Modum combining modern technology and traditional craftsmanship

Milad MafiBy Milad MafiMarch 7, 2022

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of bespoke shoes? A shoemaker measuring your feet with his tape? A shoe last patiently craved with his hands? What if we would add a little technology to it?

Modum and our goal

We are the world’s first brand for bespoke shoes. Our brand was founded two years ago, with the idea to produce goodyear welted shoes on bespoke lasts, which were designed based on a smartphone 3D scan. 

The story began as our two co-founders, Philipp and Milad, fell in love with the comfort and craftsmanship of goodyear welted dress shoes during their time at college. After their graduation and owning the first pairs of entry-level online brands, they wanted to take the next step and buy their first pair of a traditional english footwear brand. However, after a two hour ride to Hamburg and visiting five different shoe stores, they left without a new pair. After trying dozens of pairs, they realized that while the quality and construction is great, the fit is as good or bad as in their old, cheaper shoes. One of the salesmen told them about bespoke shoes and that they usually cost several thousand dollars. They couldn’t afford those of course, but it gave them the idea of combining the individual fit of handmade bespoke shoes with the advantages of goodyear welted ones by using modern technology like 3D scanning and 3D printing. 

And from here on begins something that you might call a typical startup story. For one year they were developing  the idea after work and on the weekends, before quitting their jobs and working full-time on Modum. 

The motive behind is quite simple: we want to make bespoke shoes accessible and affordable to more people. The bespoke fashion itself is something that inspired us from the beginning on. We believe that having bespoke shoes is like having a friend for life. They are completely unique, provide the highest degree of comfort and add an individual touch to every outfit you wear. Moreover, making custom shoes on-demand, instead of pre-producing them in large quantities (which often ends up in a landfill due to overproduction) is the right approach to make fashion sustainable again.    

Two things were crystal clear to us from the beginning:

  1. Traditional bespoke shoemakers are our inspiration and motivation, not our competitors. We adore their work, the craftsmanship and the personal relation between customer and artisan. We neither want nor are able to replace this with Modum. What we want is to close the large gap between traditional bespoke and ready-to-wear shoes. 
  2. While we have a lot of experience with 3D technology, engineering and coding as engineers, this is only half of the story. Both, designing bespoke lasts and making shoes using the goodyear welted method involve centuries of traditional knowledge, most of it not written in books. If we want to be successful, we need to partner and work as close as possible with bespoke shoemakers as well as the craftsman working at the shoe factory.

Collaboration with craftsman

 

From the early days, we had the great fortune of meeting the right people, who believed in our vision and supported us. Especially Matthias and Martin, bespoke shoemakers and owners of Vickermann & Stoya. They not only co-founded the company, but also played a crucial role in understanding the art of bespoke shoemaking and last design. Teaching a computer to automatically design bespoke lasts and patterns based on a 3D scan is not as straightforward as we first thought. We therefore spent hundreds of hours at their workshop, writing down the knowledge of Martin, making shoe lasts by ourselves and developing the software on-site. This also included testing the fit of the shoes.

Johannes at the Workshop of Vickermann & Stoya, manually cutting a pattern for a last he designed using a computer

 

Beside the automatic design of the bespoke shoes, manufacturing them in a factory was the next challenge we had to tackle. And since traditional bespoke shoemakers make them entirely by hand, we had to collaborate with our partner factory to understand how they are working. 

It quickly turned out that producing bespoke shoes with the goodyear welted method, comes with one main challenge: In order to keep the efficiency of mass production it is necessary to avoid any overhead which might result from the fact that each shoe is just produced once. This means that we have to automate the whole production preparation with our software, because the manual preparation by a craftsman only pays off for large quantities of GYW shoes. You might argue that some brands already offer MTO shoes and that there are already solutions for that. But here you should not forget that MTO still uses RTW lasts and patterns. 

Our co-founder Milad in a discussion with one of the artisans from the shoe factory.

Together with the employees of the shoe factory, we analyzed the whole production process, from sourcing the materials until shipping in order to understand bottlenecks and where we need to find a technical solution. Here, I would like to highlight two examples, which will give you a vivid impression of the overall process and how we fused craftsmanship and technology.

As you might know shoemaking starts in the clicking room. This is where the required parts of the shoe are cut out of the leather hides. While in traditional bespoke shoemaking this is performed with a knife by hand and shoe factories usually use die cutting tools, both would not be suitable for our approach. Instead, our shoe factory uses a digital cutting machine to click the uppers of our shoes. While the cutter is automatically programmed by our software, it’s still necessary to identify defects on the hide (e. g. scars) and exclude this area of the leather from cutting. Therefore a person stays beside the machine and places the single pieces on the hide.

The machine operator is carefully placing each single part on the hide.

Another good example is the lasting of the upper on the last, the so-called toe lasting. The toe lasting process is quite a challenge for shoemakers too. While the shape of the shoe last is determining the style and fit of the final shoes, the two-dimensional pattern plays a crucial role in the manufacturing process. It needs to perfectly match the three-dimensional shape of the last. The shoe upper has to be pulled over the last without any remaining air or screwing the leather. This is why we also provide the optimal machine settings for each shoe, beside the geometry of the single pattern pieces. However, the operator of the machine still plays a crucial role, by manually manipulating the pressure applied to the uppers. 

During toe lasting, the upper is pulled over the last by ten calipers. Although they are last with the help of a machine, the skill and experience of the operator is crucial.