One of the most interesting new brands that’s been introduced lately is Acme Shoemaker. Based in Beijing, they are a serious contender to making the finest RTW shoes in the world, and also offer MTO, MTM and full bespoke, all at very competitive prices. Here’s a substantial buyer’s guide to the brand, with an MTM order I’ve done as base.
A number of intriguing brands, especially in the domain of hand welted more premium shoes, have emerged from China the last few years. There’s a number of reasons for it, one being the growing interest for quality shoes in the country, another being the fact that when many larger factories have moved to even cheaper labour countries like Laos and Vietnam, workers staying in China set up their own brands and thanks to the possibilities with internet and social media they gain traction and acquire a solid customer base (more on this in this episode of the Shoegazing Podcast). The quality-price ratio is in general excellent, and they are good with both last and model design. This spring, images from an unknown Chinese brand called Acme Shoemaker was starting to circle in social media and in forums, with shoes that looked seriously amazing. After a while more and more became known, and today the brand is fully launched, only lacking it’s own webshop. In this article, you’ll get to know everything about Acme Shoemaker.
Acme is an ambitious project, with serious investments behind it, and supported by the founders of the famous shoe stores Medallion Shoes. The brand has been under development for almost two years, run by Oliver Tang. He was formerly a partner of another quite famous Chinese maker, Xibao, and has a lot of knowledge both on shoe business and manufacturing and design. A new workshop was set up in Beijing, with 15 people now employed, many of them with decades of knowledge with making shoes by hand. A number of lasts and models have been developed, and they’ve spent €80,000 on sourcing leathers from tanneries around the world, from among others Weinheimer, Annonay, Du Puy, Charles. F. Stead, Haas, Zonta, and alligator and crocodile from HCP and Cordovan from Horween. They offer RTW, MTO, MTM and full bespoke, all made to the same high standards, which especially for RTW stands out. When there’s shoes made to actual bespoke standards, with also hand stitched sole seams etc, it’s normally only found as MTO and up. We talk about shoes made to basically the highest standards possible, available to buy off the shelf, offered from €1,100.
My initial impressions of Acme was that they looked like very well-made shoes, but that they lacked a bit of an own identity, maybe partly since a couple of the first models I saw from them was more or less copies of shoes by Stephane Jimenez and Catella Shoemaker. Likely wished for by their customers (since they only did bespoke and special orders at that time), and as time has passed and more and more models have appeared, including their own lasts and RTW and MTO models, more of an Acme ID have come into sight. I would describe it as having its base in the French design, with slightly elongated lasts and a fuller back body, not as delicate heavily tapered heels as otherwise popular among Chinese brands, and with the same low toe spring and downwards sweeping lines over the entire shoe as common to see on French makers shoes. Also the Japanese bespoke maker Ann has a similar style when it comes to shape and making, while Acme has much more modern patterns and colours though. I can now usually clearly see when it’s an Acme shoe I’m looking at, which is a good sign. Maybe not everyone’s style, but I appreciate it a lot.
Already today Acme is making around 70 pairs per month, and have so many orders of MTO, MTM and bespoke that they have a hard time to keep up with building RTW stock for themselves and Medallion. Plan is to expand staff a bit more next year, challenge here is to find enough skilled people. There’s interest from various retailers around the world to start selling the brand, as it is now they don’t have capacity to accommodate that, but they hope to be able to in the future.
Offerings and prices
So, the four versions of offerings from Acme Shoemaker are listed below. All includes lasted shoe trees.
– Ready to Wear, RTW, from €1,100 (1,280 USD). When the RTW range was launched a few months ago, five models were part of it: a black punched cap toe balmoral oxford, a dark brown adelaide, a black patina split toe derby, a light brown quarter brogue, and a dark brown full brogue. This autumn two more models have been added, a black wingtip without medallion, and the same type of dark brown lazyman that I have ordered. They also have a separate range of soft and light quarter lined loafers with a cemented construction, that cost €530 ($570).
– Made to Order, MTO, from €1,250 (1,450 USD), basically a 10% upcharge. Here a lot of options are available apart from the RTW models, best at the moment (until their website is launched) is to look at Acme’s Instagram page to see various options of models, lasts and leathers. Since they offer patina, you can also send in pictures or similar to acquire a special patina. Delivery time for MTO is 6-8 weeks.
– Made to Measure, MTM. Here it’s a bit special, since price depends fully on how large the changes to the lasts are. If there’s only minor adjustments, like raising the instep, add at the inner ball or similar, there’s no upcharge at all compared to MTO. If there’s larger changes price for this will vary depending on how much work that is required, and for example if they need to modify a last permanently, etc. This can be done remote, by sending measurements, but as always it’s recommended to be measured in person. Test shoes are not included as standard, but you can pay to have test shoes made if you wish. Delivery time for MTM is about 8 weeks (depending on how extensive last modifications are).
– Bespoke, starting at €2,000 (2,350 USD). A traditional full bespoke service, where normally one fitting is done with test shoes. Endless possibilities to make the shoe one wish, also access to various alligator leather and other exotics. Requires at least two meetings with Acme’s lastmaker, one for taking measurements and going through the details of the order, and one for the fitting. Delivery time for bespoke is, depending on how quick fitting can take place and how this goes, about 8-10 weeks (of course if second fitting is needed delivery time will be longer).
For international customers the shipping cost vary depending on country of destination, to know exact shipping cost for your country contact Acme at email@example.com. Potential customs and other taxes vary depending on where you are based. As all serious businesses, Acme will write out the actual price on the customs declaration.
The lasts available are the following:
At the moment, Acme is only sold directly through them, or through the Medallion Shoes, with stores in Beijing and Shanghai. None of them have Acme´s shoes available to purchase in a webstore yet though, so if one doesn’t have the possibility to visit one of Medallion’s stores, you order via e-mail, at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s what I did.
Since my feet are like they are, quite complicated in many regards (wide but with short toes, slight hallux valgus, etc.), standard lasts were out of the question, and while I had plans to perhaps visit China to get measured and place and order there, the coronavirus situation made that very difficult. Instead of waiting, we decided to take the chance on a remote Made to Measure version, where I sent my measurements, outlines, pics of feet etc. with a bunch of info on how other common brands fit me.
The model I ordered was a lazyman oxford in a dark brown patina, with the soft square last N83 as base. It was a model I had seen on their Instagram, when made as MTO for an earlier customer. As mentioned above, they have added it to their RTW offerings now, in that same make-up. My order had full black soles with bevelled waist, I did however forget to add sunken metal toe taps, but that can of course be added. My order was placed end of June, and shipped middle of September, so about 10 weeks production time, and then this was MTM with bigger changes on last and with patina. The communication with Oliver Tang of Acme have been very smooth all along, and his English is excellent, so easy to understand each other.
Unfortunately I have no pictures of the making process of my pair, but if one are interested in seeing in detail how a shoe by Acme is made, I very much recommend this 13 minutes long video found on Bilibili (sort of a Chinese Youtube) following the making step by step. It’s in Chinese, but the shots from the making speaks for itself.
(The embedding seem to work much better on mobile, on some desktop browsers you only get a small screen and can’t enlarge it. If so, click the link above to view it on Bilibili.)
The film really shows that there are almost no shortcuts taken at all, this is shoes made the way fully handmade, hand welted shoes “should be done”. We see the very thick insoles, the prepping of the real leather heel and toe stiffeners, the layer by layer build-up of the heels, the both fudged and stitch pricked sole stitches, and so on. One could perhaps argue that cork plates would be preferred over cork paste as bottom filling, and that the nails used when building the heels aren’t of the ideal type, etc., but most of those things are down to different schools of shoemaking. And again, all welted Acme shoes are made the same way, from RTW to bespoke. The cemented light loafers they do are also fully handmade with the same materials, so it’s not really comparable to factory-made cemented shoes.
The shoes are delivered in a nice, sturdy cardboard box with fabric lining, with two tweed fabric shoe bags. The lasted shoe trees varnished in a purple colour, are hinged and with a relatively hollowed out front part. The shoes are delivered very well-polished, with a nice spit shine, the photos are all taken as they came straight out of the box.
The fit was obviously what I was most concerned about, given that it was all done remote. A bit of a gamble. Luckily, things turned out well. Much better than expected, to be honest. The areas that I usually have problems with, the bunions at the ball of the foot have been accommodated accordingly, and the toes have good space if the shoes look quite sleek. This is thanks to the slightly elongated last shape, although perhaps it is a tad too long, looking at my personal preferences. I will likely have it shorted a couple of millimeters and have the toe tip being slightly wider on my next pair. Other things that can be improved is that the instep is a bit too high, which of course a lazyman oxford without lacing is much more sensitive for, but this is easily solved with leather tongue pads, and the arch is a bit too built up in the back part. This last thing is clearly a miss done due to the remote process, when meeting the lastmaker and when they can have footprints taken etc, it’s much easier to keep track on the arch shape. But overall I’m very happy with how the fit turned out even if it was made over distance. And even if the toe spring is relatively low, they are comfortable to walk in.
Now, these are modified lasts, so I can’t speak too much on how the regular lasts fit. But the info given from Acme, and which I’ve also heard from others who have ordered their shoes, is that they are fairly standard in fit, with a normal instep and normal width, and with more toe space than what the appearance might indicate. The arch support is also excellent, with heel stiffeners going forward all the way to the middle of the waist. The various lasts are supposed to be quite similar in fit, it’s mainly the toe shape that differs.
The upper leather seem to be of excellent quality, although of course more will be shown here as time pass. This is one place where I know Acme is aiming to really be on top, hence the €80k initial investment in materials, and they are to only use premium hides that they cut 1-3 shoes from in general. The leather used for my pair is from the French tannery Annonay, and then painted in a well-made quite subtle dark brown patina. Acme use fine Italian vegetable tanned outsoles, insoles and stiffeners. They look at maybe sourcing Baker outsoles later on, which would be another slight step up.
The making is honestly quite spectacular for shoes at this price. Close cut heels with very nicely levelled stacks, very tightly cut blind welted bevelled waist, 12 spi (stitches per inch) handmade sole stitch, neat notch between waist and heel edge, and so on. Where they lack a little bit is in the level of finishing, for example the transition where the welt is covered by the sole towards the blind welted waist isn’t perfectly executed in some cases, the top edge of the heels are slightly uneven, and small things like that. I know Acme is working a lot on continuing improvement, they are very open with the fact that they are a young brand who have areas to improve, something I appreciate a lot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if shoes from the brand will look even nicer in a year or two. And note, this is when I compare to the finest executed bespoke shoes in the world, which I know is who Acme wants to be compared to.
And that’s the thing, it’s really with those that Acme Shoemaker should be compared. Considering the price that they are offered with, it’s very impressive. In terms of RTW, Acme is definitely a contender to being the best in the world, and this at the price of €1,100, which is lower than all its competitors. Yohei Fukuda’s RTW is obviously very well-made with incredible finishing also on RTW, but they have machine stitched outsoles. Saint Crispin’s also have machine stitched outsoles, and they are much simpler made in many regards with welt finishing, pegged waists etc. The British premium brands – Gaziano & Girling, Edward Green and John Lobb Paris and Foster & Son’s top ranges – are how well-made they ever will be still factory-made shoes, with thinner insoles, machine-made welt and sole stitches, celastic toe stiffeners etc. and all that comes with that. Only one that I know of to fully rival, on specs at least, is Stefano Bemer’s Tradizione Collection, which cost 2/3 as much though.
When you look at MTO shoes, there’s more options available that offer something similar to Acme, although also here the fully handmade shoes with the same advanced construction isn’t that common. Main alternatives are bespoke shoemakers that also can do MTO to the same standard as their bespoke, like the fellow Chinese maker Yim Shoemaker, Japanese bespoke shoemakers like Hiro Yanagimachi, Kiyo, Seiji McCarthy etc., or Italian Antonio Meccariello with his Aurum offering. In terms of pricing it’s only Yim that’s on the same low level though.
Also for bespoke the price level is good, though not as unique. There’s of course cheaper bespoke out there, like Jan Kielman, Maftei and so on but in general they are simpler made shoes.
With Acme Shoemaker the Chinese shoe scene takes another step out in the sun, with shoes made to the absolute highest level. This might be the best RTW shoes available, and this at an excellent price point, and also when it comes to MTO, MTM and bespoke they are a brand to seriously consider if you are after something special.