Inside the Aurora Shoe Company's Upstate New York Workshop
A place that is both geographically and spiritually far from New York City, Aurora, NY, on the shore of Cayuga Lake, is a sleepy Upstate village that lends its name to the Aurora Shoe Company, a small workshop and a handful of artisans who create some of the best quality, and most interesting, shoes around.
Made slowly and intentionally, with every single employee touching every single pair of its shoes, the Aurora philosophy is well-aligned with what we do at Drake’s. A commitment to good people, beautiful design and doing things the right way, which is why we’re proud to have worked with them on an exclusive version of their signature Middle English. Crafted from a lustrous full grain leather sourced from the famous Horween tannery in Chicago, they feature a distinctive and immensely comfortable moccasin shape, a Vibram sole and a handy adjustable buckle. An everyday go-to shoe that will only get better with age and wear.
To find out more about their philosophy and process, we took a trip Upstate to see the team in action and spoke to David Binns (who goes by Dave), the owner and president of Aurora.
Drake's: Hi Dave, what makes the Middle English a great shoe?
David Binns (owner and president of Aurora): The Middle English is great for a number of reasons. First and foremost, our customers recognise the unmatched comfort that a well-worn pair of Middle English provides. There is little more comforting than slipping on a pair of broken-in Middle English. Made with full grain Horween Chromexcel leather, we like to say that all of the shoes that we make are “Made to Last”.
“Made to Last” has a double meaning
1.) The shoes are made to a high standard of strength & durability. We use the best materials available and time honoured techniques for assembly. The Vibram soles are fully resoleable, so the shoes are designed to last for decades if cared for properly.
2.) Those who understand shoe construction will know that the “Last” is a shoe form that is intended to mimic a human foot during the manufacturing process. Shoemakers develop their own lasts in order to provide the shape and style of the shoes that they are making. Most shoes will closely resemble the shape of the last that it was built on. At the Aurora Shoe Co., we only partially last our shoes, leaving the uppers partially unformed, intentionally. This means that the customer’s foot becomes the shoe’s last as they begin the break-in process. The result is a shoe that forms to the exact shape of each customer’s unique feet.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of the Middle English is its versatility. Comfort and quality will never go out of style. Leather shoes can be dressed up, or dressed down. The simple, but functional strap weaves all the way around the foot to provide adjustment so there is no terrain that the Middle English can’t thrive in.
Drake's: How did you want to update the style for the Drake’s collaboration?
Dave: We decided to push the envelope on both the comfort scale and the casual scale. Instead of a traditional suede that would be produced from a sub-optimal piece of leather, we decided to use the same high-grade Horween Chromexcel, but we flipped it inside out so the smooth top grain is on the inside, and the looser grained side is on the exterior. The silky smooth top grain interior is best enjoyed without socks, which goes with the more casual intention.
Drake's: How would you describe the Aurora approach to craft? It’s a small team. Is that intentional?
Dave: At the Aurora Shoe Company, hand-crafted permeates our ethos from the top down. We exist in a beautiful, rural part of upstate NY, overlooking Cayuga Lake. Most of our employees come from families with agricultural or craft backgrounds.
We are a small enough company that every single employee touches every single pair of shoes that leaves our doors. We don’t have an office staff, or a separate marketing team, we are all craftsmen, myself as a managing member included. Every employee is responsible for 5-10 steps of the process that goes into making every pair of Aurora Shoes. This allows us to train and retain employees who become incredibly refined in a narrow set of skills. We are, purposely, a small, family-owned business because we believe that the tradition of the craft, and the quality of our product is more important than profit margin.
And what makes the area around the workshop special? Is it a unique place to live and work?
Aurora is a small town that has abundant natural beauty, supports a culture of hand-craft, and values hard work. Our roadsides flush with vegetable stands, small batch wineries, dairy and vegetable farms, and vistas of Cayuga Lake. I guess you could say that our little town has a very comfortable, and casual atmosphere that perfectly matches the shoes that we make.