The Search for Foot Shaped Shoe Lasts

If we want FOOT SHAPED, NATURAL FOOTWEAR then we need foot shaped lasts!

I’ve developed my first generation of barefoot shoes lasts.
In this article I share how I did it, the process and how you can order lasts based on this design should you want to.
I just wanted to make natural, foot shaped 🦶 shoes.
You wouldn't think this would be so hard. Would you? 
Please understand this if for your information, I am not a last maker and have no affiliation with Dongguan L&N Shoe Material Co., Ltd. 
I have no wishes to make any money if you purchase from Dongguan L&N Shoe Material Co., Ltd. and make no guarantees on design. 
I offer this information to help you and you can use the design I developed if you like. 
Photos: Shoes Lasts: Can you spot the odd one out above? The central last is the shape I developed with my Alibaba supplier 
Foot shaped shoe or shoe shaped foot?
Shoes are built on 'lasts'. A shoe maker, or cordwainer, needs a last (or pair of) to manufacture and repair most footwear. 
Lasts are traditionally wooden moulds that represent the shape that the foot is destined to inhabit when worn. Most modern lasts are now manufactured using high density polyethylene (HDPE....erm plastic). 
Therefore it would make sense (would it not?) to make lasts that are the same shape as the human foot?
Seems that answer is NO.
Somewhere along the way we lost our way.  
Our ancestors used footwear to protect their feet from the elements by tanning animal hides and attaching them to their feet. Like the shoe below. It’s around 5,500 years old and was found in Armenia.
Worn and shaped by the wearer's right foot, the shoe was found in a cave along with other evidence of human occupation. The shoe had been stuffed with grass, which dated to the same time as the leather of the shoe — between 5637 and 5387 years ago*.
It is only fairly recently in our species' history that shoe design dictated form over function. Therefore lasts come in many styles and sizes, depending on the exact 'job' they are designed for.....'you say you want bunions Sir?' 'You need a shoe to give you hammer toe?' 'You want to mess up your alignment' get the gist.
The last is used to make the shoe people want to buy. So if people want to buy pointy shoes, then pointy lasts are made.
It seems a bit of a chicken and egg thing to me.
When you look into it, it is also apparent that each manufacturer of shoes have their own last shape and size.
When is a size 10 not a size 10?
Turns out most of the time. As many people know there is a massive variation between manufacturers for sizing as I showed in my former business. Some manufacturers even size different styles differently!
 One 'job' that seems to have been overlooked is a a last in the shape of a human foot. 

Let's have a quick reminder of the principles of natural footwear 

I've mentioned it here. (link to post) 
In natural footwear you should experience…..
1. A wide toe box.
2. A flat, flexible sole.
3. Breathable uppers that are evenly secured to the foot.

Finding My Own Last 

I'd managed to finish my sandal making studies using standard lasts provided by the School of Footwear. 
However for shoe and boot studies we agreed something that looked more like my feet would be necessary.
Photo: I wanted something a bit like this!

Australia’s Last Maker Didn’t Last! 

I searched for an Australian last manufacturer however I was too late as the final last manufacturer in Australia (Bruce Miller) hung up his last making boots (pun totally intended) a few years earlier. 
What a shame!

Developing my own

Upon realising Bruce Miller had retired, and upon recommendation, I contacted SLS in Europe and explained exactly what I was looking for.
They had a ‘barefoot’ design so I took a look at it. 
I decided the design needed development (toe box too narrow and toe lift too much). So paid for a custom last to be developed. 
We batted back and forth, however a single last sale is hardly a big money deal, so in the end we arrived at something that looked like it could work. 
All in the one pair of lasts cost around €185 with delivery.
Photo: Lasts as received (left) and after modification (right)
The image above shows the lasts as received on the left and the modified last on the right.
If I’m honest, I really didn’t like the shape of the lasts when they arrived. So I set about on my first last modification! 
Look at the photo - it turned out well.
That was one last pair. I needed more. I needed a supplied solution I wanted to try an alternative……

Alibaba & Dongguan L&N Shoe Material Co., Ltd.

Prices on Alibaba always look appealing, however I’ve also always been dubious. 
 I spent hours looking for something ‘barefoot’ and found nothing.  
In the end I contacted a supplier and they were really helpful. 
Supplier : Dongguan L&N Shoe Material Co., Ltd.
Contact name : Braly Zeng
Last code : FF001
Replies were quick and easy. No communication issues.
In the end we again agreed I would fund a customisation process (USD$60 - for as many iterations as needed!). 
At first Braly wanted me to send the last I had developed, however I was being impatient and didn’t trust the COVID-effected postal services of Australia and China (call me paranoid I don’t care)! So instead I sent through drawings, photos and measurements I have developed myself over the years.
I supplied this information and they made up a sample. 
Feedback and modifications were quick and easy. 
Here’s what they came up with.
Photo above: the red line was some feedback!
Photo: This looked pretty good!
Photo: There was little too much toe lift in the first iteration, so we reduced it (still not dead flat - something for Gen 2.0).
 I was happy with this. You could see by the felt marker on the sole - they’d actually printed what I’d sent them and used it!!!!! 
So for the first run I was going for Unisex sizing EU38 to EU45.
I do not wish to distinguish between Men’s and Women’s at the moment.
Since sizing is a minefield - I decided to align fairly closely with Vivobarefoot’s lengths as they are the biggest player in our barefoot niche (and nearest to ‘standardised’ EU sizing in my opinion). 
I added my own widths based on measurements and past experience. I added a more space for the big toe too.
Size Ball Width Length
38 9.5 24.9
39 9.7 25.2
40 9.9 26.2
41 10.0 26.9
42 10.3 27.5
43 10.5 28.2
44 10.8 28.9
45 10.9 29.5
Table: Sizing table for my lasts
And alas we had my first ‘official’ last! FF001

Alibaba Pricing

The lasts were USD$18 per pair. So total USD$144 for 8 pairs.
Express postage is expensive but fast at USD$240 (shoe lasts are heavy don’t forget). So in total for the 8 pairs of lasts, with express shipping ( it took 12 days from ordering to arrive!) was USD$384!!!!
Importing Issues
 This was a concern, however I had no issues nor charges.  
Australia has fairly generous import tax charges for small orders from China (less than AUD$1000). 
You need to check rules for your own country. 

How to Order 

These lasts are available to order via Alibaba. Quote last code FF001.
Again, please understand I am not a last maker and have no affiliation with Dongguan L&N Shoe Material Co., Ltd.
I have no wishes to make any money from your purchase and make no guarantees on design. 
I offer this information to help you and you can use the design I developed if you like. 
Good luck.
August 27, 2020 — Philip Evans