Achieving a shoe’s price is not a science. At the end of the day, you can price your footwear how you want. There are suggested markups and ideologies about a shoe’s value but at the end of the day, this is just a guide. If you feel your brand is worth a 10x markup, who is to you that you are wrong?! The problem is when a high price is thought of as indicative of good quality and when a low price is sold as high quality when it is not, in fact. And sadly, many people are completely oblivious to the value of a good shoe and the reason why buying good shoes is not only better for your health, your looks, and believe it or not, but also your wallet. I will do my best to explain the mystery of why this is so.
Let’s first start off by imagining that all shoes are equal in brand value (no brand is better than the other or more famous). Taking this into account, what separates a more expensive shoe from a cheaper one are the differences between the type of shoe construction and the quality of the leather, two fairly obvious things right? Apparently not! But also, more so than just the materials and workmanship are the intrinsic values like health and looks.
Therefore shoes with better leather and more complex construction will almost always be more expensive by nature. But now with globalization in full force, this becomes trickier to gauge as wages play a big role in the shoe’s final price and with the rise of shoe production coming out of East Asia, where wages are very low compared to the US and Europe, you can actually get great shoes at much lower prices these days which might lead you to ask yourself why you would spend more.
A Shoe’s Construction
To explain, let’s start with the construction of the shoe. Most cheap shoes are made in large factories where the attention to detail is slim to none, probably just some team that checks the shoes at the end of the “conveyor belt process” to make sure that there are not any extreme blemishes. You usually find that most cheap, mass-produced shoes are made with rubber soles (or rather, composites of rubber) that are glued/cemented/heat injected on. The reason is that leather is a more expensive material than rubber. If they do use leather, it is normally a very low-quality leather or some hybrid, chemically processed leather that almost looks/feels like plastic/wood. Also, to glue a shoe’s sole on is a much easier and inexpensive way to attach a sole as opposed to the more traditional way of stitching it on which also requires a person manning the machine to guide the shoe.
More expensive shoes on the other hand are usually made in smaller factories where the attention to detail is much higher or at least if it is still a large factory there are many more people who are skilled in either working the machines (guiding shoes while stitched among other important processes) or the preparations and finishing of the leather i.e. not just straight conveyor belt style.
There are 2 main ones in the higher-end shoe industry and that is Blake Construction and Goodyear Welt Construction. There are many others but for the sake of your ‘typical shoe,’ we will stick to these main shoe constructions. The first simple reality is that there are more steps in the production process when comparing a cemented shoe to a blake stitched shoe, to a goodyear welted shoe. The more steps, the more materials, the more machines, and the more man-hours put into the shoes. All of that dictates a higher price in the end. And let me tell you, in a goodyear welted shoe, there are many many steps/processes that the shoe goes through to get to the final stage of boxing. One might not even fathom how many steps there are.
So, imagine all things being equal, an expensive blake stitched shoe over its goodyear welted counterpart it most likely the charging of an idea. That idea can be ‘Made in Italy.’ That idea can be a brand name. That idea can be 100 years of history. That idea can be anything. But doesn’t make the shoe worth more. Think Berluti’s blake stitched shoes that cost +$2000, as an example. And now contrast that against John Lobb that are sub +$2000.
In an older post that I wrote years ago, I explain most of these constructions. You can read this here. This post needs to be updated soon, however, which I intend to do.
Leathers can be tricky. I have seen the highest quality leather get destroyed in months while the cheapest of cheap lasts 10 years while nearly worn daily. And that is because most cheap leathers are not genuine but rather mass produce chemical composites of leather, sold as 100% leather. I truly believe the use of the ‘genuine leather’ sticker that is supposed to get in all shoes that use genuine leather is abused.
It is evident that the difference a good leather can provide is substantial. You feel it when you actually experience it. What you will find is that better leathers are usually softer and more supple (but not always) than your cheaper leathers. They will handle bad weather much better and stay in shape much longer. This is presuming one does not treat their shoes as if there were made of concrete and can withstand everything, for this is not true and good leather can be destroyed quickly when abused.
At the end of the day, leather was skin, just like yours is! A higher grade leather will also breathe better keeping your feet cooler and more well-balanced in temperature. Higher-grade leathers can also be rejuvenated much easier and will hold a shine much longer. Most of the time they will also break in more quickly allowing your shoe to adapt to your feet faster. But the most important thing that good leather will do is FEEL BETTER, and this is evident by just putting on a more expensive shoe whose value comes from the making and not the name of the brand.
Leathers are becoming increasingly more expensive, while the consistency of quality is sadly declining. It is a rough world right now for the leather industry. The rise of vegetarians, the lack of high-quality workers, and the fear of a volatile economy mean that tanneries are producing less, holding less stock, and charging higher prices for worse quality. No so more than ever, a lot of your shoes’ price is due to the leather and/or lack thereof in the case of composite materials.
Good Shoes Equal Good Health
There is a phrase that I really believe in. It states that the two things you should never go cheap on are your bed and your shoes because if you are not in one, you are in the other. And it is true.
Most well-made shoes have better support. A well-made shoe’s first intention is to be well-made. Having arch support is a factor of a good shoe. So, they are made on lasts that are more akin to the shape of a foot. If you start to pay attention, you will see that most cheap shoes are made with almost flat lasts, which you can tell by seeing that there is virtually no difference in height between where the heel sits and the toes fall. The more contoured you make a last, the fewer people you will fit it well. The more generic you make the last, the more people you will fit poorly.
You will notice that higher-end shoes have more arch support since they are made with lasts that are much more contoured (shaped closer to what are feet are like). This is better for your health as your posture and body alignment are actually a result of the support in your feet, which is carrying your entire body weight. The trick is to find a last that fits your feet well and supports you in all of the right places.
Shaping lasts takes time. Lasting well-shaped lasts is harder and takes more skilled workers. Making a good pattern takes time. Making a good pattern on well shaped last is an art. All of things take time. And time is money. This is what you are paying for when all things are equal, you pay for this expertise and attention to detail. There is a reason that the higher up you go in shoe quality, the more fitted the shoes are. The more fitted the shoes are, the more attention to detail was put into them, the higher the cost.
Good Shoes Just Look Better
As far as looks go, cheap shoes are just plain ugly and you can see it a mile away. Cheap leather is by no means elegant nor attractive and will show to those around you. A more expensive shoe is always noticed by its attention to detail, its good leather, and its superior construction. Nobody likes cheap people either because it is just not respectable to be cheap, especially when you are rich. To explain in terms of your wallet I will tell you that the “average” cheap shoe, being worn every day will break down much faster when compared to a well-made shoe. You could buy a well-made shoe at 4 times the price of the cheap one but would last you 10 times longer. Simple math shows you that it pays to spend more upfront.
One major factor for a higher quality shoe’s longer lifespan is the fact that you can re-sole them, in which case they could last even longer. It does not take a mathematician to calculate the end cost divided by the amount of time they last you. Now, I know that not everyone is rich and can afford expensive shoes but in this day and age, you can actually find amazing shoes under $300. There is almost no excuse anymore to even consider wearing cheap shoes. But I know that the main reason we continue to do so is that we are fooled by marketing gimmickry and overhyped brand power.
Bulbous shoes made on bulbous lasts that have no shape just ruin the rest of your outfit. No matter if you are wearing the best bespoke suit from the best bespoke suitmaker, put on that black derby shoe above and you destroy your entire look. Well-made shoes built on refined lasts hold their shape, a shape that is built to accentuate fine clothing. That is why it baffles me to see such poor-quality shoes all over the feet of the common passerby. If we only just spent a little more or did a bit more research, we could all be dressing better in our footwear.
To sum things up there is a quote by Gucci that rings so true and says, “Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.” Remember this and live by it!!
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that after a certain price point (perhaps anywhere from $300-$500), an increasing percentage of the cost of a shoe comes more from the fit and finish and attention to detail than the actual quality of construction. That isn't to say that a $1000 shoe isn't of higher quality than a $400 shoe; it is; but a much higher proportion of the cost of a shoe in that price range comes from fit and finish. For example, a fiddleback sole doesn't do much to make a shoe more durable or supportive, but it is laborious and adds to the price of a shoe. A high-end shoe will often have an antiqued or burnished finish which accounts for a large percentage of a shoe's cost as this is time consuming and must be applied by hand Also, a good shoe can last MUCH, MUCH longer than 3 to 5 years, which is what makes them such a worthwhile investment and in the case of Goodyear-welted shoes, I don't really think it's a choice to have them resoled – they're meant to be resoled. So with good care and periodic refurbishing/resoling, be it an Alden or Edward Green, a good shoe can easily last 15+ years.
The Shoe Snob
James – You make great points, all true. But I still believe that a $1000 generally will use better leather than a $400. Being that I own both, I can feel and see the difference. I have spilled red wine, twice, on my mid brown suede chukka's by Stefano Bemer and it just wiped right off and made no stain, I know that it would not have been the same story in some $400 Magnanni shoe or some like company. But yes, attention to detail is significantly higher in shoes with higher prices, as you said. Thanks for reading and for sharing!-Justin, "The Shoe Snob"
The Shoe Snob
P.S. When I stated that a good shoe can last 3-5 years, I just meant before they might need to be resoled. A good shoe can last a lifetime if one treats it right!-Justin, "The Shoe Snob"
Yes, in general, a $1000 shoe will use better leather than a $400 shoe. What I'm saying is that the proportion of that price dedicated to just materials might be lower in the former than in the latter. For example, say hypothetically (and I really do mean hypothetically) that half of a $400 shoe's cost ($200) is dedicated to materials. If a shoe were to cost $1000, then perhaps only one-third of that money ($333) would go towards materials, and although it may be less proportionally, it is still greater than the former. And in the case of bespoke shoes, you can be damn well sure that the shoe maker has a reserve of the very best leathers for just such shoes.As for your suede chukkas, I suspect they didn't stain because not only was the leather of very high quality, the best way to take care of suede shoes is to (along with brushing) periodically apply water/stain repellent, which you probably did. I too cannot say what the outcome would be if that shoe had been a Magnanni or something similar.When you said "A good shoe, on the contrary, will last you anywhere from 3 to 5 years depending on whether or not you would like to re-sole them", it kind of sounded like "A good car, on the contrary, will last you anywhere from 6-12 months, depending on whether or not you would like to change it's oil" – like a person can sensibly choose NOT to resole his $1200 Edward Greens. But yes, about 3-5 years between resolings sounds correct. And a good shoe can indeed last a lifetime.
The Shoe Snob
James – I see what you are saying and I can agree with that. Funny enough, I did not actually protect my suede chukka's but Stefano claims that they are all protected anyway which truly must be the case considering my wine spillage. I am actually terrible when it comes to taking care of my suede's, but then again, I only wear them when I am 99% sure that it will not rain, which as you know, is hardly ever considering I live in sunny 'ol England! About the shoes lifespan, I can see where my wording may have been confusing. A good shoe can last a million years if you have 200 hundred shoes and where it only once a month! I guess it is all just subjective. But considering the way most people wear their shoes (everyday), yeah, I would say that 3-5 years is a good span between soles, so long as they don't rip the uppers! As always, thanks for reading and for sharing!-Justin, "The Shoe Snob"
Hi Justin, very interesting post. While many of us can “just tell” a cheap shoe, it’s nice to understand the “why”.
I know you’ve addressed the points in other posts as well, but to me, what would be really interesting is a side by side comparison of a cheap shoe and a superior shoe of the same style, with you pointing out the differences. I’ve seen it done with suits, and it’s good for training your eye. Two pictures, and a description of the differences.
Thanks for all your work and great posts.
Thank you for the comment and the good idea. I better go find a cheap shoe to make this video. Great idea!
It feels like your other post “What makes a cheap shoe?” has lots of pictures of cheap shoes you could use.