Mybuster – Gemming is Bad Part 2 (plus some shoe porn!)

Anthony Delos

So, as many of you man have seen yesterday, I wrote an article about this notion that gemming in the RTW footwear industry is not something that is to really be frowned upon in the modern day. With that I received a comment from a reader that I wish to share and respond to so that you can all see my response and think about it:

“I was under the impression that Vass sells his cheapest handsewn RTW shoes for 390 ( So, with all due respect, maybe there is a way to produce decent shoes and sell them with decent prices”
Statements like this just bother me (the train of thought in general, not because I am angry with the poster), as it not only shows that my post was not really read word for word, but even more so that even though the statement appears to be genuine (and not undermining), I still feel that common sense was not entirely used when making it. If it had been, then it would have been clear that certain makers can charge certain prices but others can’t, and let me explain why.
First let me show how this statement could then be taken one step further and say that shoes in China can be made completely by hand (assuming good leathers used) and retail for probably 1/3-1/2 of what Vass sells for. So by this rationale of trying to tell me that if Vass does it for such and such price, which makes it therefore possible (which I already know) to make non-gemmed shoes then even better is the fact that it can be done even cheaper. So why are there any expensive shoes in this world when some makers can do it for dirt prices? Well, as one should know wages are not the same in all countries around the world, not even close!!! Why do you think that you can go to Thailand and have a feast for 4 people for 20 but then barely get a meal for one at a mediocre restaurant in London???? Come on people, turn your brains on. Quit being brainwashed to think that just because someone has created a business model that allows them to make a cheaper shoe (OBVIOUSLY BECAUSE THEY HAVE FOUND CHEAPER LABOR), that the rest of shoe industry should be that way too. It’s just stupid and it makes me frustrated as I believe that many of these people who have these inflated expectations would gawk at the idea of being paid less than 10/hr but then happily expect their shoes to be of the utmost quality but for less than 250.
Bespoke Japanese maker – don’t know name, courtesy of Style Forum
So, to go back to that idea of VASS charging 390 for a handmade product means that his workers are being paid dirt cheap money. Let’s break it down. So to make a successful business one must at least double his money. Assuming that sales tax is built into the price (which I presume it is), that means that VASS net income from a shoe sale is 312 (as Hungarian VAT is 25%). Okay, now let’s assume the cost to make the shoe is half of that, being 156. Now let’s assume that out of that, the materials (as VASS uses high quality leather) costs around 56, leaving the cost of “making” to 100. Now just to give you an idea, the average time it takes to make a shoe (that is the one who takes the upper and the last and attaches them together, not to mention the cutting, clicking and closing, which are usually done by several others) takes between 20-40 hrs depending on the skills of the makers. So assuming 40 hrs, that means the makers is making 2.5/hr, or if he is really fast, then he is making 5/hr (which is still double to triple the minimum wage of Hungary….). Now that is still assuming that they are just paying for his work and not the others….So, as you can see, if you are making handmade shoes, and charging those prices, you need workers who will work for very cheap labor. This is not a jab, but simply a fact. And that is not going to happen in the UK nor the US, where these makers who are using “Gemming” are in question.
JM Weston
So please people, think about what you say before you say it and thus try to make a point. There are certain makers who can get away with not gemming their shoes and make them handmade because their labor costs are miniscule. You can not expect the entire world to be like that, and thus start complaining that other makers, who do use methods that allow for your shoes to be the price that they are, are thus overcharging you. Get your expectations in order or stop buying anything BUT handmade shoes!!!

And just in case this is not clear, this post is not a jab at VASS nor his practices in any which way or form. I have nothing but respect for VASS (the man) as well as his shoes. He just happened to get used by the poster. Luckily for him, however, he is able to make shoes at the price that he does, but this is not the same all around the world and comparing shoes from one country with minimum wage of 1.3 to another that is 7.5 is comparing apples and oranges when one can be made by hand at the same price that the other is made by machine…..which is what this is all about!

30 thoughts on “Mybuster – Gemming is Bad Part 2 (plus some shoe porn!)”

  1. “It’s just stupid and it makes me frustrated as I believe that many of these people who have these inflated expectations would gawk at the idea of being paid less than 10/hr but then happily expect their shoes to be of the utmost quality but for less than 250.”

    I support the above statement.
    Anyone buying products made by slave/underpaid-labor or children should be ashamed of themselves.

  2. I am completely consent to you. I make both methods and evidently the price cannot be the same. I think that today it is is not a great problem, every time and thanks to blogs like yours the client knows more deeply the technologies, there is more conscience and interest for the life and the work that exists after the shoes. Not only the price is important, great more they it are the peopel.


  3. Always a pleasure to read your posts on a daily basis. I never thought the world of shoes could be so fascinating. I think I can know describe myself as a shoeholic (!). Out of subject but still related : Do you listen to music while polishing shoes? I’m trying to find the perfect fit while doing it…

  4. I think the essential problem here actually resides in the consideration of why it is that, in the broader economic logic of shoe retail/manufacture, we are in a position where there is a 3 to 5 hundred pound gulf seperating goodyear and hand-welted shoes. I may have misread him here, but I garner that the point made (I’m thinking of one user in particular here) over at styleforum is more related to the consideration of precisely to whose practicality gemming was initially of benefit – thus, tangentially, if we set aside our own opinions as to the relative merits of one or the other for a moment, it becomes apparent that the discussion belongs more to economic than to aesthetic discourse. I.e. was it always a compromise made in the interest of cost alone, or is this merely what we tell ourselves (that there is quantifiable 500 difference between the two methods) now that we essentially have no alternative choices to make. But for the interference of this kind of complacent consumerist reasoning, could our economies not potentially have sustained a more independent, craftsmanlike tradition comprised of shoes made at a cost somewhere between those two figures? Has the industrialization of shoemaking eroded the consumers ability to perceive value as distinct from cost, to make informed decisions as to how much a shoe ought to cost, to the degree that the potential for a truly competitive marketplace, in which a hand-welted maker has as great of a chance as a factory maker of finding demand for their shoes – and thereafter, of the possibility for demand to drive the price of hand-welted down – been all but eradicated by the acceptance of industrial standards like gemming which (practical or not!) are really only readily put into practice by those who already have sufficient capital to get such a venture off of the ground?

    1. your writing is far too advanced for me, as I am quite simple, so the definitive point that you were making was quite unclear to me, but it seemed that you were saying that as we were all not there when they introduced “Gemming”, it does not allow us to know whether or not it was created as a way to help or rather rip off the consumer….I reckon is was a bit of both. It kept costs down to the manufacturer, but also kept costs lower to the consumer, as materials were probably going up in price (as labor might have been too)…. But I am confused by the 300-500 difference that you reference and if you can give makers that you are thinking of when saying this?

    2. It’s not that it’s too advanced, I could’ve stood to have articulated it more clearly. I agree with you as to our shared inability to speak of the historical circumstances which informed the decision to move to gemming, I wouldn’t even want to imply that it was definitely used in an attempt to rip off the customer. I was just speculating as to what sort of an impact the innovation (and also more broadly, the industrialisation of manufacture) might have had on a trade like shoemaking, which I’m presuming used to be practiced more independently than it seems to be now.

      As for the 300 – 500 gulf, whilst I am aware that Vass and Meermin are exceptions to this, I was generalising as to the premium which people expect to pay when moving from a goodyear to a hand-welted shoe (from makers like EG, Lobb) in order to ask some of the same questions which you have in fact answered in your comments. For instance, what additional expenditure would the extra labour involved actually equate to? We’re both aware that more labour is involved in hand-welting, but as to precisely how much more or less labour there could potentially be in the hands of trained labourers I’m uncertain.

      Thanks for taking the time to respond, btw. Best of luck with the shoe line.

  5. Justin,

    Solid points on business fundamentals. To add to the point on overall production costs you make, the calculations exclude recovery for any overhead costs (rent, advertising, administrative costs and any capital investments in machinery, etc.), which need to be recovered as well lest a venture run sub-optimally or go bankrupt. The only ways to make one price cheaper compared to another are 1) lower cost base (either cheaper labor and/or materials, higher volumes, and so forth) or 2) sacrifice profits/margin. Interesting posts!

    Andrew P.

  6. What is important to note is that the indicated price above is like a factory outlet (almost wholesale) price. It doesn’t include any kind of distribution margin and it is a bit of a mistery how they are supposed to make that work even in their own shop. Any other retailer could not possibly begin to operate at these prices. Other makers who produce a very similar shoe in the same city but who are distributed more professionally have quite rightly higher prices. Vass shoes are objectively worth far more than the price at which some people are able to buy them. Their prices must be a remnant of times when their shoes were only sold very locally.

    While other reputable makers have increased their prices on account of higher raw material prices, Vass have remained constant for many years even though they too must have higher purchasing prices for their leathers etc. Where their resistance to adjust prices to a realistic level comes from is a mystery to me.

    In essence, though, the original commentor was comparing apples and pears: factory outlet prices in a low-wage country on the one side, normal and justified retail prices (even in the same country) on the other side.

    And just as an add on about distribution costs: these are of course a perfectly legitimate part of the product cost because if they weren’t there, nobody apart from friends of the producer would even know about the product, let alone be able to buy the product anywhere.

  7. The problem is that most people subscribe to neo-liberal economics without truly understanding them. That leads them to believe that products should be automatically produced at the lowest possible cost so that the consumer can buy them at the lowest possible cost including a minimal profit. Yet, at the same time, they must be paid the absolute highest possible wage, because, after all, they are unique and more valuable than everyone else and their profession is worth something special. But, if that leads to a lower shared standard of living because good manufacturing jobs, etc have left their home economy, the government should insulate them and protect them from those disenfranchised from the poor economy which is shedding jobs to the low wage economies. It’s silly.

    A rising tide lifts all boats. Paying a living wage for the producer of a product helps grow the economy because more marginal dollars are spent at the bottom than the top and receiving a fair wage to produce a product creates pride in work.

    That said, I must take issue with something your wrote yesterday, “Wages are higher than they have ever been. People are also more lazier than they were before. Pride in one’s product was more important then, getting your paycheck is more important now. Work ethic/quality is not the same. It’s more about profits and turn around.” Real wages in the US have actually be dropping and/or flat for nearly 40 years. I would suspect the same is true in the UK. Wages were probably highest shortly after WWII before women were in the workforce and imports (internationalization) were significantly lower. Both have increased the supply of labor greatly, reducing wages. Moreover, the systemic dismantling of the trade union movement in the US has greatly reduced wages for journey level tradesmen. While I agree that there are fewer who go into manufacturing and mechanical construction trades with the idea that they are a career, I do not believe that work ethic is not as good. The New Yorker published an article a few years ago about how each generation believes the next and especially two later are lazier, not as prideful as they were. It started with a lament, which turned out to be written in the pre-WWI era and appeared to be a modern lament. Companies put profits first over quality and that is a corner cutting mentality that shouldn’t be attributed to the workers who are only doing what they are asked to do.

    1. very well said, I agree too. As per my wage remark, I do believe that minimum wage has been rising, which this subject hits closer to home. I remember in Seattle when it was like $5, but now it is something like $8. Whether or not that raise has been at the same level as inflation, is not something that I can prove….maybe you are right in this regard, but as for the pride thing, well I don’t agree. I know for sure that in this country, to work at a factory 20-40 was actually something to be proud of. I know that this is not the same today…I am sure that many Britons can attest to that as well… And pride affects work ethic. When you take pride in your end product that bares the name of your country (and “Made In”) which you are proud to live in a be from that makes you work that much harder to make sure that it’s quality matches the reputation…. Unfortunately in many places I don’t feel this level of pride is as it was before in the industrialization industry….

  8. Quite right, Justin. Didn’t I say this more succinctly in answer to your previous post? :p Just another point that’s specific to the Vass example, and also applies to another hand-welted StyleForum darling – Meermin. Both of those makers also retail direct to the public, so there’s no issue of trying to make a margin as a wholesaler: a subject close to your heart, no doubt!

  9. “So please people, think about what you say before you say it and thus try to make a point.” Good advice that you should take as freely as you give it. I’m not at all sure that Mr. Vass appreciates your very detailed speculation regarding his pricing structure, or your assertion that his workers are being paid “dirt cheap money”. This is particularly odious coming from a competitor, IMO. I can well understand that those who offer shoes of similar (or less) quality for double or triple the price of a Vass pair very much have a vested interest in casting his product and his methods in a negative light, but as I can indeed think for myself, I take such comments with several grains of salt.

    1. You must not read my blog a lot, as you would know that I have never done anything but praise Vass and his shoes. Not only have I met him, found him to be a lovely person and then did a post about it but I find his shoes to be among the best. That does not change the fact that his workers must not be paid much (quite dirt cheap in reality), and seeing that is simple economics. Anybody could figure it out if they thought for 10 seconds. I did not say that his business practices were wrong nor immoral did I? Different countries pay different wages and who am I to say that people aren’t earning enough. Maybe for their standards it’s great. But in the society that I live in (as well as the people making these gemming remarks), this is low paid work….. And how can I really be his competitor when we offer very different products? They may be similar in price-points, but a lot of his trade is MTO and his shoes are handmade, not factory benchgrade. Sure, indirect competitor (but then everyone is….) but not direct competitor. Clearly you miss the point of my writing. It was not to jab at Vass, as I have no reason to as I have nothing but respect for him, but rather to explain to people that they cannot simply think that because one maker (Vass) can make handmade shoes at 400, then every other factory maker should too. Unfortunately many people need it broken down for them to understand. And I thought about what I said, which is why I said it. And yet I will still recommend Vass shoes on my own blog (his so called “Competitor”), praising his beautiful works of art…..

    2. What is forgotten here when discussing low wages is the cost of living differences between countries. The far lower absolute wage in Hungary may well be on par with, or higher, in terms of local purchasing power compared to the UK.
      There is no mystery to Vass pricing. Lower cost of labour, lower occupancy costs. Direct selling, i.e. no distribution costs, no need to hold prices up since they do not need to create margin for a retailer. And, no “brand building” marketing costs since they still operate in a very old fashion way (thank God).
      They also come from a very local business where a shoe at 400 cost a fortune for the normal person.

      I talked to a retailer of fine shoes in Sweden a couple of weeks ago. They were in discussions with Vass about selling Vass, but had to let it go. With the prices they had to pay they would need to sell the shoes att 750 to get their normal margin (sell G&G, EG and the likes), which is impossible since Vass themselves sell the same shoes at 400 and with no extra surcharge for MTO.
      So, sold in that store they would be in the same ballpark as G&G and EG.

  10. The discussion has been interesting to follow and edgier than most. I find it disconcerting that an easily attributable poster was called out by the contents of the host’s reply and negative attributes implied – worse still if the individual just posted in the right place at the wrong time and has been incorrectly assumed by me to be the genesis. I also found disconcerting that the host’s motives were so directly impugned in a follow up posting. I thought the contents of the hosts reply was a reasonable explanation that included both the manufacturing realities of the various methods of bringing shoes to the table as well as the socio-economic realities that exist within the marketplace. I certainly dont mind the rough and tumble but it struck me a bit out of place. But perhaps dont bring a wingtip to a knife fight should be our rallying cry.

  11. While it’s hard to understand whether or not the poster who made the comment was actually being genuine or trying to one up me is unknown, my backlash was not at him (personally) but the overall train of thought that it represented (which I am sure many have). I do get many who attempt to prove me wrong, and therefore maybe one can understand how I could have my guard up to these types of comments. I felt that the discussion deserved another post, not to rip the commenter a new one, but rather to further break down the point that I was making in my first post about gemming and therefore further educate people that can’t seem to get it. If one person read my first post and still made that statement then many may think like that too, and I am sorry to say but statements like this is what hurts the shoe industry and many people believe that they should be receiving handmade shoes for less than 400, due to some makers who are actually able to do so by hand and justify that price but worse by all of the lying companies that slap the term “handmade” on their machine made shoes. This idea is hurting brands like myself as well as many others who won’t lie and say that their shoes are handmade, which in the eyes of people whom believe their 250 shoes are handmade, now look inferior. As I truly care about the shoe industry and the education of it’s inner workings to the general public (hence my informative blog that share’s insider secrets) so that they really know what goes on and therefore appreciate shoes more, statements like this strike me in such a way as it shows that many people simply don’t use common sense, especially when they are on forums bashing makers for this and that, for things that they really have no idea about….. So whether or not I was right or wrong in my reaction to the poster, the response to further educate the people was necessary. If I could have done it better, well I am not perfect…. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  12. I’m glad to see that someone else brought up Meermin, b/c I think it’s an example that proves your point, Justin. I believe that the handlasting on Meermin shoes is done in China, where labor is cheap, and the finishing done in Spain. That seems to explain why Meermin shoes are significantly less expensive than Carmina’s, which are completely made in Spain.

    I have to assume that labor in Hungary must be very inexpensive, since Atila’s prices are very similar to Vass’. Then there’s the one-man Ovari shop, where the shoes are 1/2 the price of Vass. I don’t know whether Ovari’s are truly handmade/hand lasted or not. I wonder what the mark up is on, for example, St. Crispins shoes made in Romania, where the expenses must also be very low by US/UK standards.

    Thanks, Justin, for the interesting insider perspective,

    Nick D.

    1. Glad that you enjoyed the post Nick. As per Romania, well I presume that maybe the workers are earning more, as their (Saint Crispins) retail prices are closer to bespoke, but then again, their shoes are also much more detailed (as in the finishing is far nicer) and that detailing takes a lot of time and is the hardest thing to shoemaking. So a lot of that extra cost could be in that detailing….who knows….

  13. Justin, I have read your blog for some time. You strike me as someone who chooses his words carefully and expresses his thoughts with clarity. Connotation and denotation are not concepts which are alien to you. Had you wished to make the otherwise valid observation that labour costs have a significant impact upon the retail price of a pair of shoes (which I doubt anyone would dispute) you could have chosen to do so without singling out any specific manufacturer.

    But having chosen to single out Vass (and please don’t blame this on the content of any response, YOU chose to make it the subject of a blog entry) you certainly didn’t have to gratuitously employ such charged phrases as “dirt cheap” (which I am sure most would agree rings a dissonant chord in the context of fine handmade shoes) or draw direct comparisons to Chinese manufacturing. Those were your choices, and they reflect very poorly upon you, IMO.

    1. “Please don’t blame this on the content of the response”. Give me a break man. The post was about the response, not about VASS. VASS just happened to be the example that he used of which I therefore used to explain…. If you see otherwise than you are simply trying to make it that way. Had he chosen to use Meermin, then I would have written about Meermin. You can think what you want about me, which frankly I am not bothered about, but what I don’t appreciate is you trying to make it seem as if I was just trying to slander VASS, when I wasn’t at all. Had I not even mentioned VASS but just used the comment and the figure of 400, people still would have inferred that I was talking about VASS anyway. And there are really only two makers in the public eye (and at relatively low pricepoints) who do hand welting, one is VASS and the other is Meermin. I have already written about Meermin and the fact that they use low-cost (or dirt cheap!) labor in China to create their prices. I used nicer words as I was not annoyed by the subject at hand as I am with regards to this gemming issue. But my words had nothing to do with VASS, they have to do with the idea that people think that shoes can be made at that price and for some people who can’t seem to fathom why therefore don’t charge the same retail prices, well they need to hear the words dirt cheap to understand how it is that some workers are making this money, as I know that the people commenting sure wouldn’t want to be! And even if I could have used better words, well sometimes we all make reactions without reasoning. Like I said, I am not perfect, but what is done is done. You can think what you want and if it makes you think less of me, so be it. But stop trying to make it seem like VASS is my enemy and competitor that I am trying to take down, because that is just absurd and frankly annoys me further that you would infer it, when I have never done anything but praise him and his shoes.

  14. Justin,

    This post is extremely interesting but seems to be in danger of becoming too intense, both in its technical and personal contents. I would not have thought that any long term blog reader would believe you were being disingenuous to Vass or, in fact, any of your competitors. Having had the pleasure of meeting you I simply would not see you as that type of individual.

    I think that we all take it as read that, whatever the product, the cost of materials and labour constitute the major components of ‘on cost’and that any business has a duty to be vigilant about these. Therefore, like it or not, anyway of reducing the labour content would be a natural choice. So I guess we should not be suprised that, as long as it does not detract from the overall finished quality, gemming would appear an attractive option to the shoe maker. This would possibly be like using a sewing machine at any respectable tailoring company for the unseen internal parts of a suit. Surely as long as the finished suit has the require fit, silhouette, cloth, necessary hand stitching, etc that the bespoker has paid for does it matter (or even is he entitled to know?) the artisan’s trade secrets of construction methods? Obviously if he pays (say) 2000 for a Savile Row suit he clearly has the right to expect something better than one knocked up at a designer fashion house just because they have found a way of mass producing cheap rubbish. But I would expect he would clearly know the difference as would anybody who buys high quality shoes. As long as the tailor does not sell the suit on the express claim that every stitch is done by hand does it matter that some internal, fairly insignificant process has been machine sewn? By the same token I doubt that any shoe company that has been trading for hundreds of years and enjoys royal patronage is likely to risk its reputation and business using a quetionable or shoddy manufacturing process just because it can save a few quid. It is a fact of life that generally one gets what one has paid for, so the discerning buyer instinctively knows quality when he comes across it without necessarily worrying about every detail of its manufacture.

    Best regards,

  15. I wouldn’t say the £300-500 difference between hand lasted (HL) and Goodyear welted/gemming (GYW) is strictly due to the welting. If you had the exact same shoe and materials in GYW and in HL, probably the price difference wouldn’t be more than £150 or so. What happens is that HL has a higher status, and normally manufacturers will use better leathers, a lot more hand burnishing, nicer box and dust bags, they come with cedar trees, etc., and in the end that’s were the other £150-350 come from.

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