I was recently given a rare chance to visit the factory of Fortuna Shoes in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia. I had the opportunity to see the whole production process—from clicking to boxing. Fortuna Shoes produces shoes for numerous brands, including Jalan Sriwijaya, which has quite a following outside of Indonesia.
Many thanks to Pak Kiki for welcoming me and taking me around the factory and showroom. I most definitely gained a lot of insight from him on the company, the shoes, and the industry.
Here's my coverage of the factory visit.
When I first entered their premises, I was surprised to be greeted by the founder and owner himself, Pak Dede. Pak Dede started making footwear in the 60s, and before making welted shoes, he had made everything related to footwear from kids' shoes, leather sandals to moccasins. He then decided to focus on welted shoes. From then, Fortuna became the company that we all know today.
After a crash course on the history of Fortuna, I was taken by Pak Kiki around the factory at Jalan Sriwijaya. The first thing that hit me as I entered the factory (other than the smell of leather and glue) was the sheer sense of enormity. It’s warehouse after warehouse after warehouse. And this was only their first facility. They have another facility at Jalan Soekarno-Hatta, which is only a five-minute drive away.
The size of their facilities makes sense if you consider that Fortuna produces tens of thousands of shoes annually. While we primarily know Fortuna to produce shoes under the "Jalan Sriwijaya" brand, Fortuna also produces shoes for other labels around the world.
To produce this many shoes, Fortuna employs around 300 people. With no less than 200 individual steps in the production of the shoes, each employee has one specific task—whether it is skiving the insole or stitching the sole. This is highly efficient given that Fortuna primarily does bulk production for brands, which means that there is little variation (if any) among the shoes being produced at any one time. It obviously becomes more complicated when they are producing individual MTO shoes or restoring old shoes, which also follow the same production line.
One thing that is worth pointing out is that even though Fortuna employs so many workers, their facilities are still feel very spacious, with a lot of space between each machine and worker. This feels quite different from shoe factories that I visited in Northampton, which (probably due to higher rent) has more machines and people packed into tighter spaces.
Fortuna uses both machinery (modern and traditional) and hands to produce their shoes. From the production process, it seems that they struck the right balance between the two—using machines where possible and hands where necessary. They don't use machines to the extent of sacrificing quality or use hands for the sake of using hands (or even worse, use hands at the expense of quality when machines do a better job).
The most important aspect of the production process that still uses hands instead of machines is probably the welting, which is mostly done by hand. I was surprised when I was told that most of Fortuna's shoes are actually handwelted, as opposed to Goodyear-welted. This includes the shoes produced under the "Jalan Sriwijaya" brand. To produce handwelted shoes in high quantities, Fortuna employs more than a dozen workers to do the handwelting.
I was under the impression that Fortuna produces Goodyear-welted shoes only. This is because many brands that have their shoes made by Fortuna market their shoes as Goodyear-welted (and have them labelled and stamped as such). While inaccurate, this is done because the average consumer is not aware of what "handwelted" means and have a positive association with the term “Goodyear-welted” because this is primarily the way big European shoemakers produce their shoes. Furthermore, Goodyear-welted shoes have sort of been perpetuated as the “gold standard” in shoemaking by brands and shoe enthusiasts alike. Fortuna, however, is trying to educate consumers and market and label their handwelted shoes more accurately.
It goes without saying that handwelted shoes take more time to make and are more labour intensive (around one minute per shoe to attach the welt on a Goodyear-welted pair, versus closer to or around an hour per shoe on a handwelted pair). But handwelted shoes do come with their advantages.
Pak Kiki and Pak Dede explained that they prefer handwelted shoes over Goodyear-welted shoes because of the lack of ribbing used in the shoes (a canvas-like material that is glued onto the insole and sits vertically between the insole and outsole), which makes the shoes stiffer. Handwelted shoes forgo the use of a rib and instead have the insole carved out, onto which the upper and welt are sewn directly. Some have also opined that handwelted shoes are more flexible because they require less cork between the insole and outsole.
The more modern machine I saw was their clicking machine. The machine uses laser projection on the leather, which allows a worker to position patterns on the leather, which are then cut by the machine using a fine blade. This allows the leather to be used as efficiently as possible with as little waste as possible.
More traditional machines I saw include an outsole stitcher. While the welt is mostly stitched on by hand, the sole is stitched onto the welt by a machine. Other than perhaps a higher stitch density and closer distance to the upper, stitching the sole onto the welt by hand provides no other advantage over stitching it by machine. While the soles are stitched on by machine, the sole stitching still looks quite refined—not too chunky and not too far from the upper.
The way the shoes are lasted is also interesting. First, the leather must be steamed, otherwise the leather is too stiff to be lasted on the last. Then, the front and back of the shoes are lasted by a machine. A worker then takes over and lasts the waist by hand. This is done as the waist requires more precision to give it more definition.
While most shoes are handwelted, Fortuna also produces Goodyear-welted, blake-stitched, and cemented shoes, as well as a combination of these. One brand specifically requested Fortuna to create shoes that are handwelted around the front part, but blake-stiched around the waist. So Fortuna really has the capacity to produce shoes in any construction. One of the non-welted models that were being produced while I was there were Belgian loafers with thin, cemented soles, which have recently gotten very popular in the menswear world.
Fortuna, and its trade customers, are very particular on the quality of the uppers. Every shoe is made using European uppers. For calf, Fortuna uses Weinheimer Leder, Hermès-owned Tannerie d'Annonay, and Tanneries du Puy. For shell cordovan, they use shells from Toscana and Comipel. The use of European uppers is not merely a marketing ploy. In fact, Fortuna rarely states the producers of the uppers in their marketing.
Leathers from these tanneries are actually better suited for leather shoes compared to those produced locally. The difference is primarily due to the tanning process. The chemicals in the tanning process of these leathers do not fully penetrate the leather, which leaves the fibres under the grain fully intact and strong. The strong fibres are desirable for leather shoes because they help retain the shape of the shoe better and allow the creases to be more subtle. The downside is that the shoes feel stiffer out of the box, but should be equally comfortable once worn in.
You can clearly see the difference between European leathers and local leathers when you see a cross-section of the leather. The fibres (the middle layer of the leather, between the top grain and flesh side) on European leathers retain a natural colour (white or tan); local leathers have the same colour throughout, indicating that the chemicals have fully penetrated the leather, which weakens the fibres.
Each shoe is hand finished before boxing. This includes, among other things, waxing the uppers. To my surprise, the uppers are also ironed, the same way the sole edges are, to allow the waxes to penetrate the leather better. Pak Kiki explained that local leathers cannot be ironed like this as it would strip the finish and damage the leather—another reason they insist on using leathers from European tanneries. The shoes are then laced up, boxed, and delivered to anywhere in the world.
At the end of the factory visit, I stopped by their showroom to look at the finished shoes. The showroom is quite big with any model imaginable in it. They also have a dedicated shelf for women's shoes, which are smaller and use different lasts. After perusing through the shoes, I ended up putting in an MTO order on a pair of Comipel shell cordovan penny loafers .
I ended up staying at Fortuna all day, just in time to catch my 7 pm train back to Jakarta. My experience there was very much worth the six-hour return trip from Jakarta. It gave me more appreciation on the shoes and the company. For sure, I have been a fan of Fortuna for a long time (my first welted shoes in 2016 were from them), but this factory visit further convinced me of the workmanship that goes into their shoes.
Written by: Nikki Krisadtyo