Why I Started Making Shoes, and why it's important.

I realized the other day that I spend a lot of time talking about how I make my shoes, and the differences between them and others, but I haven’t said so much about why I make shoes, which might be more important.

You’ve probably guessed that I like making them. I mean, I’d have to, it’s just too much work to continue to do it and not wholly love the work.

But that reason is just the start of why I make shoes, and isn’t nearly powerful enough for me to see a need for starting a business at it. If it was just love, it would remain a hobby.

The “why” really started for me while I was learning to make shoes. During that time I discovered there are very few shoe companies who make their shoes in the US, and even fewer high end shoe companies. Further, most of the ones who make them in the US don’t make the shoes themselves. Rather they outsource the manufacturing to a generic shoe factory, and while the shoes will have the brand’s logo, there isn’t much in the way of innovation in construction or design. In many ways the shoe brand is at the mercy of the factory’s abilities and limitations.

For me, it feels both irresponsible as well as inauthentic. What connection does a shoe company, or any company, really have to their products if they don’t make them? For me, it just feels like something is missing – like I don’t know whether I’d want to support them. It’s as if the company is saying to me, “yea, I don’t want that responsibility. I just want tell someone how to do it. Then I’ll market it like our company makes everything ourselves, and we are all so involved with that.” That sort of thing doesn’t resonate with me, and it’s happening everywhere as the world catches on to the new demand of consumers who want to know the “who, what, when, and where” of the products before they buy. 

That was the start for me. Integrity, honesty, authenticity, and transparency are all values I hold myself to in my personal life, and because of that I cannot buy things that blatantly (or stealthily) disregard those values.

That leads me to reason one:

  1. To build a company that makes its own products in order to ensure and preserve the quality thereof, as well as cultivate a culture amongst our niche of trust, integrity, and transparency.

 

I think about Sears. Sears was founded in 1897. 1897! And they basically invented what we call distribution centers today. They were pioneers, and in many ways the world is still following their lead. Yet, they are hurting, enough that they will likely not recover. Here’s a company that has sold everything from clothing to automobiles. The problem is, who are they? What do they do? What makes you want to purchase something from them?

 

If you’re like me, not much. I mean, they are just too disjointed, sell too many varying things, from varying brands, made in varying countries, in varying factories. What’s the point?

 

I don’t want to spend my life buying from companies like that, as much respect as I have for their ingenuity. I want to buy when there is a point to buy, when there is something meaningful to buy, and when I can trust the source of their products.

 

I want a business that knows who it is more than one that follows buying trends, and more than turning a quick profit. In my life, the things that really matter, take a long time to achieve or obtain. I am more concerned that the shoes you buy from us are your favorite rather than whether I’m making my margins every quarter.

 

 

  1. To make shoes that are made with the best techniques for quality, longevity, and aesthetic.

 

It just so happens that those techniques come from a time (before the fifties) when products were sold, marketed and respected solely on the basis of their functionality and reliability.

 

When the fifties arrived, so did a man by the name of Edward Bernays. He was the nephew of Sigmund Freud.  It’s important to note that because he employed Freud’s ideas about human nature, the subconscious, and the herd mentality in the realm of marketing and propaganda.  

 

He was the first guy to begin to market automobiles, for example, based not upon how well they operated, but by appealing to the subconscious. He placed beautiful women next to a successful looking man inside the car with him, implying that this car will allow you that lifestyle, or at the very least make you feel like you live that lifestyle - of the untethered, successful man who gets any woman he wants.

Jump forward to today and there is not a single automobile ad that doesn’t advertise to the subconscious. Every ad is about getting free, or living an adventurous life, or getting what you want. They all appeal to the part of us that is an image we want to display, or lifestyle we resonate with. So of us even go so far as curating and entire persona based around our interest in certain products.

I don’t completely disagree with this sort of marketing. What I disagree with is the allowance it gave to our country to stop making things with the same level of quality and ingenuity – because now it’s not about how good the product is, but rather what the product says about you.

What we have to do is go back and relearn how to make things with the best care so that quality, longevity and aesthetic are preserved prior to marketing.

Making shoes by hand produces these outcomes because the process is slower, and more methodical, or deliberate. If there is any issue during the making process it can be corrected easily, and better yet caught more easily so that the product doesn’t leave in a flawed condition. Also, employing the hand opens up design and finishing opportunities that a machine can’t implement, which I find more interesting in many cases.

For example, I sand the edges of all standard handmade shoes from 60 grit sandpaper all the way down to 1500 grit sandpaper, which is usually reserved for specialty wood products such as wooden pens, or for sanding stones in order to polish them. This gives my shoes a very elegant and classic look, while also protecting against stains. In order for a factory to do that, they’d have to set up several more work stations with several more machines and employees. Otherwise production would halt to a standstill while they go from 60 to 100 to 150 to 220, and so on until they reach 1500.

It’s also worthy of note that this by-hand approach requires more skilled labor than with machines. Yes, this increases the price of the finished product, but it also increases the amount of engagement in the construction process as well as a stronger sense of pride in it. This sense of “skilled labor,” or craftsmanship is at the heart of my philosophy in making anything. Nothing gets better without it. In fact, most things get worse (2nd law of thermodynamics, y’know?).

 

  1. To create designs that are progressive and interestingly unique, yet seem timeless.

I can’t begin to tell you how many emails I get from people who want wingtips. I understand that people like them. I like them!

The thing about them is, you can get them anywhere. Every shoe company under the sun offers them from $60 to $4000 depending on your own personal budget and convictions.

I spend an ENORMOUS amount of time on design.

I like to believe I’m like Einstein, in some way, who took very complex ideas and theories surrounding matter and the speed of light and organized them into a simple formula: E=mc2

Because of his equation we have all sorts of technologies we couldn’t live without now. The equation was there all along, but also didn’t exist in the world yet. He discovered it through practice and study and renewing his mind.

I know that designing shoes isn’t anything close to discovering that equation. Believe me, I know I’m not changing the world on that kind of scale. Rather, I’m trying to provide value to the world in the way I best know how, designing and making things. I have chosen shoes because one, it is an entirely valid craft that almost no one knows how to do any more even though the entire population requires them. And two, the designs for shoes haven’t changed much in the last 100 years (except for sneakers and high-heels) and I think it’s about time we start rethinking how they are designed.

My designs are simple, yet striking (at least to me). I’ve never seen them before, but they feel classic. They have to be simple so that the making process can be streamlined in order to keep up with production. If I was spending all of my time punching out pretty, floral brogue patterns I would place myself back into the $1500-$2000 price range (due to the enormous amount of added labor) and I would be isolating the emerging group of consumers who, like me, aren’t afraid of spending more on something well made, yet either don’t have the money or don’t see the immediate value in spending $2000 plus.

My designs are intended to reflect a responsible aesthetic, they are simply beautiful. They don’t need anything extra to enhance or crowd their beauty. And they don’t require new technologies in order to sell. The last thing I want, in a world of 6 billion people, are shoes that feel crowded, gimmicky, to high-tech, and like they’re tied down to one specific style of dress.

They are designed to fill the gaps, to be worn with denim, and skirts, but also suits and dresses. My hope is that, if you want them to, my shoes free up your mind from deciding what to wear so often, and your closets from so much clutter.

My designs are intentional, and are intended for intentional living.

 

  1. To make shoes that fit properly for better long-term comfort.

 

I think one of the largest issues with whether a shoe is comfortable or not is the quality of the fit.

 

Factory shoes are cookie-cutter shoes. However, your feet? They are unique and individual snowflakes!

 

Almost no one will get a great fit from factory shoes. I never understood the importance of fit until I was measured for my first pair of custom shoes, which I made myself, in school. From the moment I tied them and stood in them they felt great. I didn’t have to break them in (even though that happened also, and they even became more comfortable).

 

Shoes that truly fit your feet are like that old chair you refuse to throw out because of the way it absorbs you after work. Just sink into it, and wash the day off with a baseball game or a new episode of GOT. That feeling can be found in shoes, and it doesn’t have to take months of breaking them in. Although, even Standard Handmade shoes will feel even better over time.

 

That’s why we measure your feet! Or instruct you to do it yourself (it’s an easy thing). The first step to comfort is fit, not neoprene inserts. Those, you can add later, if needed.  

 

  1. To make shoes that are simple to repair.

 

You know that feeling when your favorite pair of jeans finally disintegrates right in the crotch in such a way that no amount of sewing will fix them? You know it’s coming and you know you’ll have to buy a new pair. You’ve even shopped around, tried on a few – same size and same brand, but they don’t fit quite the same as the old pair.

 

I decided that I didn’t want my shoes to meet that fate. I have carefully chosen every ingredient for its longevity, and, perhaps more importantly, designed them to be easily repaired before they reach the point of no return. In fact I’ve designed them so that they will not need a “full” resole for about 9 years. Then, they can be fully resoled about three times before you have to be really careful about doing it a fourth time. Effectively, these are 27-30 year shoes, if maintained.

 

What has to be done between that 9 year span is simply change out the rubber caps. I do this for a nominal fee compared to $150 for a full resole. Rather than stitching or nailing the rubber caps onto the shoe, I simply glue them. The glue lasts 3+ years in any weather condition. This is about the time the caps would be worn thin from walking and need to be replaced anyway, with some people needing them every two years instead of three.

 

This is another reason the shoes have to be made by hand. In factory shoes the soles are

premade and either can’t be repaired, or must be completely removed in order to be repaired. My process of layering the elements of the soles one by one allows me this freedom.

 

Simple!

 

  1. To sell shoes direct to consumers

 

To be honest with you, if you found my shoes at Nordstrom they would run around the $1200-$1300 price range.

 

Why? Because I sell them to Nordstrom first. Then they either double or triple the price they paid me.

 

Let’s say I sold them 30 shoes at $400 ea ($12,000), they would turn around and sell them for $995. My cost to make them would be somewhere around $200, so I’d only make $6,000 on the $12,000 sell, and put all of the labor into making them. Nordstrom would make $29,850 in revenue after selling them and profit at least $12000 – or double what they paid.

 

Doesn’t seem like the most responsible way to get products to consumers, at least for me. So I offer my products at a rate well below the retail value, pass you the savings, and make a slightly higher margin so that I can have a sustainable business. PLUS – You get the added reassurance that I made them, and specifically for you. Rather than having you sit on a cold bench in a too-brightly lit store while you wait for the salesperson to bring you a couple pairs.

 

I’m not opposed to having my shoes at a retailer – it just has to mean something other than margins. Like “why” a consumer would choose that retailer over another, and why they’d choose my footwear over the other present at that retailer.  

 

The why is important, no matter where you are or what you are doing.

 

If whatever you do, the places you travel, the people you’re with, if it’s not motivated by love, it profits you nothing. 

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