A shoe’s price point and what you get in return for paying that price are not always easily understood. You have cheap shoes that appear flawless and expensive shoes that appear flawed. Why is that? Well, let’s see if we can understand better the price points of shoes and what you can expect in return.
With the rise of online interaction between regular people comes a rise of misinformation by so-called “experts” i.e. people who own a few shoes and think they know best because they own a few shoes. I used to be one of those people too, when starting this blog, having worked in a shoe store and having owned a few. Little did I know that I didn’t really know much. It wasn’t until I dedicated years of my life to studying all aspects of shoes: From making shoes bespoke to shoe shining professionally (and handling every brand under the sun), and lastly to engulfing myself in understanding the production of shoes by spending tons of time in a factory and dealing with one. After that, I could finally be both the customer and brand owner and see the reality of things from both angles. And it was eye-opening, to say the least.
For far too long I have read people online complaining about the shoes they bought. The shoes they paid under $400 for. Countless times have I read people complaining as if they should have received $1500 quality in their sub-$400 shoe purchase. Complaining really because sadly that is the society we have turned into in recent years: A bunch of ungrateful complainers who think that spewing their emotions as facts means they are in the right. It’s rare that someone actually understands what they buy and what they should expect in return. And that is because you have a few wannabe know-it-alls on Reddit and the like, spreading poor, if not completely wrong, information through self-inflicted ideologies on shoes that are pure fiction created in their imagination and far from the truth of reality.
So, in case you truly do not know what to expect at each price point, allow me to break it down for you here so you can finally know better and stop assuming you should get gold for the price of copper.
To preface what makes the price of shoes, here you have the main components:
1. Materials – i.e. upper leather, sole leather, insole, and components inside like shank, cork, etc.
2. Workers’ Salary – the longer it takes the make the shoe, the more it costs. The more details, the more time, the more price. Less details, less time, less price.
3. Profit Margin – from 2x to 4x depending on if the brand wholesales or thinks they should charge a price for the country of origin or if they are a big brand with lots of shops and employees their profit margin will inevitably have to be larger to sustain their business.
Sub $300 Welted Shoes
At this price point, the reality is that you should just be grateful to get a solid shoe that fits well. And if the leather is flawless, count your blessings. The reality is at this price point you are getting 3rd grade leather, zero to little QC, and the entire hide cut. Therefore if you are lucky enough to get a good-looking pair without issue you were in fact, just in luck. This is why at this pricepoint you actually find many brands using corrected grain leather i.e. that shiny bookbinder stuff that allows them to buy cheap, masked leather that looks flawless at first and ends up looking very poor quality later after wear.
At this price point you should not expect anything. Of course, you should not receive a pair with a one-inch slice across the toe. But little blemishes here and there are inevitable when the entire 3rd-grade hide is being cut.
The exception to this price point is Meermin, who makes the shoes in China with super low labor costs. These low labor costs allow them to gain in other areas and use a mix of 1st-3rd grade leather. But of course, using all of the hide and limited QC. Expecting anything else at their price of $200 is simply foolish.
$400 – $600 Welted Shoes
Here is where you enter 1st-grade leather, assuming all else is the same. But you should not expect that this means flawless shoes. 1st-grade does not mean flawless. Far from it in 2020. 1st-grade leather now is what 3rd-grade leather was 20 years ago. 1st grade leather now, is flawed, just flawed less. But still, veins, stretchmarks, nicks, and the like can be found on the hide. And at this price point, they are still cutting all of that leather, and even cutting the 2nd and 3rd grade too. Just mixing it better now to create better-cut shoes. Your chances of getting a perfect shoe are higher but still not be to expected. This price point has not allowed you to enter the realm of expectation. You are just now paying for better leather and a medium level of QC.
$700 – $1000 Welted Shoes
At this price point, you have finally entered a level of expectation that you can finally allow yourself to be picky about. At this price point, they should only be using 1st-grade leather now and cutting with a sharp eye. The finishing and QC should be higher, much higher. But flawlessness should still not be expected. It can be wanted. It can be contested but the reality is that it should still not be expected to the point in which you return a shoe for a tiny blemish/flaw only aesthetic and does not detract from quality or lifespan. That realm still hasn’t been reached yet. What you are paying for here is higher quality materials, some more details that makeup quality, and a sharper eye on QC. The materials should be the top of the industry, throughout the entire shoe. And that is what this price point gets you.
$1001 – $1500 Welted Shoes
Here is the last stage before perfection. At this price, the shoes should be made to the best level possible. But again, expecting pure flawlessness should not be expected. They are still factory-made after all, with few exceptions. I have seen crooked patterns/toe caps at this price. I have seen poor welt finishing at this price. I have seen small, tiny blemishes on the leather at this price. I have seen stains on the lining at this price. I have seen it all at this price. But the leather should be tip-top. They should have started to cut less of the hide and that is what you pay for. In these top price points, you are PAYING FOR WASTAGE. You are basically paying for the shoemaker to throw away the unfavorable leather. You are paying for the time it takes them to QC the pair. To add those finishing touches that make them look as good as can be.
+$1500 Welted Shoes
Hooray, you have finally entered the realm of expecting flawlessness. Enjoy it. But below this price, understand that you are not at the level of expecting anything. You can return your shoes if you like but cannot expect the shoemaker to pay for you. It’s not your definitive right. You gain rights of expectation when you drop more than $1500. Because finally, at this price this is ALL THAT YOU ARE PAYING FOR. When leather is at the top of the rung, when details are maximized, when time spent on the shoe is maximized all you can pay for now is ensuring that it is made to the utmost perfection.
And that’s what you pay for at this price. Nothing more, nothing less. Here you pay for perfection in shoes. Below this price, none of you should be online complaining about inconsequential details that do not take away from the quality or lifespan of the shoe. Doing so simply shows a lack of understanding of what you buy versus what you should expect. Shoes are not laser cut, machine-only produced iPhones. They are products made using a once living skin, made by error-prone humans because we are, after all, we are not machine-controlled robots yet!!
This post is not personal to anyone but directed at everyone who has ever bad-mouthed or given a company a hard time unjustifiably. A small blemish doesn’t ruin a good shoe. It’s just the nature of shoemaking. Exceptional shoes exist below $1500. But perfection cannot be expected below that price. It’s a reality. It’s not a personal attack. If you read this personally and get offended chances are you have expected more than you should and hopefully can re-read this objectively.