Your Shoe Is Not Handmade!
Actual Handmade shoes by Riccardo Bestetti

Plain and simple. If you bought them from a department store they are not handmade. If you bought them from a large shoemaker that produces more than 20,000 a year, they are not Handmade. If they cost less than $1500 they are definitely not Handmade. And of course there are exceptions like Vass, but I am talking to the majority of you that don’t own Vass, bought your ‘Italian’ shoes from a shop where the salesmen said they were, or online by one of these new ‘straight to customer, no middleman’ gimmick brands that peddle shoes for $200 and claim that they are Handmade in Spain. There are no Handmade shoes in Spain. It’s a mass production country. The few exceptions are bespoke makers like Norman Vilalta, Ramon Cuberta or other very small artisans who work in a workshop, such as Enrile and make MTO shoes by hand. So get that right through your head. Italy neither. And neither England nor France. If a shoe is made in a factory, by definition it is not handmade. Because handmade shoes are made in workshops. AND NOT WITH THE HELP OF MACHINES

Sometimes I wonder where and when this term started to be used to peddle lies? But I am quite sure it was when Italian shoe salesmen came to the US to present their brand to shops like Nordstrom and said this. And truth be told, back in those times, they just might have been handmade but as time went on and factories modernized and found ways to make production faster using machines and taking away the actual ‘handmade’ aspect of it, they simply kept using the term all the while it wasn’t true anymore. And the salesmen in the US, who work on commission, ate this term up as it made the customers eyes go large when they were fed this lie and easily made the purchase for belief that somewhere in Italy or England or wherever their shoes were actually being made by hand, by one shoemaker (and apparently not a production team in a factory). Little did they know, it was a lie. And so the lie continues. But as we have moved into a much more machine production era, what gets me is how people haven’t wised up? That is the common person. I know that you Shoe Snob Blog readers know the difference.

What always gets me is how people don’t use simple mathematics to understand that the $200-$400 shoe that they are buying cannot be handmade by the law of said mathematics as someone, somewhere wouldn’t be making any money on that sale. Because a true handmade pair of shoes takes around 40-60 hours of work, starting from the time that the leather is selected for the upper to be cut. Because just so you know, that if a shoe costs $400 in a store, that means it’s wholesale price would have been around $150 (or less), which means it’s costs price is somewhere around $100. So unless you are paying your workers around $1/hour (because let’s not forget cost of materials too) it is simply not possible to make Handmade shoes for those prices.

It’s important that we wise up to this. And when a salesmen tries to spout this crap to us, we actually call them on their lie. I do it all of the time. It’s easy. You simply tell them, ‘actually, no, they are not handmade.’ Because this term and idea is hurting the industry and hurting those that actually make handmade shoes and cannot justify their pricing because some other crappy brand is claiming the same at a 1/3 of the price. So the customer does their simply mathematics and ask themselves, ‘well if one is handmade at $300 and the other at $900, why should I buy the more expensive one?’ And thus the large company with cheap shoes wins and the small shoemaker busting his butt for passion suffers. And the shoe industry stays saturated with crap.

Food for thought!

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17 thoughts on “Your Shoe Is Not Handmade!”

  1. Hey Justin, sorry to hear about your problems with customs in Russia. And really nice voicing your opinion on a topic like this where everyone throws buzzwords around. I have a question though, I thought handmade meant that a person uses machines to make something and handcrafted meant fully by hand. Can you elaborate? There’s too much misinformation out there!

    Thanks in advance!

    1. No, even the best and most expensive handmade shoes are made with uppers which have been sewn by machine. Hand sewing uppers with the same stitch size and regularity of a sewing machine takes about as long to do as the bottom making of a shoe. Some have recently done it for competition shoes ie Daniel Wegan’s winning shoe in the 2019 world shoemaking championships 21spi , and some makers like zonkey boot have a few models with hand stitched uppers, but with a lower spi.

  2. Hello i think you should check Indonesian shoe makers such as sagarabootmakers and txture. Their work is entirely handmade and handwelt and their price is under $1500. You should check them in instagram.

  3. Was talking with a shoe maker In Novara that his shoes are stitched by machine and he showed me said very little difference

  4. Jes Christian Børlum

    My local cobbler makes sandals in his shop they are about $240, and best damned sandals in town!

  5. Very good article, but you are wrong in some things, there isn’t any professional shoemaker making bespoke shoes in Spain, they noted that how difficult is to make that and most of them are making MTO and RTW.

  6. Handwelted or not that is where the line is. I don’t want my shoes to be made entirely by hand as uppers cannot be stitched by hand with precision and accuracy of a machine. So no hand-stitched uppers for me, thank you.
    Handmade to me means:
    1. Handlasted
    2. Hanwelted
    3. Hand polished/patinated
    The rest should be done with some aid of a sewing machine.

    1. Justin FitzPatrick

      No one stitches the uppers by hand and that is considered something always done by machine.

  7. Actually, there is no constraint as to how accurate or precise hand stitching on an upper can be except the constraints of patience and focus. And in reality, the same constrains apply to machine work if only because a human being is operating the sewing machine.

    Daniel Wegan (last year’s winner at the International Shoemaking Competition) did 22 spi, by hand, on the uppers and welts of his entry and it was near-as-nevermind perfect. That’s at about the limit of machine work and nothing special compared to what has been done (and documented) historically–64 spi…by hand, and by eye.

    1. Justin FitzPatrick

      Didnt know you still follow the blog D.W. but happy to know that you do. And I am sure you can appreciate this post, a post that helps to fight taking away from your work as people conflate handmade with machine made which is an injustice to bespoke makers.

  8. Justin,

    Well, I still get notifications for this topic, at any rate.

    And I agree wholeheartedly about anything that educates the public and draws a distinction between handmade and machine made.

    At 74 years old and with both my eyes and my hands not as reliable as once they were, I am still making boots and shoes but not ‘driving’, if you know what I mean. Today I spent five hours cutting out fronts and backs for a pair of 18″ full wellingtons in six (?) ounce Horween waxed flesh. It isn’t gonna be easy.

    But, all that said, I’m still interested–it’s what I am.

    Thanks for having me…

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