US patent to produce elastic shoe soles with polyurethane. Nike bought the technology to improve the walking and running behaviour of its sport shoes and started a fashion boom.
Then difficult times arrived as the world changed – the shoe industry moved almost entirely to Asia and other low-wage countries. And tough times started for DESMA too.  A dependence on trade with the Eastern Block had  left the company vulnerable when business with the former USSR and its satellite states collapsed.
During the event, Christian Decker (Managing Director at DESMA) explained that the shoe industry in Asia reached its zenith in 2015 and that the shoe industry will change again. According to Mr. Decker, area-wide shoe production centres will be formed allowing shorter delivery times.
“The constant flow towards cheaper and cheaper production facilities has come to an end”, added K. Freese, also managing director at DESMA. Some production facilities are returning to their roots – back to  the industrial countries. This is also the place where the majority of shoes are bought. Following the earlier focus on finding cheaper work forces, highly qualified workers are now needed for automated machines.  Man and robot are working quasi hand in hand on the automated production lines.
The custom-made shoe has always been, and remains, an expensive item. The classic, custom-made shoe is made by hand following an individual customer specification and precise foot measurements. Prices vary between 350 and 2,000 Euro (designer-/branded shoes are higher priced for sure).
In the age of globalisation, there are now companies offering custom-made shoes online. The customer is responsible for providing their own foot measurements with the help of a guide. The form created from this shows all the foot details and forms the basis of the shoe last manufacture. The shoes are then sewn onto the individual lasts by hand (prices starts at 350 Euro).
The future for the custom-made shoe was also introduced at DESMA - „The future of shoe making“: The Wrap NX shoe made using the TRUE FORM 3D method
Visitors were offered the chance to test the “True Form 3D“- process, each creating a personalised shoe to fit their own foot, as well as their running / impact style.
In Christian Decker’s vision of the future, we will sit in the shoe shop drinking coffee for maximum one hour whilst our individual, custom-made shoe is created – and for a pleasing price (estimated to start at 100 Euro).
I checked it out – and YES – this process is also possible for an elegant ladies shoe – I call this really excellent news, and for all of you whose feet still hurt from the K – there is hope, that not too many K’s will have to elapse before this vision becomes a reality!

Birgit Harreither

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