You hear over and over again that Goodyear Welted shoe construction is handmade, and that stitched construction is superior to cemented one. GYW shoes will last generations, cemented will split in moments. Let’s get it out of the way now: Goodyear Welted is, in most cases, a cemented construction. Yeah, really.
Guest post by Janek Oleksiak
Let me explain. It is often said that GYW is a superior method of attaching the shoe sole, because it’s stitched. The sole is attached to the welt with one stitch, which in turn is connected with the insole with another one. This allows for replacing the sole by removing just the first stitch, without touching the second one. And because no glue is used, it will not dissolve due to moisture. Sounds cool? There’s only one detail that shatters this lovely image: canvas.
Let’s first have a look at handwelted construction. Here, the welt is attached to the insole, which is specifically prepared for this purpose – it has a shape which allows for that. In machine-stitched Goodyear construction, however, the welt is sewn with a piece of canvas called gemming, and the gemming is then glued to the insole. This allows to use cheaper, less durable insoles. You simply stitch the welt to the canvas, and then use another stitch to connect the sole with the welt. And thus stitched-but-really-cemented GYW construction is born. If this glue dissolves – everything falls apart. One of the exceptions known to me is French J. M. Weston – they have a machine made specifically to cut a channel in the insole, thus allowing to skip the canvas altogether.
Attaching the welt to the insole by hand. Source: hiroyanagimachi.com
To stir things up a little more: there’s nothing inherently bad about using the canvas. Sure, it’s taking a shortcut, a little sweet lie, but it doesn’t have a very big negative impact on durability. After all, you don’t see GYW shoes falling apart all around you. You don’t really hear many stores of the sole just falling off welted shoes. It’s much worse to use cheap, corrected grain leather finished with synthetic chemicals or very fragile welts that will fall apart if you try to actually replace the sole. Shoes with gemming used in the construction can indeed last years, because they’re usually made more carefully and from better-quality materials compared to cheap shoes from fashion houses. You should also remember that cemented constructions aren’t all created equal. I wouldn’t place glued shoes from one of Poland’s most famous shoemakers, Kielman, on the same shelf as cheap glue used somewhere in China.
It’s also worth noting that while Blake or Blake/Rapid construction is always a true Blake or Blake/Rapid, GYW is hiding its shameful truth about cemented gemming. It also skips using celastic toe caps (faster, cheaper, easier to reproduce than leather), masonite heels or stiffeners between uppers and lining. But even taking all of those shortcuts and money-savers into consideration, GYW construction is usually indeed more durable and lasting – if leather for uppers and welt is of good quality.
And let’s quickly debunk one more myth: you can replace sole in Blake construction! It’s not reserved for GYW or Blake/Rapid.
If the above information was something obvious to you – congratulations! You are indeed at least intermediate in this whole classic menwear niche. My final conclusion is rather plain – nothing is black or white in clothing industry, and even classic techniques are being modified. And there’s absolutely no limit to imagination of marketing departments.
Header photo: J.Briggs