How Rock Shoes Get Made
At the beginning of this year, I made a big switch. I decided to start wearing Evolv shoes, after many years with Five Ten. It was not an easy decision: I will always love Five Ten and my friends there, and they make great shoes!
For a climber, climbing shoes are the single most important thing. Chris Sharma has become deeply involved with Evolv and with shoe design, a unique relationship which has been great for everyone, including climbers who get to wear the Shamans he created (click on this link even if you already have Shamans, because the description is hilarious)
PETA awarded Evolv a “Proggy award” in 2005 for being the best cruelty-free outdoor shoe company. Brian, the owner of Evolv, told me “they were happy that we had the most choices for vegan rockshoes. I thanked them and told them (for full disclosure and just in case they wanted to change their mind) that we were going to add some leather models in the future, but they wanted to recognize our vegan options and emphasized the “for progress” award.”
The people at Evolv are some of the most genuine, hardworking and fun people I’ve ever met in the outdoor industry (which is a big statement) and now I have the opportunity to work directly with them to build new shoes! The last few months have been really exciting, as we started working on prototypes right away by modifying existing shoes in the Evolv line for testing in the desert.
Last week, it was time to go to the factory, and take the next step. I got a tour, and then we went right to work.
The process of building climbing shoes is really fun to see. Everything begins with the last, which is a hard plastic cast in the shape of a foot and ankle. Every single shoe style is built on a last, and the shape of the last creates the shape of the shoe. So the fleet of lasts is a very important tool for the different shoes, and shaping the lasts is where everything begins. For every style of shoe, Evolv has many lasts in each size, because a shoe stays on a last for the entire process of having the rubber applied and ground down.
Roberto Zurita is a master at last sculpting, and Chris Sharma loves this part of the process, so Chris will visit Evolv and spend days in the factory working on his own lasts. They spend hours melting plastic shavings and building up the sides of a last, and then grinding on a wheel, to make fine changes in shape.
These are some Elektras on lasts, one of Evolv’s synthetic models.
The shoes get glued, cured, and then the rand rubber is applied. Next is the sole rubber.
After the sole is on, the shoes get put into special machines to compress them and get a tight seal on the newly glued rubber.
The final step is hand grinding, to make that clean edge and brushed finish on the sole and rand.
After several months of testing some protoypes and different Evolv styles, it was time to actually modify some lasts in the shape of my foot so we can work on the two types of shoes I want to make: flat (desert crack slippers) and downturned (steep climbing).
The last is the most important part of the shoe design process, so this really needs to happen with everyone together in person.
A desert crack slipper is top priority, so this was the first prototype we wanted to get into existence….we were on a tight countdown because I had an afternoon flight back to Moab.
We also had to discuss colors (fun!) and materials (the idea right now is to offer the crack slipper in both leather and synthetic, and the downturned shoe in synthetic).
Sadly, I had to leave just when Roberto had the glue on the slipper yesterday…I can’t wait to take these prototypes on their first test drive!