Almost all shoes are made on a last. A last is a form made in the shape of the foot. It has many functions but one of the most important is comfort. There are over 35 measurements when creating the last. Without the perfect last you can't have the perfect shoe. They have used lasts for centuries. Before 1820 lasts were straight, meaning no left or right. They realized that if you created a right and left lasts the shoes would be a lot more comfortable.
In Italy they are called Forme. They have separate factories call Formificio that have expert artisans that hand carve lasts out of wood creating some of the most beautiful and comfortable shoes in the world. Once the lasts are perfected in wood they will be reproduced in a self healing resin. The photo below is me visiting the Formificio and standing in their library of lasts choosing my lasts for the next collection. For a shoe designer it's a little bit of heaven being in a room like this. If I come up with a new unusual toe shape the factory will actually make them for me.
The last dictates the comfort, heel height, toe shape and kind of shoes that are being made on the last. Below is a photo of a small sample of toe shapes.
The following shows how the last has to be shaped for different heel heights. From very high at 12 cm to a men's flat shoe with a standard heel.
Each shoe size, heel height, toe shape, and shoe type have lasts specifically for them. A sandal last has to fit differently than a boot so it needs to be shaped differently. Below are 2 lasts. The left is for a shoe like a pump or a shoe that ties. The right you will notice how thick the ankle looks. This is for a pull on boot. It's made this way so your foot can slide in and out of the boot as you pull it on.
Once the shoe is made on the last, the last has to be pulled out. The human foot has joints where the last is stiff. Joints have to be built in so when it's time to come out of the shoe the last can be pulled apart.
I love going to the shoe factory or seeing photos that my consultants send me of me shoe's being made. It's a great example how the lasts are used in manufacturing. Below are photos from the factory of my shoes in production.