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Craftsmanship

Take a backstage tour of
of the Free Lance Fashion House

Creation, know-how and French craftsmanship

Far from the hustle and bustle of Paris, Free Lance is based in La Gaubretière in western France for over a century.

The original cobbler’s shop from 1870 has been expanded and developed into a sophisticated factory brimming with rarefied know-how, one of the few in France to still possess the craftsmanship handed down by artisanal shoemakers from generation to generation.

To go beyond the showrooms of FREE LANCE leaves room for discovery and fascination into the shoe production process.

Both complex and exciting, the process is exhaustive and for certain models, 150 steps are undertaken just to produce 1 pair of boots.

It is a job that requires an expert level of craftsmanship that the company maintains and hones day after day.

Each pair, upper, sole, and heel will pass through the agile and skillful hands of dozens of men and women who harness their craft with real passion.

The stages of making a Free Lance shoe

Each shoe goes through skilled artisans with a real passion for their craft. Certain models require at least 150 operations in their hands to come to life...

A story of shapes

Based on the designer’s sketch, a former takes a block of wood and sculpts it into the shape that will create the volume and the very essence of the shoe.

This sculpted wooden shape is the initial prototype.

Once validated, the shape is then reproduced in plastic and adapted to all the necessary sizes.

Those shapes will serve as the foundation on which the future shoe will be assembled.

The pattern maker/model maker will then transcribe the designer’s two-dimensional sketch into a three-dimensional model known as a shoe last.

The shoe last is a foot-shaped model that the pattern maker can draw on.

This stage makes it possible to match together the various pieces that will constitute the upper and to ensure the overall cohesion and future fit of the shoe.

The pattern maker/model maker then breaks down the design from the shoe last to obtain a flat pattern for each of the constituent parts of the shoe.

Selection of hides

The hides arrive whole, dyed by the tannery according to the specifications of the stylists.

The cutter turns the leather, caresses, rubs, stretches, and thoroughly inspects it with passion and determination to transform a few square centimetres of leather into a beautiful pump or boot that fits the ankle like a glove.

Cutters possess a profound knowledge of the material they work with.

They use that knowledge to choose the best full-grain leathers.

After careful selection, they stretch the leather with all their strength until they are certain of having a material whose fineness, colour, and suppleness do nothing to undermine its solidity.

The precision of the cut

The stylist chooses the style of the leather, then the actual hide is painstakingly selected from a catalogue of materials.

It is then sent to the cutter, who, with the help of the patterns made by the pattern maker, cuts out the parts that will be stitched together to make the shoe.

With great dexterity, the cutter makes each cut manually using a cobbler’s knife.

Each piece, reinforcement, and lining will be carefully cut to the nearest millimetre with the upmost precision and care.

Some parts will also be cut using advanced modern tools such as the digital cutting machine.

The dexterity of the stitching

After the cutting stage, it is time for the stitching, sewing, and embroidery done by a few experts using traditional sewing machines.

All the sections will be joined together to form the upper.

Like the other jobs, stitching requires an exceptional degree of skill and dexterity honed and perfected over years of practice.

The steps involved are long and complex: tracing, trimming, jointing, assembling, fitting reinforcements...

All of which bears testament to the know-how of the stitcher, whose nimble fingers work steadily, evenly, and meticulously.

At the end of this process, the upper is three-dimensional once again.

Meanwhile, other workers have been busy developing the piece that will form the backbone of the shoe: the insole (the part under the foot where the sole and the upper are stitched together).

The different stitching techniques

The Blake stitch: The Blake stitch is a single seam joining the outsole and the upper.

This stitching technique allows for a certain finesse.

The Goodyear welt: The Goodyear welt is a double-stitched seam.

The first stitch connects the upper, the insole and the welt.

The second one joins the welt to the outsole.

This stitching technique ensures unparalleled sturdiness.

Cementing: These days, the most widely used manufacturing method worldwide is cementing, also known as gluing.

It is a technique that employs various adhesives to attach the upper to the sole of the shoe.

This process makes it possible to produce softer shoes.

Sandal assembly: Making sandals is a meticulous process done entirely by hand.

This is because the upper, which in the case of a sandal consists of strips of material that is often impossible to be done by machine.

This is where superior craftsmanship comes into play.

The assembly technique

Assembly is a crucial step that consists of placing the upper on the shoe last, stapling the insole, and next attaching the sole and heel.

Each shoe will then follow a defined path, including exposure to extremely hot and cold temperatures along the way, so that the leather—a living material—is tamed and takes on its best shape.

The shoe will be passed from hand to hand, workstation to workstation, and each skilled artisan will carefully stitch, glue, tap, punch, assemble, sand, card, and wax each shoe before adding the manufacturer’s signature.

5 words: FREE LANCE, Made in France.

This signature is a source of pride, a declaration of our pursuits of perfection, and an ultimate bulwark against counterfeiting.

On the sole, it is embroidered, gilded, in gold, in silver, it alone lets you recognize your unique pair.

The art of pampering

At FREE LANCE, the final stage in our shoemaking process is one we have dubbed “pampering”.

That name attests to the passion and love that our skilled artisans bring to their craft.

In this part of the workshop, they make their finishing touches to their creations: rubbing, brushing, and waxing.

Here, the noise of the sewing machines is just a faint whirring in the distance.

The sounds heard here are those of rustling paper and the gentle brushing of leather.

Each shoe undergoes meticulous quality control.

If the shoes pass, only then will they be placed in a box and be scrupulously wrapped so they can find their way to the dressing room of a woman who will watch them grow velvety and more beautiful with the passing of time.