For those that do not know, TLB Mallorca is one of the newer brands hailing from Spain but unlike the countless ones made by other factories, TLB is actually its own brand and factory. Started by Antonio Barcel?, whose upbringing in the shoe industry started at a young age but blossomed as one of the owners of Yanko (another one of the great brands of Mallorca), before deciding to have a run at his very own production, thus commencing his namesake brand TLB (aka Toni Llobera Barcel?) Mallorca.
TLB came out swinging with a calculated collaboration with Swedish Shoe Retailer Skolyx (one of their first retailer and helpers to grow the brand) whose close workings with famous shoe blogger Jesper Ingelvaldsson, of Shoegazing, instantly gained them immediate attention in the shoe industry. Combining a strong marketing plan with extremely well-made shoes that offered something unique (the slimmest waists around) ensured TLB’s instant success in the industry. And as a marketer and shoe brand owner myself, I have to tip my hat to them for their execution of it all. It was very well played. And now, a few years later, they are easily considered one of Spain’s best (ever) and are gaining a lot of traction in the online community of shoes, which is rightfully deserved.
They have two lines, the Main Line Collection and the Artista Collection. I will be doing a review of each of them, starting with the Artista Line, on their famous adelaide model that has been getting a lot of attention. The Artista is their higher-end line of the two, the ‘Handgrade’ line so to speak. Priced at around $415. So let’s dive into it.
The fit of the TLB Artista line is very in tune with most handgrade fitting shoes. And some of you will understand this and some of you won’t. One aspect of being handgrade is a last that actually has shape, contoured to the foot, unlike generic lasts meant to fit all shapes/widths, etc with no real shape and looking quite blobby. But this last has good shape and you feel that in the heel to arch. It is very ‘narrow’ and/or hugging from the heel to the arch which helps you feel ‘locked in’ so to speak. That gives you proper support. And there is good arch support too. You can see that the last has an arch to it and is not your typical flat-arched last.
The forefoot is on the generous side with some space to spare. For narrow feet people, this might be a challenge, and might want to consider sizing down. For medium-fit individuals, you will find great comfort in this last. For those with broader feet, the heels may be a slight problem in the beginning but there is room on the forefoot for you. Overall, this last will suit most and will fit great for the majority.
The Artista line is their Handgrade goodyear welted range. It is evident that the making is top-notch and that the shoe is a solid yet lightweight shoe. A common theme for many Spanish goodyear welted shoes (with some exceptions). Everything is quite standard in terms of a high-end welted shoe. The lining is the only part that I question. For me, it does not match the caliber of the upper leather nor the quality of the shoe on the whole. It would have been nice to see a better lining. Everything is top-notch, with fine stitching, great shape, nice narrow heel block (very handgrade feature) with great arch shape/waist area with a very elongated section that gives the shoe its immaculate curvation.
One thing that took the industry by storm, is TLB’s waist. It is easily the most narrow in the industry at this price point. And in fact, of most price points. This feature alone helped gained them the popularity they have today as it showed that shoes of a lower-end price can be made to a higher-end standard. My only reserve with this idea is that it is very hard to scale (the number of workers that can make this is limiting) and in fact, I would be willing to wager that TLB is taking drastic profit margin slashes to offer this amazing price in order to grow their name. A common thing I have seen in the industry where brands offer incredible pricing and then one year, make a price hike of 20% to finally get the margin they need to really survive and grow their business. The low-profit margin model is mainly for brands that are pumping out so much quantity that it does not matter if they only make 2x profit margin as their volume is what makes them money.
You may ask why I talk about this? Well, the reason is that if I were you, I would be hoping on this price while it is available as I would bet nearly anything that within a year or two TLB does a major price hike. These shoes are too good to be at this price. It deserves to be more. And I know they know that. Heed my prediction.
The finishing is very good for Spanish making. And people may say ‘what do you mean, Spanish making’ and if you read the below (Imperfections and Overall) you will understand. Everything is done with quality in mind which is not always the case for Spanish-made shoes which often hold fast making/low price above top-notch quality. There are little things here and there that differentiate them from English or Italian finishing but again, when you compare the price points against them (TLB) to the aforementioned, you understand what you are paying for. But, taking all of that into account the finishing is top-notch and it shows in the making. You have beveled waists, fudge wheeling on the welt, narrow heels, and damn near perfection all around, showing that much thought goes into the finishing of the shoes, which for many, is what is graded the most on online shoe forums and shoe geeks judging X brand versus Y brand.
If one really wants to knit pick and find imperfections the only ones that I noticed, which for me mean nothing, but for those who like to complain and find a reason to do so, I will mention the 3 things I noticed.
- There was dye on the inside of the lining. As shown in the photo. This is nothing that takes away anything from the shoe and just goes to show that people are involved in the making as this is simply human error. But after a few wears you won’t realize it’s there. Your sweat will eventually make this unnoticeable and this does not detract from the lifespan so there is nothing to complain about.
- The channel was not perfectly closed and cut at the waist and you can see the imperfection of the leather there (in the photo). The channel flap was clearly cut in the making but they glued it down and is perfectly fine outside of aesthetic displeasure. But outside of that, again, this is not a flaw that takes away from anything with regard to the lifespan of the shoe. It is an irrelevant flaw. It’s there, it may not be to your liking, but it takes away nothing from the shoe.
- The fudge wheeling is more pronounced on one side than the other (those are the teeth-like grooves on the welt). This flaw bothers me the most but truth be told is the most common and difficult feature to make perfect. It does not bother me because I think the maker is at fault but more for my OCD of it showing so well on one side and not on the other for matching purposes. But that is just my knit-pickiness but is not warranted to judge so intensely at this price point. Fudge wheeling is one of the most difficult features in shoemaking, at least to get flawless. One small mistake and it’s ruined. You cannot fix it and if you ruin it past the point of return, the shoe is wasted. It is a feature that is a true luxury, but a risky luxury as it is hard to get perfect. So I understand this flaw as it is common and is hard for any shoemaker.
- Small cut-like indentations in the waist on one side and the welt not joining perfectly (a very common and pointless notion but will mention it anyway). Again, things that are inconsequential and what you should expect when you pay sub $500. Expecting more is simply overestimating and not understanding very well what a shoe should be.
Overall, TLB makes some of the best shoes at this price point, in the World, and frankly can contend with makers $100-$200 more expensive too. The imperfections listed above are nothing more than what you should expect from a Spanish-made shoe at this price point. This is what you are paying for. In fact, you are getting a hell of a price for the rest, for the quality. These are handgrade shoes for benchgrade prices. If you want flawless perfection, go buy a Gaziano & Girling for $1500 and get your flawless shoe. But if you want a steal of a price shoe with small, expected flaws that do not take away from the true quality of the shoes, then you should look at TLB before they wise up to how much they are under-selling their own shoes and raise their pricing.
Top-notch shoes, with elegant lasts, quality making, and good fit. You cannot ask for more. On top of that Toni is a nice guy and I look forward to seeing his brand expand and the cool, new shoes that they will come up with. I can only hope that they start to expand the offering to more daring designs and color combinations!