2013 February 4
The men of Modern Vice, Jordan and Jensen Adoni, started their sneaker company overseas in China yet something wasn’t quite right. With the communication barrier, the samples never returned in working order. Insert a cartoon light bulb and an introduction to Don Klingbeil and his iconic ice skating factory in Jamaica, Queens. As if by fate, Klingbeil was shutting down production and the Adoni brothers swooped in to take over. Now, in the heart of the Garment District, Klingbeil's original workers cobble alongside rattling machinery. Hidden among the lasts and leather sits the famous Klingbeil ice-skate fitting chair, where signatures of the rink’s elite mark a moment in footwear history. Little did we know about the vast history of shoe-making; an art Jensen taught The Daily exclusively...
What drew you to Klingbeil?
This chair is one of the things that made us fall in love with the Klingbeil. We went there and it was about the heritage of the father and son duo. And you know, this is the brother duo and our father inspired us to do this. We fell in love with the story, the family thing, and then of course the craft. How advanced these guys are and how good their craft is; that was exactly what we were looking for. And it turned out that Don, the ex-owner, was planning on closing the shop. So we said; no chance in hell, Don! You are not closing. You are coming with us.
Do you work with the original staff?
All these guys have been working here for 25 years. We do have 20 new guys now. We realized if we were going to build ice skates, which are probably one of the most difficult things to build, we need those people. So we took this concept, but we're doing it with a personal touch. Now we have taken this technology, and are now building beautiful men’s sneakers as well. We have a ton of machinery but really each shoe is made by hand: That’s really what makes them so special and unique. In America, there’s not a lot of this going on anymore; we've lost the craft, as everything has gone overseas. Look at how many job opportunities were created through our factory: 40-something jobs in less than one year!
What about women? Don’t forget about our shoes!
We’ve also been doing women’s sneakers since day one; they were one of the first things we made. We imported a special machine to apply leather soles; it kind of acts like a suction cup around the shoe. It puts four hundred pounds of pressure, then the soles pops up!
If you have machines, why do you need such handhewn manpower?
Even if we have tons of machines, these guys are real artists. They like to work by hand. These machines are actually doing what they are doing by hand but the machines are more for mass production.
What is the most unique room in the factory?
The last room is a really famous one. The last is what gives the shoe its shape. All of these hanging lasts are from famous skaters.
What is this step-by-step process to create one pair of shoes?
First is design: an idea or a concept for a shoe. Then, we have to find the right last, which gives the shoe its toe shape and height. The character of the shoe. After that comes pattern, so usually we put the upper on the last. Once the pattern matches correctly, we cut it out of a non-leather material or a cheaper leather material. It might also be made of paper. We put that over the last to see if we have the lines right. If not, we go back to the drawing material and correct it. Then, we bring it to the cutting table and we can cut the leather by hand and pull it over the last. After that, we literally look at it and decide if we want to finish the shoe. We don’t want to waste our time if it doesn’t look right! If it’s not right, we go back to the pattern and make our sizing corrections. Then you last the shoe and pin it, finish the leather off and put the inner sole on.
Woah, sounds like a lost art of sorts.
There is not a lot of people who knows how to do this. Not even at Parsons or FIT. They only have a few courses in this; we're bringing it back!
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