Shoes come in many different designs and price points, and surely you’ve wondered how a given price is assigned to a pair of shoes you’ve been making eyes at.
Several components make a pair of shoes more or less expensive, but the most significant ones are the materials used and the finishings. Shoes increase in price based on materials and some of the labor that’s required to finish some of those materials.
Read on for more insight into the parts and production processes that make a shoe expensive.
A breakdown of materials: suede, leather and exotic skins chief among them
The material with which a shoe is made plays a major role in the overall cost of the shoe.
Generally speaking, high-quality European skins elevate the look and feel of shoes. But because they are high-quality, they raise the price of a pair of shoes as well. Luxury brands like BerlutiⓇ use a mix of materials suede, calf leather and alligator leather for their dress shoe and sneaker offerings alike; and such refined materials are handled with care by knowledgeable craftsmen, but more on that later.
Suede is $5 to $7 per square foot—a relatively cost-effective material compared to leather or exotic skins, which can run for upwards of $15. And on the latter material, there’s no cap to what it can cost, but here are some products and figures to give you some perspective: A designer can make a pair of ballet slippers in leather for roughly $800, and another pair in alligator leather for upwards of $10,000. The same has been true for Hermès, which prices its leather Birkin bags at $15,000 and ones in alligator leather at $60,000 to $100,000 (with collectors’ pieces running upwards of $200,000, according to Christie’s.)
Though, beyond that, the extravagance of these pieces is rooted in how gracefully and, I’ll be so bold to say, flawlessly the brand executes their designs, from their constructions to stitching to finishes. I can’t stress that enough!
A breakdown of finishings: oil, hand-dying and hand-painting
Finishes like oil, hand-dying or hand-painting, and the labor they demand, also factor into the cost of a shoe. The most luxurious shoes and boots are made with excellent craftsmanship and attention to detail executed over days and weeks, rather than in a matter of minutes, as is the case for off-the-rack shoes. That’s simply what they demand, based on the materials used.
More specifically, for an oiled suede, the finishing process takes about 30 minutes, but for something like a cloud effect, it takes hours upon hours to add and remove color. Plus, the artisans have to let the shoes dry in between. It’s not a quick process, to be sure.
In terms of basic costs, it’s $20 to $25 an hour to color a shoe, and if it takes four to six hours, then we’re left with $100 to $150 of labor to finish that shoe. Thus, the time and care spent on each pair of shoes, particularly concerning the materials and labor to finish them, is generally what makes a pair of shoes expensive.
A breakdown of soling: Blake, Goodyear and hand welt
The way makers sole shoes also factors into the pricing, to the extent that, apart from the materials and finishes used, it is the most expensive part of a shoe. Some brands use a Blake construction, a.k.a. a California construction, for which shoemakers stitch the outer sole to the midsole. Others use a Goodyear or handwelt, which requires highly specialized machinery or someone to complete it exclusively by hand—the last of which adds the most cost because of the time and labor required.
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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.