We already know a few things about tanning. We have also met with Yorgos Kelpis, a designer who carries on his family's shoe-making business. And after learning the theory of the process, I became really interested in seeing its inner workings and sharing this experience with you.
So today I am going to witness the process of making sandals — the most popular type of footwear in Cyprus.
I received an invitation to visit a famous Cypriot footwear company called ASTIR SHOE FACTORY from its owner, Marios Kyprianides, and its Managing Director, Costas G. Ellinides. Both men have successfully turned their family business into a successful company. The factory is located at 35 Marcos Mbotsaris, in Nicosia.
The building that houses the factory is where the entire production process takes place from the first sketch to the final touch and then to the shelves of the chic and popular Sparta Novelty boutique, which is located on the first floor of the building.
But first things first…
ASTIR SHOE FACTORY makes fabulous sandals, as the say, from scratch. The company first purchases leather of different kinds (rough leather is used to make the inner and outer soles, while soft leather is used to make the top part of the shoe). Then they come up with a specific design for a shoe, create its pattern and assemble it. The factory also produces handbags and belts using the same leather as it does for its footwear.
As for prices, Costas told me that: «You get what you pay for».
And having spent a day behind the scenes of the shoe-making process, it was hard to argue with Costas’ words.
Astir and Sparta Novelty
Before I got to see the factory itself, Costas first took me on a little history journey of the company:
«The company was founded in 1960 by my father, who was a footwear designer and studied this craft in Greece, and his friend, who was also my godfather.
They wanted to do something worthy and thought it was important to make something from scratch. Things were going well and they finally built this factory. Each year they came up with new original designs for footwear.
The company’s current managers — myself and Marios — are two very different people. But we both love fashion and shoemaking. We love what we do because it is a very creative process that lets you learn new things and create new designs all the time. We receive great pleasure from knowing that our clients can feel good about themselves and their lives when they wear our shoes. We believe that what we choose to wear on our feet reflects our personality. It also says a lot about how we feel and what we aspire for.
If you visit our website, you will notice that Greek mythology plays a big part in our aesthetic concept and design. At the same time we are in touch with latest style trends and continue updating our collection based on what is fashionable. Our collection of sandals that were inspired by Ancient Greece — is our great passion that we will never stop making.
I studied footwear design in Italy (Ars Arpel School Milano). Here you see collections based on my drawings.
Right now we only work with leather. So, for example, one of our essential collections of sandals features leather-only elements, including inner and outer soles.
Unlike the rest of Europe, Cypriot footwear and clothing manufacturers prefer to build their companies and businesses on their own without collaborating with anyone. It is only during fashion shows that we work together with Nicholas Ioannides, who is a famous fashion designer in Cyprus and abroad. He creates a few models for us (such as those in the Stripes&Fries collection), which we then manufacture and sell online, in our boutiques as well as couple of other boutiques that carry our brand.
Many of our models participate in photo shoots and runway shows.
We buy our leather in Italy and Greece. For our sandal collection we import leather from India. We also work together with Greek and Italian fur and leather boutiques, which in turn sell our footwear.
We seldom buy leather made in Cyprus, because local manufacturers rarely have the kind that we need and use.
By the way, we don’t only mass-produce our footwear, but also create custom-made shoes. Our only condition is that we reserve the right to use this design in later collections.
I guess you could say that we try to do two things: preserve and maintain the work that has been done by the previous generation of our families, while at the same time successfully building on its foundation and expanding the company».
Right at this point in our conversation, we ended up at the company's boutique.
At the boutique
The boutique is the face of the company, which is why we decided to begin our journey there. I was overwhelmed by the abundance of colors, shapes and designs when I entered. The famous brand had totally won me over.
Costas continued his story: «As you can see, this boutique sells both our brands — Astir Shoe Factory LTD and Sparta Novelty. Astir, which means «star» in Greek, is our original «mainstream» line of shoes that are fashionable and practical. Sparta Novelty is our collection of «antique sandals» that stand out thanks to their edgy design.
A «winter» collection, which we also have, will be shipped to Italy in January to participate in an exhibition and then it will travel to Europe and the US. This means that in the summer we manufacture shoes for our local customers, while in the winter we make footwear that is to be exported abroad. All of the collections that we showcase at our boutiques and the boutiques of our partners are different. You will see that if you visit the Ippokratous boutique, which is located in the Old Town, where there are more tourists. Both our lines are available for men and women. Altogether it is just over 20 different models of footwear.
Sometimes Astir keeps a certain model of shoes for years, because they are practical and popular. These shoes are what they call classics.
After we entered the shop floor, the so-called Holy of Holies of the brand, I was lucky to become one of the first people to witness samples from a new collection.
They were high-heeled shoes, whose bottom part was made and purchased in Italy (because they require special facilities and technology), while the top part was made exclusively by Astir.
As I wandered around the spacious halls of the factory, I saw different machinery, patterns, sketches and leather samples.
Manufacturing Astir-type sandals
Before making anything with leather, you need to create a paper model of your shoe, or what is also known as a pattern, based on your sketches. This will then be fitted onto a last and a cardboard model of the sole will be placed on the bottom.
To create the pattern for the inner and outer soles, you will need very rigid and at the same time very smooth 5-mm thick leather.
Then you will need to smooth out the pieces, so that they are of equal thickness. There is a special machine to do that.
Following that you are going to want to make a small heel. A few small parts are glued together, trimmed and polished.
Now, we need to create the pattern for the top part of our future sandals, which will include straps of different length and width made of soft leather. Instead of being stitched together, these parts will be glued together. Astir shoes usually only have stitching on the soles. They may also have decorative stitching. Costas told us that the Sparta Novelty collection doesn’t use any stitching at all.
Next step is chamfering everything. Following which we can put all the pieces together like a puzzle, put them on a last, glue them together and heat up until they are 80˚С. One small detail: the thong that passes between the first and second toe needs to be slightly incised and then glued to the other pieces while being held tightly with pliers.
Then we leave everything to dry.
An interesting fact: if the shoes come out bulging or a bit bulky, they are smoothed out by hammering, which also makes the leather feel a bit softer.
Now that our sandals have been assembled and glued together, we have to put them on the lasts again and make sure they fit snugly.
The factory uses new plastic lasts alongside older, wooden ones. The same of the lasts is always different. For example, the lasts used to make sandals have a deep incision between the first and second toes.
Also, it turns out that the intricate decorative elements that encircle the ankle (in what we call gladiator sandals) require far less effort, than the bottom part of the shoe, which is the most challenging part to make.
At last, our sandals are ready and I am really pleased with the result!
Shortly after they are made, four different models of this type of handcrafted sandals usually end up at the boutique (two women’s models and two men’s models). Each model will be available in 12 different colors!
And the most popular color this season is metallic of different shades.
Making the right choice
At the end of my visit, I asked Costas to give a few pieces of advice that would help our readers choose the best footwear.
- Always go shoe shopping in the latter half of the day, when your feet have grown slightly bigger compared to their size in the morning. This way your choice of size and model will be more accurate.
- Synthetic leather and mad-made materials are marketed as being practical, but they will not adjust to your feet the way real leather does. Real leather is also three times more durable than its synthetic equivalent. Plus, unlike genuine leather the latter is very thin and doesn’t provide good thermal control.
- Genuine leather is the best material for shoes. It becomes softer and more attractive with time. Also, it takes on the shape of your feet shortly after you start wearing it, which means you will be very comfortable.
Astir Shoe Factory LTD (Sparta Novelty)
Telephone: +357 22 438238