Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Market

Greetings once again all you lovely shoe freaks and bespoke junkies from around the world. I am back! Refreshed and energised from a week's holiday in Cyprus. Now, I don't want to make you jealous but we had a week of sun and 30 degree heat - just what the doctor ordered.

Here is a selection of how a happy shoemaker enjoys his happy hols.

I don't know what it was but every cat on the island ( and there were many) seemed to want to fall asleep in my lap. Cute!

Fishy foot spa. This was weird but quite pleasurable. I don't know if it made any difference to my feet though.

Now, while we were walking round the old town of Limassol, we found this shop which sells made to measure shoes. Delighted and intrigued we went in.

The interior was as lovely as the shop front.

I got talking to the owners and it turns out to be 3 generations of shoemakers working on 3 floors - the shop, a workshop above and office space above that. We chatted about shoes and shoemaking; methods; leathers etc. It turns out that they make mostly glued shoes and fit up existing lasts from their archive for each customer. They make the patterns, click and close the uppers and make the shoes all on site - fantastic

The younger son had even been to de Montford University in Leicester to study footwear and had studied under our old friend Bill Bird.

They showed us their workshop which I was very glad to see was the typical controlled chaos of the shoemaker's atelier. I felt totally at home.

So this all seemed wonderful - until we started talking prices. They told me that they charge 180 Euro for a pair of shoes. I was shocked. I felt bad for them, felt that their skill and knowledge was undervalued. I know what it takes to make a pair of shoes - from taking the measures and making them fit to sourcing the leather and making the uppers. I asked them how they made a living and they said it was hard, that they did repairs too, a constant struggle (that, at least I understood).
They told me that people come in with shoes to copy and then decide to buy the Prada shoes up the way for 700 Euro instead. Gutting!

But afterwards I got to thinking. If you are making shoes, you have to charge according to the market you are in. On a relatively small island, this is what the market can stand. People will simply not pay more and that is the reality of the situation. We are very lucky here in London. We can target a wealthy demographic with the money and inclination to buy our shoes at a price which reflects their quality. Prices (and quality) vary widely around the world and if you just think about artisan shoemakers like us or Lydias, we have to make shoes which our customers both want and can afford.

There was some criticism recently on an internet forum of a company which makes shoes in a small factory, using local products where possible for a local market. The shoes are glued, then stitched and shaped when wet so that no lasts are necessary. In my opinion they are hideous but perfectly wearable. The criticism seemed to be that they give the world of shoemaking a bad name and threaten all of us who propose to make artisan hand crafted shoes because they promote themselves as artisan made shoemakers (BTW they don't really promote themselves in this way)

This is a tricky one. People make shoes all round the world for very different client bases and for very different prices. But one thing they have in common is that people wear them and pay for them and part of what we shoemakers do must be driven by our customers.

At the end of the day, I applaud anyone who can make a living at making shoes in a more or less handmade way. Given the price competition from mass produced junk shoes, it is a pretty amazing feat.

But it also goes to show that people only go into shoemaking because they love it and have a passion to make shoes, despite it being a constant struggle. It's one of the things I like about shoemakers I have met - we are passionate

Long live shoemaking!

Until next week, happy shoemaking!