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PK! Finnish Footwear Fabrication

Date: March 25 2009

By: Sneaker Freaker

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Meet our man in Finland, Mr PK. Some guys love sneakers, some guys paint them, but PK is in a league of his own - he makes his own kicks!  That’s right, he builds his sneakers 100% by hand, right down to the very last stitch. It’s not everyday you meet someone who can say that, let alone pull it off.

Hey PK - where do you live now?
In Hameenlinna, Finland.

You’re a shoe designer in training, sneakers in particular. The difference between you and most shoe designers is that you have the ability to actually sew your own shoes. What made you decide to learn how to do that?
I had sources for information and access to machines, tools, materials and stuff, and I started to produce my own models outside school time.

So you are in training? Is it like shoe school?
I’m studying on the Footwear Design Programme at HAMK University of Applied Sciences. It’s a four year study and I’m about to do the final exam.

I’m stoked you found a place to teach you the craft.
I asked every shoemaker in Montreal to train me and they all told me I did not want to be a shoemaker. No money in it, they said.
I know a local cobbler and I’ve been working in his place and seen the daily routines… Man, it’s hard work. Learning shoemaking takes a long time, so that might be the reason they skipped it as they have so much work with the repairing and stuff.

Most guys in the sneaker industry aren’t ‘craftsman’ How are you going to use it? 
That’s a hard question to answer. There’s so much to it. From material know-how to understanding factory production. In our school we learn from the industrial point of view, like pattern making for an example. If I was a designer in a sneaker company I could make protos and readjust them. That can mean sending them back and forth to the Far East, which happens in many companies. Sometimes I get the feeling that some models have been designed on a bright computer screen, and then when they come back they don’t look as good as they did on the screen. That’s another reason why it would be good to be able to make protos where the designing happens.

Do you want to design for other companies or build your own brand?
I’m working on my own thing. Serum Footwear... but I’m interested in work offers also.

For those of us who only ever buy shoes, tell us how long it takes you to hand make your own pair from start to finish.
Depending on the model, the times vary a lot. The making of the shoes is always slower when you build a new design for the first time. There are really many work stages in making a pair. I can make the patterns, the prototype, fix the patterns, and make a final pair of a simple Stan Smith style pair with good quality in three days, but it’s not all in that.

Before that I have to hunt down all the materials and do the actual design project, which sometimes is a result of a long period. Then in some models there’s also the print pattern thing. After designing the pattern I have to make the silk screen, mix the colors to get the right shades, then print them. It takes a long time to make a pair sometimes…

What is the process?
An accurate description would take very much space so here it is in short.

1. Designing.

2. Last hunting, making, molding. When molded, I add cork to the places that need to be raised and sand down the last to the right shape.

3. Material hunting. Finding materials in the right colors is always hard.
4.
Pattern making. Besides looks, foot anatomy has to be considered.
5.
Prototype making. How it works for example when the foot is bent in a walking position.
6.
Fixing patterns 
7.
Making the pair. Uppers are sewn and sole parts are attached with glue.

Do you buy shoes made by other manufacturers?
Sometimes I buy when I come across some nice ones, but besides my own models, I like second hand treasures better than new reissues from boutiques. I use shoes to learn about construction techniques. I analyze the style and the practical point of view. Just last week I found a pair of original New Balance 300s.

As for window shopping for ideas, I might take inspiration from a certain detail but I usually want to make a whole new model based on how I’m feeling at the moment. To use the word that Chris Hall used, my life for the past three and half years has been much about Sneakerology. I’ve liked sneakers since I got a pair of Vandals in second grade, but these days I check Hypebeast daily, learn footwear stuff at school, design my own sneakers etc. In the end, all that everyday life filters into the models I produce.

A lot of people are excited about custom shoes which might mean Nike ID or hand painting a pair. You’re in a league of your own. Does it get you down that people get famous for painting them when you are virtually unknown?
I think it’s good that these custom people get recognized. Even though everyone could paint a pair, there are dudes that stand out. I like SBTG’s style a lot. The situation doesn’t really bug me. If anything, it would more likely be myself not stepping out that might have bugged me, but I decided not to until I’m able to offer quality in every aspect. I finally feel ready to get on the field. You’ve done some collabs with some artists and you did a Tribe Called Quest shoe. Way more limited and a lot nicer than the SB model by the way.
Thank you! I was going to accompany the Midnight Marauders with maybe Resurrection (Common Sense), Blow Out Comb (Digable), Atlien (Outkast) and Stakes is high (De La) models, but about four weeks after I got the Midnight Marauders on RTHQ, a pair of custom painted Common Dunks came on the internet. It got me a bit frustrated, then I was like, whatever, I’ll start making those models for autumn. Then Boom, there’s a De La Soul Dunk… It took a while to start thinking about doing the pack again, but now I’ve decided to make a couple of pairs of handmade Midnight Marauder sneakers and try to get them to a shop by the time this issue of Snkr Frkr is out.

there is still room for one thing before we finish.
I have a wish for all you sneaker loving people around the world. Next time you buy a pair of sneakers, please try on some of the smaller brands like Pointer, Madfoot, Visvim, JB, Creative Rec, Tas, Feit, Rtft… or maybe even Serum Footwear if they can be found on the shelves!

:: JEREMY BRESNEN

This article appeared in Issue 8 of Sneaker Freaker. Buy it here!

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