In light of recent events (emails) and the fact that it would appear that some people are confused as to what I am actually doing, I wish to explain a few things about my first experiences with high end shoes and shoemakers. When I first discovered that I wanted to start my own shoe line, as a business minded individual, I decided that I wanted to learn AS MUCH as I could about shoes, from the retail side, to the manufacturing (both hand and machine), and everything else I could possibly absorb, in order to become a shoe designer that had credibility in regards to truly understanding not only his product, but also his customers. That being, with a business degree in Entrepreneurship from a credible university, I consciously decided to remain in retail to start understanding why men bought shoes and to start understanding why large companies purchased this shoe brand over that one. While I would have much rather been doing other things than lacing up other peoples’ shoes for them, I knew that this would be a way to get one step closer to my goals. And it was because of this step that I actually managed to land the next one, which was undertaking an apprenticeship in bespoke shoemaking with legendary shoemaker , Stefano Bemer, of whom this post is in regards to.
I therefore packed up my bags and set off for Italy to start learning the art of true handmade shoemaking. While many of you might think that a lot of my inspiration comes from Corthay, Bestetti, Lobb or Edward Green, it was actually Stefano’s shoes that set the foundation for my taste in shoes, and has been thus progressed by Gaziano & Girling. You see, Stefano Bemer, was very famous in the 80’s and 90’s in Italy, to a point where he was even offered to be purchased by Gucci (of whom he was already consulting for) in order to expand his name and reach. As Stefano is probably one of the only true artists that I know who cares more about leather and shoes than money, he kindly declined the request. Was this a mistake? I don’t know. But I can tell you that because he decided to remain a small artist, many of you have probably never heard of him, or seen the amazing shoes that he actually creates. This is one thing that I actually feel sad about, as I truly believe that his RTW shoes (which are goodyear welted) have the capability to rival all of the greats and possibly even be better than most of them. I don’t say this because I learned under him and therefore feel loyal to him, I say this because it is true. Not only do I have first-hand knowledge of being around them for a long time and handling them but also have owned a pair for 3.5 years that I have worn into the ground without even needing to have a resole (only one re-heel).
Because I truly believed in Stefano and his product, I set off on an adventure the following summer in order to try and get his shoes into the US market. A lofty goal this was, especially since it was summer 2009 which was right at the beginning of our most recent big recession. That being, I took it upon myself to go and sell luxury products to stores that were cutting back on their inventory. Crazy yes, but necessary nonetheless to learn shoe industry lessons and attempt at building the brand of Stefano Bemer. The problem is that he wanted to come in at John Lobb prices and wasn’t willing to budge on that. At first I thought that he was being a bit stubborn, but looking back at it now I feel that he was justified, as his product was worth every penny. But needless to say, without strong brand recognition, selling +$1000 to stores during a recession was not happening. Many store buyers seemed impressed with the shoes, but could simply not justify those prices at that time. I can’t say that I blame them either, but it has led to the fact that Stefano’s shoes still do not sell in America and as sad as this is to say, might not ever. And the downfall to all of this, is the fact that he is a brilliant shoemaker, who shoes are some of the most amazing that I have ever seen and the ones that inspired me and my upcoming collection.
And while the story of Stefano ends there, I will continue on with telling you a bit more about my aspirations and how they have led me up to this point….Upon coming to England, I was in desperate need of work. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue with bespoke shoemaking or to try to use my degree to get into a corporate job and start learning the design side of things with some large shoe company. Needless to say, none of those things happened, and when the going got tough, I managed to find this job at Gieves & Hawkes, shining shoes for others. You can imagine that this was a hard blow to my ego, as I was not sure how this was going to help me get closer to my goals, but let me tell you that this job was the ABSOLUTE BEST THING that could have happened to me, a diamond in the rough. Not only did it allow me to be positioned on the most famous street in the world for men’s tailoring (which no doubt correlates with footwear) to help me network and build my Shoe Snob brand, but also allowed me to cut the bullshit and get on with my number #1 priority: STARTING A RTW SHOE LINE! I could have just stuck with working for others and maybe took over someone else’s shoe line or started my own in 20 years, but I don’t have the patience for that. I would rather give it my all now and fail, then wait 20 years just to be ‘secure.’ So that’s what I did. I just started drawing shoes and had planned to go to MICAM in order to find a factory to make them.
Therefore while many of you think that I should stop shining shoes and go back to ‘shoemaking’ I have to tell you that bespoke shoemaking was never my priority, only a means to an end. It was a way for me to become a shoe company owner who truly understood why his shoes were worth the price. So, I will actually stick with the shoe shining (as I need to pay bills), use that to build my brand awareness (and believe me it does), all while I get this shoe line off of the ground. Obviously, this has been something that I have been talking about for a long time, and because of that some of you may think that I am just putting about and might be ‘lost.’ But in reality the realization of my goals has almost come to fruition, shoe buyers are interested, and like any other start-up company, I have to go make it happen. Nothing comes quick and easy, especially when you are dealing with factories and first collections. So to all of you who doubt me, please continue doing so, because for me it will feel all the better to prove you all wrong. And for those who support me and believe in my goals, I truly thank you. I promise that I will give it my all to not let you down!
And just in case you are tired of the John Lobbs, the Edward Greens or the Berlutis and are looking for a new shoemaker to try out, do me a favor and go to Florence and pick up a pair of Stefano Bemers. I promise that you won’t be disappointed…
To all of those that get direct emails from my blog and therefore do not go to the actual URL, please do check out this link below for my new shoe polishing contest, where you can win prizes.
-Justin, “The Shoe Snob”