In Pictures

In pictures: From brogues to celebrity trainers

A shoe on a last Image copyright Naomi Pallas

If you lived in Cumbria during the middle of last century, the chances are you knew someone who worked in a shoe factory.

Staff at K Shoes, Millers Footwear and Bata all worked on items ranging from brogues and dress shoes to rubber boots.

At its height, Millers employed more than 2,000 people.

When these factories closed, locals assumed the Cumbrian shoemaking industry was finished.

However in 1982, when American trainer brand New Balance moved into west Cumbria, many of the old staff were rehired.

They set to work making trainers that have now been worn by everyone from Rihanna and Steve Jobs to the Duchess of Cambridge.

Ann, embroiderer

Ann has spent her whole working life in shoemaking from leaving school aged 15 and beginning at Millers, to spending 35 years embroidering New Balance trainers.

Ann in front of her machine Image copyright Naomi Pallas

She was one of the founding members of this factory when it took over the K Shoes site.

She had previously worked there, until being made redundant when it closed.

It was something of a shock to her that a new factory was opening.

A woman at a sewing machine Image copyright Naomi Pallas

Despite this, she has noticed a steep decline in local industry.

"When we left school you had your clothing factories, your fur factory, you had Bata that made Wellington types and canvas shoes, then where they made babies' stuff," she says.

"Everything's gone."

Kasey, trainee stitcher

After finishing a degree in media make-up, Kasey moved back to the area.

She now works on the embroidery machines, following in the footsteps of her mother who used to work at the Millers factory.

Casey at her machine Image copyright Naomi Pallas

For Kasey, one of the most rewarding aspects of the job is when she looks through magazines and sees famous people wearing shoes she had worked on.

"It is a rewarding job," she says, "it is hard work but when you see a shoe at the end of it its really nice."

Putting pieces of leather together Image copyright Naomi Pallas

Jim, quality controller

Although Jim worked at both Millers and K Shoes until they shut down, he enjoys the challenge of making trainers.

Previously, the boots, court shoes and sandals had around eight pieces of leather to them.

Now, each running shoe has on average of 48 components.

"Then there's embroidery. We never did any of that at Millers."

Jim in the factory Image copyright NAOMI PALLAS

Below, a member of staff scans leather to find useable areas.

An ultraviolet pen and lighting is then used to mark out areas that cannot be used, for example pieces that have wire marks or have been infested by insects.

A man checking leather Image copyright Naomi Pallas

Many of the leather cutters have worked in this job since they left school, and were re-employed by New Balance after the other factories closed down.

"It's in the blood," Jim said. "It's not boring. You'll never get two pieces of leather the same. They're still challenged, and they rise to it."

Leather on a table Image copyright Naomi Pallas

Cath, team leader and Theresa, embroiderer

Many generations of families have worked at the factory, with couples often working together on the floor.

Cath and Theresa are sisters, and both of their children have also worked alongside them.

Theresa says: "It's nice to come in and know faces. Even from when I was growing up as a kiddie, there's people who lived on the same street as me, and I went to the same school as them, and they're here."

Kathleen and Theresa Image copyright Naomi Pallas

Both sisters commented on how good the factory is, in the light of a spate of recent closures in the area.

"When I was growing up you could leave school and just walk into a job anywhere. Now you do see that it is hard for people to get a job," Cath says.

"It is harder round here to find work at the minute.

"I think that's what people get when they come here. They get a stable job," she adds.

A shoe making machine Image copyright Naomi Pallas

Gary, job skills trainer

After 30 years training staff in the chemistry industry, Gary joined New Balance just over a year ago.

"It's still got the family environment," he says, "it's still got a few of the old-fashioned traits seen in working industries."

Gary at his desk Image copyright Naomi Pallas

Because there is not much shoe industry left in the area, it can take a long time to train new members of staff.

As part of his role, Gary is trying to establish a shoemaking apprenticeship.

"It'd be nice to get something else going on up here," he says.

Marian, team leader

Marian has worked in footwear factories since leaving school and now runs a team of 30 people as a supervisor.

Marian checks her book Image copyright Naomi Pallas

Although it has been over 34 years since she worked at K Shoes, she still remembers the names of the shoes she helped to make.

Despite this, she finds the process of making a New Balance shoe is much more challenging.

"You don't put as much into a brogue… in a training shoe there's a lot of work that goes into it."

Pieces of trainers Image copyright Naomi Pallas

Photographs and interviews by Naomi Pallas.

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