Warning: Long, educational post.
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 shit. 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 into 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. Complaining as if they should have received $1500 quality in their sub $400 shoes. Complaining really because that is all we have turned into as a society. A bunch of ungrateful complainers. Its rare 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 crappy misinformation through self-entitled 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 think they should charge a price for the country of origin or if they are a big brand wirh lots of shops and employees their profit margin will inevitable have to be larger to sustain their business.
Sub $300 Welted Shoes
At this pricepoint, 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 pricepoint 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 brand using corrected grain leather i.e. that shiny bookbinder garbage, as it allows them to buy cheap, masked leather that looks flawless at first and ends up looking like dogcrap later after wear.
At this pricepoint 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 pricepoint is Meermin, who because makes the shoes in China with super low labor costs, that they are able to 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 geade 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 pricepoint 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 pricepoint has not allowed you to enter the realm of expectation. You are just now paying for better leather and a medium level of QC.
Handgrade Collection by Crockett & Jones
$700 – $1000 Welted Shoes
At this pricepoint, you have finally entered a level of expectation that you can finally allow yourself to be picky about. At this pricepoint 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 yet been reached yet. What you are paying for here is higher quality materials, some more details that make up 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 pricepoint gets you.
$1100 – $1500 Welted Shoes
Here is the last stage before perfetion. 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 pricepoints 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 it for you. Its not your 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 thats 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 in 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 that has ever bad mouthed or given a company a hard time unjustifiably. A small blemish doesnt ruin a good shoe. Its 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.
32 thoughts on “Price Points & What You Get In Return”
Justin, I really appreciate this honest and forthright breakdown. Some blogs sugar coat everything and this post really cuts to the heart of it. Could you give some examples of who you think is doing the best job in each of these price points? Or is it all pretty much the same? Thanks!
Hey Drew thanks for saying so. Usually the brands that own their own factory do the best as they have the most control over their own production.
Thanks so much! That makes sense.
As well as set their own price
As much as this edition of your blog is accurate, it is also painful specially to those that expect a shoe with no defect on the low US $ 400 mark. To put it bluntly this is more ,common from what I have seen online, for those Allen Edmonds aficionados who expect a bespoke level of leather when they are in the best case scenario tipping their toes into the shoe world, suffice to take 10 minutes on Reddit and read the ” is this ok, is this normal” load of posts.
Thanks for sharing
Glad that you enjoyed it and thanks for sharing
Started reading and immediately went to check the prices at VASS. Well, you are wrong. Sadly, I might add as I agree that shoes like VASS should not be sold for less than 1200.
Not sure what I am wrong about as you didnt explain that part? This was not about how much shoes cost or if they are handmade or not. Its about perfection and customers expectations in certain pricepoints.
Great post. Just so refreshing to have someone tell the truth about shoes in a clear manner. I bought two goodyear welt Berwick pairs for a total of $270 on Black Friday. Of course they are not nearly as good as your shoes, but they are not the crappy shiny leather. I think you can get decent shoes for under $200 if you are reasonable. Heck, your JF line 3 for 2 deal puts shoes under $200. Best deal around. (but I spent my money on Black Friday.)
Hey Sal, thanks for commenting and for your kind words. $270 for two pairs of Berwicks sounds like a steal! Well done. And thanks for thinking of us. Next time ðŸ˜‰
Excellent post! Now we need someone to do this for men’s hats??
Good read Justin, and useful to hear from somebody who has actually seen it first hand. Two points:
1) In fairness to Reddit, when people do come along with their “these Allen Edmonds have a scratch on the welt and this bit of leather is slightly lighter brown than this bit, should I return them and burn the store down?” the answer is normally quite quickly “no, that’s normal.” from the rest of the community. I would personally say that the bigger issue with Reddit and Instagram is encouraging a culture of always “needing” more rather than appreciating what we have which turns the whole thing into fast fashion – Simon wrote a good article on Permanent Style on this recently.
2) The root problem, which I think you’ve addressed before, is that to many (if not most) people, even the “entry” level price points are the absolute maximum of what they would consider spending on shoes. Many would consider it insane to spend over £500 on a pair of shoes, and I’ve spoken to friends before who find it pretty much inconceivable that you can buy shoes for £1,500 +, let alone the kind of prices that bespoke costs. So naturally, they expect perfection (however unrealistically).
Thank you for sharing Sam. Yes I unfavorably targeted Reddit as naturally it is the largest forum out there. I know there are good people sharing good info too, as I have customers there that are active. Just so many newbies that go on and complain for all and some bad apples that tell them they are justified. I think my issue is simply the lack of logic most people use. It extends across all products too so they should know better. Even toilet paper. Buy cheap and its rough, thin and breaks easily. Spend more and its soft, thick and durable. Cant expect the top at the bottom price. That simple idea is recognized by few when it comes to shoes, for some strange reason? But will happily spend $2000 on a suit.
Yes, I suppose to many people shoes are viewed as such an “everyday” item that their expectations are skewed. But then the same logic could apply to toilet paper too.
Also relates to your previous posts that social media (particularly Instagram) has conditioned people to expect their shoes to remain uncreased and unscuffed forever, so they mistake completely normal wear for some sort of deficit in materials or manufacturing.
Thanks for this ,it helps put things in this world of Men’s shoes in a proper perspective. I brought a pair of Burgundy captoe shoes from J&M whan I got out of the Marine Corps as a gift to me paid over $500.00 back in 1986. Of course I now know better that these are not top quality shoes and yes I have gotten better shoe since then, but they still look good after all these years. The best thing about getting more deeply into this is I can spot crappy shoes much more sooner than before and can spot the qualities which I like for my style. Thanks for this post.
Thanks for commenting Taino. I am glad that you enjoyed the post.
I have been into Alden boots lately, particularly shell cordovan and have been reading a lot of Alden forums. A lot of people have complained about CXL – which by nature shows imperfections – it’s pull up leather, as well as some minor shopwear on other new boots. As soon as you wear a pair of boots, especially those designed to be work boots like the Indy, you are going to get wear marks. It’s what they are designed for. If you want boots to look perfect, put them in a museum behind glass.
I know the dress shoes are immaculate from G&G and Edward Green, I have a pair of the later. But, I wonder if people wear their G&G and EG rugged boots like their dress shoes and not subject them to any risk of injury, or if they actually hike and do chores in $1800 boots and then expect them to remain immaculate.
Well said Eugene. Thanks for sharing. The issue is people’s expectations. And its not just shoes. As a society we have become engulfed in entitlement without reason. It always made me curious too because the first day someone wears the shoes, it is nearly inevitable that they will inflict more damage than whatever they are fussing over. Crazy stuff.
TRUTH! This should be required reading for all consumers entering the shoe market. Note: the picture placement seemed off to me at first.
For example, the C&J pic appeared to be in the $400 – $600 category, rather than the $700-$1000. Placing the pictures directly under the price range/ title (rather than above it) may clear it up for dingbats like me ; )
Thanks for sharing Sean!
Here’s what this post can be summarized as:
“I can afford to spend thousands of dollars on a pair of shoes, so anything cheaper than that is shit.”
Because there is no such thing as different markups, it’s not like some brands overcharge like hell while others do not. That’s totally not at all the case, all $2000 shoes are the same and everything cheaper is rubbish. You get what you pay for…. that’s why Prada sneakers are 7 times better than Adidas. Oh… wait…
I love when commentors say things that make them look silly. First of all, I have my own shoe brand with shoes ranging from $255 to $495 in price, so hardly making/thinking a silly quote like that. Also if I could afford $2000 you think I would have time to write a blog? ???
Great stuff Justin.
Not just about the shoes but about societyâ€™s expectations and feeling of false entitlements.
The same goes with suits, electronics, foods, services, holidaysâ€¦ Everything has to be super cheap and yet fit for a king. How the f did this happen, I wonder? Some even claim that even if the price is low, the product/service/experience has to be top notch because itâ€™s a business imperative â€“ be the best or perish. That sort of misinterpreted free market paradigm is really hurting business, I guess, particularly small ones.
Maybe it has something to do with luxury brands pricing policy. A lot of people believe that theyâ€™re just overcharging for the brand and that the quality of Tom Fordâ€™s cotton and cut is basically the same as any street-market no name product.
Anyhow, if entry level UK clothing brands like Hawes and Curtis or CT shirts offer OTR suits with working button cuffs, hell, whoâ€™ll believe you that bespoke work and material costs ten times more?
Our times, Justinâ€¦our times.
What do you think?
Agreed my friend. Thanks for sharing. Crazy times with crazy expectations.
At what price point do shoe makers stop using gibing glued to the in sole than stitched to the upper and welt and start using Chanel growing in the in sole. Hope I am asking this question right, thanks
There is no price that distinguishes this. That simply depends on whether the shoes are factory made or handwelted…few exceptions on the factory made shoes do not use gemming, which is what I believe you are referring to
What makers would you put in the + $1500 category that are worth checking out?
Thank you Lucien! There are many to be honest. ACME shoemaker, Gaziano & Girling, Yim Shoemaker, Yohei Fukuda RTW/MTO shoes, Anthony Cleverley, Edward Green Top Drawer etc.
Thanks for your response. What are your thoughts about Stefano Bemer, John Lobb, Paolo Scafora, and StC ?
My pleasure. And those are all great brands too.