People often talk about how things were better before, and about the many challenges around today for the quality shoe industry (I’m definitely one of them). But if we zoom out a bit, it’s a fact that today is a golden age to be interested in quality shoes, in all price ranges, from €150 Goodyear welted to €4,000 full bespoke, the options and quality-price ratio available is better than in a long, long time.
The first part is perhaps the most obvious one, accessibility. This globalised world with internet not only connecting each others through various types of social media and forums, but also with e-commerce where it’s possible for a lot of people to purchase a lot of brands, with a few clicks or in a “worst case” through a few e-mails. Not even if you lived in a big city like London, Tokyo, Paris, or New York, you had the same options around in terms of quality shoes, before internet and e-commerce. To be able to see photos of “all” the shoes in the world, and then be able to talk directly to the makers or representatives of these brands, and to purchase them, is something unique, if we look at it historically.
It’s also a fact that the number of brands offering quality shoes, in all price ranges and types, are more today than what they have been in many decades. Since perhaps the 60’s or 70’s we’ve seen a decline in the number of brands and makers out there offering welted footwear. This started changing 15-20 years ago and have boomed the past five years with lots of new brands on basically all markets offering both RTW Goodyear welted shoes and handmade MTM or bespoke shoes. The classic British Northampton brands, the old Italian ones and the famous American boot brands all now have competition with lots of manufacturers from Spain and Portugal, a number of Eastern European brands, the overwhelming flood of Japanese RTW and bespoke shoemakers, other Asian brands from China, Vietnam, India and Indonesia, new American workwear boot brands making footwear both domestically and in Mexico, and so on, and so on. And as mentioned above, through internet a shoe brand today are accessible for much more people than ever before.
This, of course, creates a massive competition. This competition is pushing brands to offer something unique that stands out, be it style wise or with better quality for the price, be it with more fit options or through a superior shopping experience. And again, instead of going to the local stores, you can now choose between lots of different brands in the price range and type of shoes you are after, and find the one that suits you and your preferences best.
It’s also very easy to gather knowledge today. Websites like Shoegazing, The Shoe Snob and Stitchdown write relatively informed articles about shoes several times a week, books about shoemaking are uploaded online, you can talk with other shoe interested people and persons running shoe brands or being bespoke shoemakers themselves on forums, and in social media or through email you can ask questions directly to the makers. There’s of course a bunch of misinformation and less knowledgeable people sounding like they know stuff out there, as with all areas today you have to do your research properly and have source criticism, but the information and knowledge is out there more accessible than ever.
Of course, there are things like factories taking dull shortcuts, there are bespoke makers pushing out stuff without the quality control one should expect, there is a struggle to source good quality leathers, and now corona has been a massive blow to demand. It’s not black and white. But in general, it’s definitely excellent times to be into quality shoes. Make sure you support your favourite brands and makers through the difficult times that the corona pandemic has incurred, and hopefully all these options and possibilities to get good shoes will remain for a long time.