In a footwear market full of variety in terms of style and quality, brands are vying for consumers’ attention. Board members, creative directors and others under the brands in question get together to determine what their bases will want and need from footwear in the seasons to come.
Some brands base their business model and product on what they can produce the fastest, to keep up with the ever-changing trends. But what they fail to consider is the value of a well-made pair of shoes and the desire amongst consumers for sustainable footwear. The way I, and some other small brands like mine, have delivered high-quality products is by employing handmade methods.
In short, the best handmade shoes and boots are made with excellent craftsmanship and attention to detail executed over days and weeks, rather than in a matter of minutes, which is the case for off-the-rack shoes. For more about what makes a pair of handmade shoes worth it, i.e., worth the wait and price, read on.
These shoes are made with high-quality leather, fabric or synthetic material
As with any type of footwear, apparel or accessory, materials used factor into the quality of the product in question. European skins elevate the look and feel of leather shoes, and any decent shoemaker will use them because of the value they add. (BerlutiⓇ uses materials like calf and alligator leather for its dress shoe and sneaker offerings alike, and such refined materials are handled with care by knowledgeable craftsmen.) Some designers avoid using animal-based materials and instead work with synthetic materials. These are more than acceptable, depending on their source. (Such options are not always biodegradable; oftentimes, they’re plastic.)
In terms of how and where the materials are allocated, not many companies use a leather sole, which maximizes comfort, because leather adapts to the way you walk and therefore breaks in quickly and effectively. Other companies use less refined materials that sacrifice comfort and quality in the process—they may use insoles made of sponge or cardboard, which either lose rebound after a while or never break in. In these cases, shoemakers often glue the insoles to the shoe structures, rather than sew them, which makes them more prone to deterioration.
In the handmade process, leathers may be treated with dyes to achieve a unique finish, sewn together to create a structure and massaged onto a last (or a mold of a human foot).
They involve much thought, creativity and attention to detail
Leather goods that take time to make are generally considered luxuries, and it’s important to remember that true handmade footwear, no matter if it’s bespoke, made-to-order or already stocked, is made by skilled shoemakers from start to finish.
The handmade shoe-making process takes time because it is, well, made by hand rather than automated machinery. There are countless steps the cobblers must follow to complete your handmade shoes, but the process ensures that no element of your shoes has been mass-produced or will be exactly the same as any other pair crafted by the same designer, particularly if your shoes are custom-made (a.k.a. made-to-order). And depending on the complexity of the shoe design in question, their work could take days to weeks.
The artisans assigned to your shoes precisely cut and trim the leather or fabric, gingerly sew them together, mount the materials onto the shoe mold with care and stain the leather to your liking. If your shoe style has perforations, they hand punch the holes. They’re working on the shoes every step of the way and therefore being mindful of the quality and workmanship of the item they’re creating.
Employing such intricate steps comes at a greater cost to the brand, but many makers accept this because of the value provides to their clients. It’s far more expensive to employ a craftsman than it is to buy and utilize a machine for production, but when products are made by skilled shoemakers through and through, there is an assurance of exceptional quality and unique details.
They last a long time
Anything that’s considered great quality should last a long time. Famed designers like Berluti, Salvatore FerragamoⓇ and John LobbⓇ use a Goodyear welt—a layer of material sewn to the bottom of the shoe separating the insole and the upper from the outsole, which allows for shoe resoling. The welt can be unstitched to detach the sole without causing damage; once that’s done, a new sole can be added to extend the life of your shoes.
And they’re as unique as the wearers
The best handmade shoes are perfectly imperfect. Of course, they’re crafted with perfection in mind, but what the artisans will achieve is only the kind of perfection that is manmade, not machine-made.
Your own taste and preferences play a role in what you might expect from a pair of handmade shoes, which is great because a lot of handmade shoe brands offer made-to-order services. MargauxⓇ welcomes its clients to design its Demi style with hand-painted details. Meanwhile, cult sneaker brand Golden GooseⓇ , which bills traditional shoe-making techniques as the means behind its unique aesthetic, encourages clients to customize their footwear using charms, crystals, studs and handwritten messages.
Perhaps the best news is that anything you like is pretty easily obtained, once you’ve nailed down what you’re looking for aesthetically, what feels good to walk in and what you’re willing to spend (handmade shoe pricing ranges from roughly $100 to $4,000). But when it’s all said and done, the best pair of handmade shoes will be a closet essential to you—one that you can enjoy for many events from both a style and a comfort perspective. And that’s so worth it, wouldn’t you say?
Ready to purchase a pair of handmade shoes?
With over 20 years in the fashion industry, Esquivel Shoes takes pride in being a valuable resource for shoppers. To learn more about our own handmade shoe collection or any other products we offer, send us a message through this link. We’re here to give you peace of mind and help you find the best handcrafted shoes for you.
George is a Southern California-based designer and craftsman who designed his first pair of shoes in 1994 and began honing his craft thereafter. For over 20 years, he’s operated his namesake brand, Esquivel, which specializes in handmade shoes and accessories. In the last decade, George served as Creative Director of renowned luxury bag and luggage brand Tumi Inc. and as Creative Consultant for Italian heritage brand Fratelli Rossetti, and has collaborated with many others for his own brand. George was a 2009 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, and has been a CFDA member since 2010. When he’s not working alongside his team of artisans at his atelier, Esquivel House, in Downtown Los Angeles, George is enjoying time with his wife and high school sweetheart, Shelley, and their three grown children. He also loves mountain biking and hosting good friends for dinners and fêtes.