How our shoes are made

The Tsonga Process

While a physical tour might not be possible, we thought we'd walk you through the making of a pair of shoes and demonstrate, as best we can, just how much is involved in making a single pair of shoes.

Inspired by all things African, our trend-conscious designers put pencil to paper and create a conceptual design of a shoe. Hand-drawn designs are transferred to carefully taped lasts, giving the designer a life-size model of how the shoe will be shaped. From the 3-D model, a pattern is cut by hand from which a sample of the shoe is then made.

The sample, called a prototype, is then put through a fit-test to make sure it not only looks good on the foot, but is also genuinely comfortable too.

After a tweak here and there, and only once the designer is 100% happy that the shoe is worthy of a place in the collection, do the hand-cut patterns leave the Design Office and move to the Pattern Room. Here, they are transformed from paper to computer with every design detail and size considered.

Now that the blue-print for the shoe is in place, it’s is ready to go into production and what better place to start than in a warehouse filled with the best leathers in the world!

The first stage of production, called ‘Clicking’, is a department of highly skilled people who are responsible for cutting each piece of the upper (the top half) of our shoes.

An expert on the characteristics of leather, the Clicker ensures each hide is cut to maximum use whilst still retaining the highest quality by carefully examining the leather for any defects or scarring.

Colour marked to differentiate one size from the next, each piece of the upper is laid out and aligned to a die (a template), so it can be marked to show how each piece must be sewn together. This is the beginning of its journey in the Closing Department.

Depending on the style of the shoe, this includes the hands of as many as 30 different people, each one in synchronisation: stitching, gluing, trimming, stamping, punching and shaping all the individual pieces of leather into a single upper of a shoe.

With a fondness for detail some styles adorn unique pieces that are also cut by hand, embossed and then hand laced for that magical Tsonga touch.

Alongside the process of making the upper of the shoe, the bottom (sole) of the shoe has also begun its own journey. From liquid, the sole is moulded using carefully mixed polyurethane compound, or thermal plastic rubber. These are then later padded with a soft memory insole engineered to mould to the contour of your feet.

Once the uppers and the soles are made, it is time to put them together.

This is where Tsonga is special!

Working together with people from our surrounding rural communities, using a simple needle and wax coated thread, each pair of Tsonga shoes is stitched together by hand. 

In comparison to conventional shoemaking methods, our hand-stitched technique means that our shoes are softer, more flexible and lighter underfoot. Comfort that is unmistakably Tsonga.

The Tsonga women are dedicated and meticulous in their craft. Depending on the style, a pair of Tsonga sandals can take approximately 30 minutes to hand-stitch and a boot, 180 minutes

Although the shoes are now put together, they still need to be given their shape, be quality checked, packed and dispatched.

The leather is softened using steam; a last inserted (a last is a shoemaker's model for shaping a shoe); and its beautiful shape is set as it travels through a heat-setter. At this point, creases are also smoothed and the leather is buffed to give it a beautiful finish.

Before being packed and sent to retailers and boutiques around the world, all of our shoes go through the last process of production, aptly called the ‘Finishing Department’.

Here, the soft leather sock is inserted, the gusset for added comfort is trimmed, and the shoe is carefully checked to make sure it is exactly as it should be.