Northamptonshire firm busy making the last of the lasts

Michael James from Springline at a new exhibition of shoe lasts at 'Northampton Museum and Art Gallery
Michael James from Springline at a new exhibition of shoe lasts at 'Northampton Museum and Art Gallery

There is an element of finality about the word ‘last’, and the Northamptonshire company, Springline, has taken this meaning to a whole new level.

Not only do they make shoe lasts – vital in any process of footwear manufacture – but, according to sales and development director, Michael James, the company is the last one in the UK producing these complex models of the human foot. In effect, they are the “last of the lasts”.

For those unfamiliar with the shoe trade, lasts are one of the first stages of footwear manufacture; they are the models used to help create the wide variety of foot shapes in shoes and boots that fashion companies demand.

Often forgotten by the wider public as an artform in its own right, the Moulton Park-based firm, Springline, has sought to put this right by launching a new exhibition, showcasing the beauty of lasts, at the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery.

The exhibition includes a huge range of shoe lasts made by Springline, together with the finished pieces of footwear these crafted items helped to make. Styles ranging from ballet shoes to Wellingtons are on show, by companies ranging from Vivienne Westwood to Trickers and Paul Smith.

Special commissions on display include the lasts made by Springline for goblin footwear in the Harry Potter film series.

Michael explained: “Springline has been going for 31 years. It came from the closure of a company in St Michael’s Road. What we are doing is supplying Northamptonshire with lasts, people like Trickers, Church’s, we supply bulk lasts and shoe trees but we do the development side too, we supply the UK.”

When a company does not want its lasts made by Springline, but still wants the company’s input, the firm’s experts will work with the designers to make an initial, bespoke model from wood, which can then be used by the firm.

Shoe trees, which are designed to hold the shape of a shoe and are often sold with shoes from high end stores, are also made by Springline.

While bespoke models are made using wood, bulk last orders are made from plastic, which are believed to better suit modern shoe manufacturing techniques.

Each week, Springline creates about 300 pairs of lasts and about 300 shoe tree pairs.

Michael said: “I don’t think a lot of people realise that every shoe needs a last making for it. Every style of shoe needs a last to go with it; it is a craft.”

The Last Man Standing exhibition will run until December 29.