I’m welcomed in to Djiby’s atelier a place on the work bench, cushion included, has been made for me. Today I’ll be taking notes and photographing the process. My mission: to learn how shoes are made, from start to finish.
We’re with Djiby’s assistant, Pape, and the two men will be working in parallel for the next two hours to create a pair of ballerina flats, size 45 for an African client. She has provided the woodin material (a tough, pure cotton material that comes in many colourful designs) and instructions that the flats come with a brown bow ties too. The shoe-makers get right to work.
The power is out in the neighbourhood this morning so we work in silence which is unusual for Djiby and Pape. I’ve been here already many times and I know that they usually have the television going with many programs on, from soap operas to nature programmes. The Senegalese in general like music and movement. I however am very grateful for the quiet as it’s helping me to concentrate and take notes. We also have a helpful draft coming in through the open doors in the front and back so the fumes from the glue are hardly felt.
I’m asked to cut the material for the edging. That’s pretty much the end of my hands on experience today as I need to first understand the process step by step and see how it’s all done !
The cardboard piece used to cut the shape is called a “gabarit”, a pattern (used for sowing). Shoemakers have many of these, for different types and sizes of shoes. This one is size 45, as needed for this pair of flats.
The inner lining, la “doublure” is cut to the same size. It will act as support and lining for the exterior woodin material.
This is Djiby’s ancient looking and yet very efficient sowing machine. Run by a foot pedal and in the midst of our cutting and gluing I feel quite unaffected by this morning’s power cut.
Friends and men from the neighbourhood come in, some to say hello only, and some come to sit and chat for a while. The atelier resounds in a choir of “aleekum salaam”s as we respond to their greetings.
The material and lining are gently glued together and then properly sown together.
While work continues on the pair of flats Djiby fixes a leather bag for another client. He’s adding a neat little clasp that comes with a tiny key.
The family next door.
Now, the fun part at the end. We are making the bow-ties.
The finishing touches are happening. That surprising moment when all the pieces come together and we have a ready shoe. More men from the neighbourhood come in to talk. The Attaya (traditional Senegalese tea made from green tea, mint and sugar) is not yet served, but will be soon. One young man is speaking loudly in Wolof; he is clearly upset about something.
The final effect. And I am honoured by being the one to place this beautiful new pair of flats into their plastic bag. They are ready to be picked up and enjoyed.
Tomorrow I will be trying my own hand at the art of shoe-making!