All Posts By

Jon Conkling

How Custom Fitting Relieves Foot Issues

By BootsNo Comments

As the old saying goes — no two feet are the same. Many shoe-fitting experts believe that over 65 percent of individuals have different left and right feet. Fortunately, American shoemakers solved this issue back in the late 19th century. Over many decades, these American innovators established and developed rules for grading ‘shoe lasts’ — the name for shoe sizing molds — systematically, on a mass scale.

The shoe last represents an approximation of foot shape, around which a shoe or boot is built. Originally made from chiseled stone and eventually from aged maplewood, they suffered from numerous shortcomings. Wooden lasts shrink in dry, cold winters, and swell in hot and humid summers. Weather and heavy use damaged these wooden lasts and they had to be replaced often. Today shoe lasts are made from polypropylene, for general construction, and from aluminum alloys for more precision and stability for direct injection. Their dimension tolerance is around .001” — ensuring consistency in production and the finished product.

American shoe last grading, when correctly followed, offers the best fitting footwear anywhere in the world. As opposed to French (continental) or metric grading, the differences between sizes are smaller — so customers can easily find the best fit between whole and half sizes and medium, wide and extra wide widths. Liberty Footwear lasts are developed by American last-makers on a proven base model that served tens of millions of customers over the last 30 years.

To innovate our process and outcome, we adjusted toe profile, instep and heel parts by grading them arithmetically, as opposed to geometrically, normally used in military footwear manufacturing. Our grading ensures that the length and girth change of the next last size or width is the same on small and large sizes. Geometric grading is scaled so that smaller last sizes are graded at shorter increments and larger sizes at bigger increments.

With the growing popularity of famous brand sneakers and regular cost cutting of production even in Asia, American consumers have been conditioned to forgo fit and comfort for style, color and low prices. Most popular athletic brands offer their shoes in one width, with some low price brands only offering whole sizes. For example, many customers who should wear wide width shoes compensate by wearing shoes one or even two sizes up to find a size that works. This creates the problem of shoes being too long results in foot movement within the shoe and dangerous toe dragging while walking.  On the other hand, customers with narrow feet — rather than leaving enough toe room upfront for correct toe-off — instead buy smaller shoes, causing painfully tightness and even toe blisters.

Liberty Footwear takes great pride in educating customers about how shoe sizing and grading works.  The length of our lasts — and our boots — range from whole size to whole size changes 1/3” and the girth 1/4”. The girth of the same size from medium width to extra wide grows 3/8”, while the length stays the same. We can also adjust boot size by varying the thickness of removable foot beds to find the best fit, or even stretching the boots with our lasts. Another method involves individually hand-stretching the boots in tight spots — usually in the ball or instep — with a ball-and-ring metal tool.

Finally, we offer a unique service that few shoe retailers in the country can, because no one else sells boots factory direct. Because of this, we often can fit those who have different left and right feet with different size or width boots, making sure each foot is comfortable and properly fit. This automatically includes extra space of about 1/2” in front of the longest toe in soft toe boots, and about 2/3” in safety toe boots. This extra space is necessary for stretching the feet while walking without rubbing your toes on the inside liner.

For example, a customer came in wearing size 10 medium sneakers to compensate for his size 8 wide feet. In order to accommodate his feet, those size 10 shoes feel good width-wise, because they are 1/2” wider, but they are also 2/3” longer with too much ‘dead’ space in the toe. To correct this, we can fit him in size 8 EW boots where his feet are correctly positioned lengthwise, while comfortably snuggled in 3/8” wider boots. If necessary, we can also stretch those size 8 EW boots even more in the forepart, while keeping the back area untouched for a cradle-like fit.

Another scenario we encountered involved a customer who came in wearing size 11 extra wide boots.  The left boot fit just right, while the Right was too loose. We found out that his left foot had surgery not long ago and as a result, swells regularly. To prevent pain during the day, this customer bought a pair of big boots. Careful measuring of his feet on our Brannock device and further examination revealed  that his left foot was size 11 extra wide — but his right foot was size 10 medium. We fit the customer with different size and different width boots to ensure both feet were comfortable. Even when we do not have misfit boots in stock, we can make them specifically for each foot.

Why do we go to such extremes? Correct fitting and comfortable boots remain our passion. We have life-long shoemaking experience, equipment and components to serve our customers in such a way — still at affordable prices. This is what local shoe production can offer local customers. And thanks to improvements in mobile scanning technology, we plan to offer this service nationwide.

For more information on how custom fitting relieves foot issues from the experts at Liberty Footwear, please contact us here, shop for our products or call our factory directly at 616.930.3060.

The Right Boot for Your Job

By BootsNo Comments

If you sit at a desk, your shoes rarely affect your work. But for those who work on their feet all day, wearing safe and comfortable work boots remains vital for getting the job done. Whether you need a steel toe, a sturdy sole or chemical resistant material — wearing the best work boot for your job can make all the difference.

Decades ago, boots with flat wedge outsoles were a staple in American factories. However, with the decline in U.S. manufacturing, the demand from traditional users declined. Today, thousands of ironworkers, landscapers, factory workers, machine shop operators, forklift drivers and car mechanics benefit from wearing boots with these proven outsoles.

Workers in these occupations stand on concrete floors, steel beams or other hard surfaces for 10 to 12 hours a day — making the work boots they wear important to their safety, comfort and productivity. The appeal of boots with flat bottom outsoles comes from the added support, cushioning and stability compared to work boots with heeled outsoles.

Workers with jobs involving climbing ladders or walking up and down stairs or grated steel steps on their trucks, may prefer boots with a defined heel and lug bottom design. This sturdy outsole helps workers lock in their boots for better grip and safety. Boots with heeled outsoles remain perfect for numerous outdoor and indoor jobs, and many truck drivers also prefer the more aggressive lug profile outsoles to the wedge.

Once you find the right boot, finding the right size also factors into your comfort and safety. If you spend most of your working day on your feet without moving much, leaving ½” extra space in front of your big toe — for soft toe boots — will allow enough room for air circulation inside your boots, which is important for your comfort and productivity on the job. For hard toe safety boots, you might need between 5/8” and 2/3” of extra space. This is important if you do a fair amount of brisk walking or crouching and bending, because your feet and toes are stretched far more than when standing, or just taking the occasional few steps around a machine.

Roofers seem to prefer Liberty Footwear’s 6” wedge lace-up boots, which offer our unique gripping outsoles that are soft enough to avoid damaging asphalt shingles. Our soft and supple leather uppers also will not pinch their feet when flexed at extreme angles. Similarly, workers who lay floor tile appreciate the flexibility of our work boots, combined with superior cushioning, excellent slip resistance and non-marking outsoles.

For workers facing the challenge of working around harsh substances or in rough outdoor environments, our hiker style rubber cup outsole offers excellent resistance to gas, diesel and aggressive cutting oils, raised side walls for better protection and better grip on muddy or rocky terrains and resistance to abrasion.

Unfortunately, many people experience difficulty finding comfortable work boots. In some cases, this results from slight differences in sizing between some people’s feet. Liberty Footwear remains one of the few companies in the world that offers this option. Individuals can benefit from custom sizing and fitting that adjusts their boot size for each foot individually, ensuring comfort and functionality when on the job. Liberty Footwear is proud to offer this unique solution for all of our boots and shoes.

Your work boot’s heel height also factors in how comfortable you will be while working on your feet all day. Work boots with a 5/8” heel height is recommended over work boots with 6/8” and even 7/8” heels. However, the degree of heel lift is personal to each customer, affected by foot structure, weight and posture.

For more information about finding the right boot for your job from the experts at Liberty Footwear, please contact us here or call us directly at 616.930.3060.

Why American Built Still Rules

By BootsNo Comments

Over the last 150 years, America’s numerous contributions to the world of shoemaking include a long list on innovations that continue to dictate how the world treats their feet.

From simple changes such as different boots for each foot, multiple widths and comfortable soles — to mass manufacturing, customization and more effective finishing technologies — the United States continues to put its best foot forward!

Over 30 years ago, the American shoe manufacturing industry began slowly moving most production overseas, similar to the pharmaceutical and electronics industries. Instead of building quality shoes in America, the primary focus shifted to marketing, logistics and distribution. While this didn’t stop innovation, it reduced flexibility, extended lead-times and in some cases, negatively affected the overall quality of the finished product.

Liberty Footwear sources high quality components from vendors based in the USA and abroad but proudly remains one of only a handful of American shoe factories — building all their boots and shoes in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This offers several benefits to the factory as well as its customers.

The factory remains more flexible by tying less capital in material inventory, maintaining the ability to quickly scale up production of particular styles, colors or outsoles as needed, and can directly respond to customer demand.

Having access to manufacturing allows experimentation, faster innovation, adjustments to feedback from retailers and individual consumers. Additionally, this access protects our brand from intellectual theft, from unauthorized use of methods or components. Finally, our U.S. factory negotiated component prices similar to factories in Asia and the family ownership maintains low overhead costs to offer affordable prices for locally built footwear.

Larger shoe brands, primarily in the athletic space, continue to explore domestic shoe manufacturing — even setting up pilot production in recent years. They hope to revive consumer enthusiasm for locally made footwear and also entice former suppliers of various components to reopen shuttered production facilities. Additionally, this may lead to vendors who can begin to onshore production to better serve their growing base in this country.

Liberty Footwear proudly remains an integral part of this new movement, not only for our current business, but to hopefully pass on shoemaking skills and traditions to future generations.

For more information on why American built footwear still rules from the experts at Liberty Footwear, please contact us here, shop for our products or call our factory directly at 616.930.3060.