Footwear manufacturing operatives make all types of footwear products including fashion footwear, children's shoes, sports shoes, and safety shoes and boots. They use a range of hand tools, and mechanical and computerised equipment.
There are four main processes involved in producing most footwear. Some operatives specialise on a particular aspect of the manufacturing process, others may be involved in the entire cycle:
Clicking - leather or fabric for the top of the shoe (the upper) is cut and shaped, with wastage kept to an absolute minimum. Operatives also take care to avoid any surface flaws in the raw materials, which would spoil the finished appearance.
Closing – operatives stitch together the pieces for the upper either by hand, or using a semi-automated sewing machine. Work on edgings and insertion of eyelets is carried out at this stage.
Lasting and making – the uppers are moulded into the finished shape using different mechanised processes such as cement lasting, direct injection moulding and sidewall stitching. Soles are only temporarily attached to allow the removal of the last from the shoe.
Finishing and shoe room – soles and heels are trimmed and buffed. Products are stained, polished and waxed, and laces and tags attached. Quality checks are carried out before products are packaged and boxed for distribution.
Some operatives may have the opportunity to work on made-to-measure orthopaedic adjustments or on specialist historical or theatrical costume footwear.
Shoe manufacturing operatives work 37 to 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Some factories operate a shift system. Overtime may be available, and part-time work is possible.
Most operatives work in factories although bespoke manufacturers may be based in smaller workshops.
Protective clothing is worn for some jobs, particularly when working with dyes or solvents.
To be a footwear manufacturing operative you should:
Most footwear manufacturing companies are located in Northamptonshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Somerset, London, parts of Northern Ireland and Scotland. Outside these areas opportunities for work are limited, except in small craft workshops.
Career progression may be possible to a supervisory, quality control or training position, with multi-skilled operatives enjoying greater opportunities for progression. Some footwear manufacturing operatives move into bespoke footwear manufacture.
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