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”
15 thoughts on “The Best Shoemaker You’ve Probably Never Heard Of”
Clearly the email from Erik has cut you deeply and understandably you feel hurt. In this latest post you mention “those amongst you who doubt me” but I doubt if there are any who read your blog, and now your CV, who do doubt you. Clearly from all the encouraging responses you got it is obvious we are all behind you. So please keep posting and carry on with your goals.
It’s clear that that evil e-mail hurt you more than you’re willing to admit, and I am truly sorry for you in that respect.
But I know, and I can read it in your posts on this blog that you are more than able and willing to fulfill your dream.
I surely hope you will, and I will certainly keep reading this blog to follow you on your adventures. For it is almost that, reading an adventure like ‘In 80 Days Around The World’ to follow you on your travels to your own RTW shoe brand.
I wish you all the luck, and I hope that one day I’ll be able to buy a pair of real FitzPatricks!
Even though I just discovered your blog I log in each morning. Keep up the excellent job you’re doing here and looking forward in seeing youor shoe brand develop.
Never doubt in your dreams, I quit an extremely well paid corporate job to work in the industry of my dreams, it took me 10 years but now when I go to work…well I don’t consider it to be work :-)And hey Daniel Day Lewis quit acting for some time to learn shoe making with Bremer!!!
I love your blog! Keep up the good work!
Snapper – Hurt…no…bothered…yes! To be honest, this isn’t the first time that I have come across animosity, i get it on StyleForum every now and then, which really doesn’t bother me, but I just felt that I needed to clear the air and make sure everyone knows what I am really doing. But yes, you are right that it seems that many of you are behind me and that gave me great pleasure and continues to give me the courage to carry on when I do come across times of adversity. Thanks for always be a loyal reader Snapper.
Paul van der Hart – I appreciate the kind words Paul. In no way will i ever give up so you don’t have to worry about that, and I too hope that one day you will be able to adorn a pair of my shoes…
AlexG – Thanks for the support Alex, very happy to hear how much you enjoy the blog! Also glad to hear that you went for your dreams instead of the easy route. Happier to hear that it paid off for you!
Sofie – Thank you! I will…
The aesthetic of your own designed shoes is frankly unstylish and horrible. Which is odd when you have such a good eye for other brands creations? Design is perhaps not your forte. I believe however that you would make an excellent luxury level shoe buyer either for an existing retailer or your own store. Consider it maybe?
The author of “that e-mail” is clearly an ****hole (English spelling).
Live your dream Justin, you are a very fine young man.
These shoes are awesome. Thanks Justin for sharing !
Keep it up !
ps : do you know the average price of a pair ?
For those of us who love and appreciate beautifully designed quality shoes, you’re doing a great job. I cannot wait to see your complete line in the market place.
Thank you for the inspiring story
Biffa – no matter how many different aliases you use and say this exact same thing all over my blog, it will never affect me. Do you really think that I would just stop designing because you don’t like them? Please….don’t flatter yourself! And stop writing the same thing in different names, I am not daft
Anon – Thank you for the kind words, I appreciate that…
Paul – I believe that his shoes are somewhere in the 900 Euro price range
Ike – I appreciate that Ike, and for all of your loyalty as a reader
Mystical – No worries sir, glad that you enjoyed it!
Please, do keep doing your job, and simply forget this guy. As you well know, there are lots of shoe lovers out there who enjoy reading your posts, who really rely on your inside knowledge of the shoemaking craft, and who are happy that at long last there is someone in London who share their concern and interest, and who is ready to take up the new challenges this craftmanship is facing up today.
Right now, I am not cognizant of a single blog in the entire world dedicated to men’s shoes that displays the kind of information available on this blog!
And to be frank,you are absolutely right for having chosen to evolve through this blog, and to pave your way within your readership, despite your background.
Please, stick to your goal!
John – Thanks for all of your kind words John, I do appreciate them. Don’t worry, I won’t ever quit….failure is not an option
Thanks for this post but you shouldnt feel you need to justify what you are doing to anyone. Sure dont be close minded and listen to advices but only if those who are worth listening to. You will find Suddenly Everyone’s an “export” at shoe making and will try and give you some sort of life changing advice.
Keep doing what you are doing. One thing for sure is not to get lazy as nothing happens when you do nothing, an easy trap to fall in to when working on your own project.
Just for the record i thought landing the shoe shine job was one of the beat things that could have happend to you. Rewards that comes with a job like this regular people would not understand.
Jim – I thank you for your kind words. You are right, I should not feel that I have to justify myself. Sometimes I do let my ego get the best of me and thus put myself on the same level as those criticizing me. I will never get lazy though, as I can’t live happily without the feeling of progression. It drives me crazy. The shine job was truly like a piece of gold covered in copper. The amount of exposure and networking that I have done has been phenomenal! Thanks for reading, for commenting and your support!