My first two pairs of Goodyear welt shoes were given to me by my grandfather. That summer, I was working part time at a family friend’s retail store that specialized in Goodyear welt footwear. One of the interesting things about this store is that they measured and fit each customer, which made for long days and lots of movement on the floor. I remember thinking wow, these shoes are solid and, well…stiff. At the time, I had been rotating between the two pairs of Goodyear welt shoes but was wearing one pair more than the other. One morning after putting on the cap toe, which had hardly been worn, I was shocked by how this shoe felt brand new and nowhere near as comfortable as the plain toe bluchers being worn more frequently. During that first month of wear, it hadn’t occurred to me that the insole, lining, and entire upper had slowly been molding to my foot shape. My foot impression was on the insole, which felt like a personal orthotic. Feeling most comfortable in this pair, I wore them nearly every day that summer.
Fast forward many years later, I found myself traveling in Asia quite often. More specifically, southeast China and Taiwan, where the long summers frequently exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Although I have experienced similar temperatures elsewhere, it just feels different–whether the humidity, stagnant air, or the city’s congestion. Needless to say, a five-pound pair of brogues wasn’t my first choice come July.
Over time, while rotating through multiple pairs of shoes, it became apparent that lightweight sneakers felt just as hot, if not more uncomfortable throughout the day. There was something about the veg-tan leather insole and full grain leather that didn't create the same high temperatures or discomfort.
Focusing on the veg-tan leather insole.
It’s no secret that going sockless when wearing sneakers usually isn’t ideal and that these types of shoes do not keep their ‘new-sneaker smell’ for long. I was pleasantly surprised this isn’t the case with any of my shoes that had a leather insole. They kept the same vegetable tanned leather smell as when they were new, while also proving that a porous leather insole has great wicking properties and fights against bacteria.
However, it should be noted, not all leather is equal and a piece of lining leather laid on top of a cushy foam is very different from a veg-tan leather insole. A veg-tan insole is cut from a leather bend and is usually 3-5mm thick. This one solid piece of leather is sturdy and will not have a soft cushion-like feeling when trying on a shoe. Although stiff, this structure is what allows the leather to mold to your foot over time, yet not completely collapse like most man-made materials.
A stack of leather insoles ready for lasting.
This summer in Xiamen, it’s been nearly 100 degrees every day and I find myself thinking how nice it would be to have a penny loafer. Luckily, the summer is coming to an end and we are currently working on a new penny loafer pattern to fit the bill nicely. We decided to make this loafer unlined, using thicker, supple, bovine articles. This offers a forgiving feel as the upper will stretch more than the average GYW shoe. We are sampling this shoe with a Butyl outsole (oil-dipped leather sole) to offer a little more flex. It should be just sturdy enough for a casual office setting and relaxed enough for hopping on a flight or sitting by the poolside (with or without socks). The first full-pair sample we made has a great feel and should achieve the balance we are looking to achieve. Our goal is to have this new penny loafer ready for next summer.
The unlined Traveler Penny sample.