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Opening the SATRA Bulletin archives

An opportunity to examine the working lives of our shoemaking predecessors in past decades.

Published continuously since 1935, SATRA Bulletin magazine has long provided valuable information to companies working in the footwear and leather industries. In this article, we continue our occasional journey into the Technology Centre's archives in order to re-visit an article published some 78 years ago that provides an insight into the technologies and construction methods available to previous generations of shoemakers.

From the Monthly Bulletin of the British Boot, Shoe & Allied Trades’ Research Association - February 1938


Shoe efficiency and the daily press



A letter which appeared recently in the British Medical Journal suggested "a new field of research" (the italics are ours), i.e., into feet and footwear, and which went on to point out the possible physical disorders and disabilities which might be attributed to ill-fitting footwear, has started a ball rolling which is gathering momentum as it goes. The correspondence, which continues in the Medical Journal, has spread to the daily press and this, if studied, is very illuminating though, perhaps, only from one angle is it instinctive. It indicates that the straws we saw in the wind some time ago were truly indicative of a growing general feeling and that the thoughts of layman and scientist alike are being more and more directed towards the foot and the important part it plays in general bodily well-being.

The interest of the general public is both healthy and inevitable but it is rather unfortunate that inaccuracies and mis-statements of fact should find their way into print and be accepted by the uninstructed reader as a true exposition of the state of affairs. Although the accusations hurled at the head of this long suffering industry are immediately rebutted by correspondents who can be presumed to know more than a little about the industry in which they are prominent, the damage is done, and people who refuse to be guided by the unqualified are stated to have their own fish to fry.

One correspondent, a gentleman of legal and Parliamentary attainments, appears to have found the cure for all ills. We quote from one of his letters:–

"All ready made shoes on sale are made as if the great toe was down the middle of the foot with two toes on each side. If they were made straight on the inside they could be as pointed as you like, and even high heeled, and provided they were long enough to allow for a little back and forth expansion no harm would come to the foot.



"But no, they are made like a boat instead of half a boat, which is the shape of the foot. The U.S.A. makers' shoes are elegant, pointed, but straight inside and, before the tariff, were driving out the British who began to make shoes of that pattern but stopped and lapsed back to their own pattern as soon as the high tariff was imposed."

The suggestion that British manufacturers are deliberately making shoes which they know will not fit the majority of their potential purchasers is, of course, absurd and need not be dwelt upon and the implication that a simple alteration in last design is all that is necessary to bring about universal foot health and comfort is not far short of the ridiculous. No one knows better than the shoe manufacturer, whether he be British or American, the shape of the shoe required to fit the perfect foot, but unfortunately his job is to provide a shoe to fit the foot as it is, not as it should be. He is also thoroughly well aware of the shortcomings in fitting which are thrust upon him by the dictates of fashion or usage and knows that any revolutionary change in style, beneficial as it might be to the wearer, would only result in immediate loss of business for himself and benefit for the manufacturer who continues to produce shoes along the conventional and long accepted lines.

Revolutions are seldom successful, but slow and gradual weaning from one idea to another generally is, and there can be no doubt that this process has been going on in the British shoe industry for some years past, particularly in regard to women's footwear. Small improvements in fit have been incorporated without drastic alteration of normal appearance of the shoe, improvements which have been utilized as additional sales factors instead of being a potential source of loss. History has innumerable instances of wise men being born ahead of their time and the shoe manufacturer who “rushed his fences” would come the inevitable cropper and share the fate of most prophets.



However, the indications are now that the time has arrived when this process of evolution must be accelerated. There is more than one sound reason for this conclusion. The general trend of thought towards increased physical fitness, exemplified by the several national movements to encourage this, has made the mind of the man or woman in the street more receptive to change, in fact the demand is now originating there. The younger generation of the adult population comprise men and women who have reaped some benefit from greater care of their feet in childhood, and who are free from the prejudices of their elders. They are also being made increasingly aware of the importance of healthy feet. The person of means has always been able to have his foot individually examined and fitted by an expert craftsman, but the question before us now is not the fitting of the individual but the production of shoes which will fit the mass of people unable to afford shoes specially constructed for them. In other words, to stock the shelves of shoe stores with a selection of shapes and fittings which will enable the assistant to fit feet from the range available, to a greater degree than is at present possible.

This is not a profound remark nor is it in any way original, but the road toward this improvement is not as easy as the uninformed imagine. The correspondence to which we referred earlier in this article consists largely of letters from people, medical and lay, who have decided ideas of their own on this subject, but the fruit of more reasoned thought is displayed in a leading article which appeared in the British Medical Journal of February 5th, extracts from which we print below:–

"To some the problem (correct footwear) appears easy to solve. They believe that by the adoption of a shoe having a tight fitting heel raised but slightly off the ground, a broad spatulate toe giving freedom of movement for the toes, and a straight inner border, all the many feet troubles of the present day (except, of course, those due to congenital lesions or acquired disease) might be abolished entirely. There is reason, however, to think that the problem is not quite as simple as this….

"Those who have implicit faith in Nature advocate shoes of the above type because they believe that in this way they are restricting the foot as little as possible in carrying out its natural functions, and that in the circumstances, no disabilities can possibly arise. Unfortunately under civilized conditions our feet have very unnatural functions to perform.

"While in no way belittling the tragic effects of outrageous forms of footwear, we should be careful that all the facts have been assessed before we lay the blame for all foot troubles upon the manufacturer of boots and shoes; perhaps the adoption of an unnatural mode of life may have something to do with it. Indeed, a shoe having the purely negative virtues mentioned above may not in the long run be as advisable as one which lends some positive assistance and support to a structure which is grossly abused by the restricted functions which civilisation forces upon it….



"Nor would it be wise, without much more investigation and unanimity of opinion, to dictate to the shoe manufacturers what constitutes the ideal shoe, unless it be a case of the blind leading the blind…. There is obvious need for careful enquiry into the whole subject by a group of unbiased people representing various shades of opinion from both the medical and manufacturing aspects."

There may be some comfort in the thought that at least one medical authority does not regard the manufacturer as the villain of the piece.

Smoke does not appear without some fire beneath it and it would not be to the credit of the industry if reforms in its practices were to originate from outside sources. The people are making their wants known and even if these are expressed in confused and uncertain terms it is up to the industry itself to clarify the situation and say what is really required. One doctor has expressed the view that the Ministry of Health's "Fitness Campaign" would be a matter of idle words if this subject is not dealt with. Sooner or later it will be dealt with officially and we must be ready with facts and not theories to see that it is handled to the greatest benefit of all concerned.


Reprinted from SATRA’s Monthly Bulletin, February 1938.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 42 of the July/August 2016 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

Other articles from this issue ยป