The Art and Science of Shoemaking

Dates: Friday March 16 and Saturday March 17
Time:
1:30pm – 3:00pm
Location: Halo Shoes – 938 NW Everett St., Portland, Oregon

Details
Come learn about the interdisciplinary pursuit that is making shoes by hand. I will show how measurements lead to a last which gives rise to a pattern that can be made into a shoe. Along the way we’ll visit the diverse world of of shoemaking including design, drawing, sewing, sculpture, biology, chemistry, physics and math.

Please feel free to drop in and stay for a while or stay for the whole presentation. I will make time for questions and answers so bring your burning shoe questions!

Shoemaking on display at Halo Shoes

From March 7 to 21 I will be making shoes inside the Halo Shoes store. Larry Olmstead, who makes wonderful handbags, has invited me to work in his shop, which is shared with Halo Shoes, while he is away. Most days I will be in the shop working on shoes as usual so please stop by and say hello. There will also be a special event!

The Art and Science of Shoemaking

Dates: Friday March 16 and Saturday March 17
Time: 1:30pm – 3:00pm
Location: Halo Shoes – 938 NW Everett St., Portland, Oregon
Details
Come learn about the interdisciplinary pursuit that is making shoes by hand. I will show how measurements become a last which gives rise to a pattern that can be made into a shoe. Along the way we’ll visit the diverse world of of shoemaking including design, drawing, sewing, sculpture, biology, chemistry, physics and math.

Please feel free to drop in and stay for a while or stay for the whole presentation. I will make time for questions and answers so bring your burning shoe questions!

Coming Soon To Art & Sole

I will soon start making my first ever regular shoe display at Art & Sole on NE Alberta Street, here in Portland. You will be able walk in to check out the ExIT Cycle shoes, and if you’d like to buy a pair, Art & Sole will fix you up and I will make them to order. Stay tuned for details!

Eurpean Shoe Tour 2010

I have finally returned to business after a very interesting and successful tour of Europe this spring. I was searching for shoe materials, tools and techniques. I met some great shoemakers and found more than I could have hoped for. I posted pictures and little news bits about my trip on Twitter. Many of my posts are about food, travel and friends, but there is shoe stuff in there too!

On Shoe Pricing Part 1

I often get asked about the pricing of my shoes. Some are amazed at how expensive they are, others are amazed at what a great deal they are. Many people have no experience assessing the value of the basic materials used or any idea how much work is involved in making them. In this series of articles I’ll go over the economics of shoe production to help develop an understanding of the way shoes are priced. This will help you understand how shoes are priced in general, and eventually, to understand how my shoes are priced.

In this article, I will cover the general economics of shoes most of us find in stores. It is from seeing the price of shoes in stores, after all, that we develop a familiarity with the price of shoes.

Mark up and Mark down

In the world of retail, the price of a shoes will typically double each time it changes hands. The number of hands a pair of shoes passes through on their way to your feet has a big impact on the price you pay. Let’s say a finished pair of shoes cost a factory $10 to produce, they will need to make some money on them, so they deliver them to the contractor for $20. From there they go to distribution where distributors will pay $40 for the pair. When the stores pick them up for inventory at $80, of course they will want to sell them for more than they paid. Prices may vary, but this is the game. You can see there is some room to mark the price up or down and still make some money.

Effects of Mass Production on Pricing

To have shoes produced in a factory, minimum orders are required. A footwear brand may have good relationships with the contractors who manage manufacturing contracts, or they might have a good relationship with the factory itself, which might allow them to start with smaller orders or spread them out over time, but a simple way to understand the most common type of shoe contract is to consider it in terms of 100,000 pairs of shoes.

The logic behind this kind of production is to accept the fact that a large number of those 100,000 pairs will not sell, but the ones that do should generate enough profit to make it worthwhile enough to go through the cycle again. They won’t sell because they don’t fit –  too big, or small, or too wide or narrow. They may not sell because they don’t look good to the buyer.

100,000 pairs of shoes is a big commitment, so companies become conservative about the kinds of shoes they would produce in that number. 100,000 pairs of shoes requires a lot of material, and in most cases uniformity of the material is the highest priority. In attempt to lower the risk of this kind of purchase, a lot of effort is made to make sure the cost of materials and labor are as low as possible.

The trade off for such large orders is leverage on the price of any individual component. The cost of individual components is orders of magnitude less on a large order than they would be for a small order. Some materials simply can not be procured in small quantities – just try to get an injection mold made for your one-off custom trainers…

Currency Policy and Pricing

From the perspective of the average American shoe consumer, most shoes are made overseas. Of those shoes, the majority are made in China. China has made itself the premier manufacturer of shoes by keeping material and labor costs low. One way this is achieved is by producing the materials needed to make shoes in China, and near the shoe factories themselves. Tanneries, plastic component manufacturers, rubber soling manufacturers, etc. are all conveniently located near the factories. A tight local supply chain provides many efficiency gains that result in a low cost of basic materials. Another way is through currency policy.

The US Dollar has declined significantly against major world currencies, especially since the Fall of 2008. China has adopted a policy of matching the dollar’s decline by lowering the value of their own currency. That means, for instance, as an American buying from Europe, the prices have been getting more expensive as the dollar buys less, but buying from China prices remains the same. See Paul Krugman’s article in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/01/opinion/01krugman.html and James Fallows: http://jamesfallows.theatlantic.com/archives/2010/01/krugman_protectionism_and_the.php

On the one hand this would appear good for American shoe brands who can continue to bring in their products at the same prices and keep their profits up, but it artificially keeps the price of shoes low. It allows Chinese manufactured goods to avoid charges of “dumping” – selling them at less than cost, because the currency policy is set at a national level. Indeed, it’s difficult to see that anyone other than the body setting the exchange rate could be held accountable for this price disparity.

Where the Rubber meets the Road

My good friend Matt Menely at Mountain Soles has long maintained that there is a conspicuous disparity between the price of materials required to repair shoes and the price of new shoes. In the case of repair, we can experience the direct effect of the leverage of the 100,000 pair contract on an individual pair of shoes. To buy a replacement rubber sole from a distributor here in the US to be used in repair can costs more than the shoe originally cost to produce in China. Add to that the labor cost of removing the old sole and putting on a new one and mark it up so there’s some profit and the consumer is faced with a big dilemma. For the low cost and low quality shoes, repair is simply not economically viable. Toss the old shoes in the landfill and feed the cycle by buying new shoes or pay more for a quality shoe that can be repaired. Not and easy choice.

I provide some information here on my site to understand how shoes are made, but it takes a very keen eye to spot a quality pair of shoes. It’s a skill most shoe consumers don’t yet possess. Currency manipulation and leveraging large contracts also distorts our standard benchmark for quality – price. It is often repeated that consumers demand higher quality and lower prices, there are reasons that these don’t go together well in the world of leather shoes, as you will see in part two.

Good Reception at SF Bike Expo

ExIT Shoes at the SF Bike Expo (Photo by Richard Masoner)
ExIT Shoes at the SF Bike Expo (Photo by Richard Masoner)

I had a great time at the SF Bike Expo. I’d like to thank Phil Segura and Gwen Lutz for making it a great place to show ExIT Shoes. I’d like to give a special thanks to Mia from Momentum who helped me out of the dark corner of the Cow Palace.

Cyclelicious has some great photos (like this one on the right) and comments about the Bike Style fashion show in their Cat Calls section.

I received a lot of positive feedback about the ExIT Cycle shoes. There was some interest in getting the shoes in larger sizes (like from the guy from Xtracycle who wears size 50 shoes).

There was strong interest having custom shoes made both for cycling and for general use.

Finally, the ladies 2″ heel version of the ExIT Cycle shoes was probably the biggest hit.

ExIT Shoes at SF Bike Expo

ExIT Shoes will have a booth at the November 21 2009 SF Bike Expo. ExIT Cycle™ shoes will be on display in the Bike Style Fashion show as well. Stop by to see some of the components used to make shoes, try on a pair of ExIT Cycle shoes and have your feet measured for custom fit!

ExIT Shoes will be in the South Hall of the Cow Palace near the Fashion Stage in Booth #39. (The Opposite end of the hall from the Cross Mud Pit – think about it…) Come say hello!

ExIT Shoes in bike fashion show

ExIT Shoes was featured in Momentum Magazine’s Ready to Roll fashion show as part of Portland’s Fashion Week 2009. I made two pairs of shoes for the show with the model name ExIT Cycle™. There’s a story about the show on bikeportland.org. A video will be out shortly from Momentum. Onscreen Imaging (OSI) has an online gallery of the full show. They have some great images of my shoes in brown and red.

If you missed the show you will get another chance to see them on November 21 in Momentum’s show at the SF Bike Expo.

Mentoring an Arbor School Student

Steph hard at work on the sewing machine.I first met Steph when she sent me an email in August of 2008 about her 8th grade senior project due before graduation in June of 2009 – she wanted to make a pair of shoes. I was first impressed that she was thinking 9 months ahead and contacting me before the school year had even begun.

At the end of September I met her and her parents in person at an open house we had in the ActivSpace building where my shop is located. All the studios were open so people could come in and see what we all do in there. Steph was clearly interested and seemed very motivated, so I agreed to take her on.

To figure out how much time we’d need to spend on her project. I did a rough calculation based on how long it takes to make a pair of shoes, which is about 40 hours. No problem. We would only need to meet one hour a week every week and we’ll have time to spare. Hmm. Oh yeah. 8 months, 4 weeks, that’s only 32 hours. Ok, for some of those weeks, we’d need to meet for more than an hour.

As if making shoes was not enough, she also wrote a book. I had a great time learning from her about her research into fashion and shoes. I love her book!

I knew she finally understood what it takes to make shoes when she brought her bag of supplies to the shop one day, and there was a fabric pattern attached to one of the lasts. She was reproducing a design she had seen. I’ve now heard her tell people how shoes are made. She says it with confidence and it makes me proud.

Steph's stingray flatsSteph became interested in stingray leather after I showed her a piece that I had and the pictures of the custom stingray shoes I made with red stingray. Here is Steph’s first pair of shoes. They were made with black stingray leather for the vamp and kangaroo leather quarters. Lined with veg tanned calf. They are certainly nicer than my first pair of shoes!