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Interviews

Steve Robinson (James Taylor&Son)

October 18, 2013

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You have bought James Taylor and Son in 2011 and since then you have tried to adapt shoemaking to 21 century demands by introducing a scaner which allows a precise foot measurement in 3D.  Why did you chose James Taylor as a ship in this shoemaking journey to the future?

James Taylor makes a lot of shoes for people with foot problems and who often struggle to get into ready-made shoes.  Traditional last making techniques are very time consuming and are actually very poor at creating shoes that fit.  I have a lot of experience in the German orthopaedic market, where they make shoes based on a cast of the foot shape of the customer.  It is very accurate and effective, although also time consuming and very skilled.  Using a good 3D scanner allows us to make a perfect digital cast of the customer’s feet, and then using CAD/CAM we can make a very precise last that combines fit with elegance in a way that is all but impossible by hand, and much more quickly.

I had tried to persuade British shoemakers to adopt this technology for some years without success, so when James Taylor & Son came up for sale I saw the opportunity to implement the technology myself and build the business using it.

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You have been involved in developing search engine software and shoemaking software for over 15 years so please so kind to tell me how the idea of a scaner came up.

The FotoScan 3D scanning technology has been around for a while, developed by a UK university.  The commercial implementation had failed initially, and I bought it when I could see there was a big potential demand for the system in the European orthopaedic market.  So it wasn’t my original idea, although the final design is mine.

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Shoelovers are quite conservative Gentlemen. So why should they choose a 3D scaner insted of a well-trained bespoke shoemaker eye? What are the advantages brought by technology?

The advantage of using 3D scanning and CAD/CAM is that you can achieve much better shapes and fit, and much more quickly than using traditional processes.  The scanner provides a 3D image of the foot that the last maker can refer to and use directly in the design of the last.  A traditional lastmaker might use 6-8 measures of the foot to make a last, but our system provides, in effect, thousands of measures.   It is worth emphasising that the process still involves a skilled shoemaker, but the technology makes his/her job far faster and more accurate.  For the customer, they will get their shoes with a better shape, better fit and more quickly delivered.  We have found that all our customers are really enthusiastic about the technology.

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Please give a quick run-down of the whole process involving 3D foot scanning.

It is very simple.  The customer sits on our scanner, places his/her foot on a Perspex plate, on eat a time, and the scanner photographs their feet.  It takes about 4 seconds per foot.  Then the computer builds a 3D image based on the photograph, and that image can be used by our CAD system for last design.

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A very anoing problem for anyone who has a feet problem and wants a pair of shoes is the awful look. Someone told me once that the orthopedic shoes look like giant potatoes. At the and of the shoemaking process how will a James Taylor shoe  look like compared to a shoe made by NHS company?

It is very different.  We are able to design the last so that we can get the maximum amount of elegance for the shoes, so they will be a much better shape.  We also design the most attractive uppers suitable for the foot, and of course, use the best materials.

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Over the years you had some distinguished customers and also more and more people sended by doctors.  Tell me more about James Taylor customers and the challenging orders over the years.

We can’t talk about famous customers although we have had a fair number.  The key challenges for us are the really serious foot conditions an how to make shoes that work functionally and look good.  Our customers are often people that have tried the NHS for many years and are desperate for something that looks nice and is comfortable to wear.  We like to think we can meet most of those needs.

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How many shoemakers work for James Taylor and what is each one role in the company?

We have a shoemaking staff of around 8 people.  They each have particular skills such as patterns, last design , closing, making etc.  Our most experience maker is Ibrahim who has been with us for 35 years.  Our youngest employees are interns that we regularly take from London Cordwainers.

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Tell me more about the prices and also about the posibilty of VAT refund for orthopaedic footware…

Our typical price of a bespoke pair of ladies classic shoes is £1,595, and men’s is £1,745.  If the customer can bring in a doctor’s note about their foot condition we can waive VAT.

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Is the business climate today “shoemaking-friendly” if I may say so? What are the most difficult problems in terms of shoemaking business today?

The biggest challenges are finding skilled people and dealing with ever rising costs, particularly being based in central London.  I think there is strong demand for good bespoke shoes.

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How do you see the future for James Taylor&Son ?

We aim to grow the business both in the UK and worldwide, using our 3D scanning technology as a key component of our service.

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What is your favorite word?

Sausages.

What is your least favorite word?

Taramasalata.

What turns you on (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)?

A positive attitude from people around me.  The possibility of changing something for the better.

What turns you off?

Endlessly repeating poor practices and outdated ideas.

What is your favorite curse word?

Unprintable I’m afraid…

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What sound or noise do you love?

A Ferrari.

What sound or noise do you hate?

“Amusing” mobile ringtone.

What profession would you not like to do?

Deep sea diving always looks very uncomfortable.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

That’s a really nice pair of brogues…

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