It’s been some time since our last conversation (The Talented Mr. FitzPatrick and his Shoes). Since then until now J. Fitzpatrick brand grew nicely. Considering your opening regarding this business, I’d like us to talk a little about a side which usually is not talked about. And to put the bad forward, I’d like to start with the failures. From the initial targets that you had in mind, what were those that remained still untouched?
Of course one always has high marks set in place for their own achievements, whether it’s personal, in a product, in a goal or whatever and yes, I had a figure in mind that I wanted to achieve when I had first launched. That figure was to sell on average, 2 pairs/day while at Gieves & Hawkes. That would have equated to around 60 pairs per month (as they were open 7 days a week). During my 10 months of selling there, I only did just shy of 400 pairs, so in reality only averaging about 40 pairs per month, or around 1.3 pairs per day.
However, in the year that I have launched, I have sold about 1000 shoes (through all of my various outlets), and if you divide that by 365, then that is around 2.7 pairs per day. Obviously my main goals were to begin at Gieves & Hawkes but little did I realize that I would do so well online, through private sales. I also had one customer order 90 pairs for himself. So, that helped too.
But to this day, I want to average this target of 2 pairs per day on only one of my outlets (now being my online website) and that I still have yet to achieve.
Compared to the first pairs of JF shoes, the quality increased. What battle was given for these modifications, and how difficult are these battles?
The main battle with factories is consistency and them being honest with the shoes that they make that they should not be sending me. Every factory in the world is a business and they are going to try and sneak things in that they should not, because at the end of the day it’s me versus them. That being, the scenario goes, ‘I eat it or they eat it.’ When they are making the shoes, they sneak in the ones that they want me to eat, but I do my best to catch these and send them back.
Making them understand that this is one big waste of everyone’s time has been the biggest battle. You see, I deal with the boss, who then deals with the under bosses that manage the workers, and even though I have seen him tell them to their face, ‘no more of crap like this,’ I still get sent it. So, each time I am back fixing one thing or another. But they listen which is the good thing and of course it is not that they smile in my face and then stab me later. They have improved. So these battles are working.
To name the problems that have improved specifically, well first and foremost, it’s getting the shoes with parts of the leather that should not be used. Leather is the biggest issue, but one that the whole industry is facing. It’s tough times out there and getting good, consistent leather is getting harder for everyone. That is why so many brands have drastically increased the price of their shoes in recent times.
Making them understand that they cannot put 2nd grade wrinkled leather on the front part of the shoes, or it is a complete 2nd. I can’t sell it at full price so I am not going to pay full price for it. You would not believe the amount of shoes that I have rejected for this problem. But they are getting better. The stitching on the welt used to be really heavy and the threads would fray. I fixed that. We have worked on issues with medallions, crooked patterns, you name it. It’s the same problems that most shoes have.
In the beginning they just kind of slopped my shoes together. I wasn’t standing for this, so I have tightened up every aspect of the making to ensure that they are made with attention, detail, care and consistency. I told them that if they wanted me to be successful as a client and come back for repeat business then I needed my shoes to be more consistent. And they listened…but it is always an uphill battle and it always will be….even the best factories in the world deal with this (I know because they have told me, personally)
I think that one of my biggest problems too is the language barrier. I have to speak to them in Spanish and sometimes I can’t get across what I really want to say….but luckily my Spanish is improving.
Let’s go back a little to the leather. You had a post on your blog (theshoesnobblog.com) in which you explained a little what happens to the leather. If I asked you to classify a little the leathers by quality from a producer’s perspective, how would this classification look like?
In reality I can’t claim to be so much of a true expert in leather. I can tell you which I have liked after they have been made into a shoe and how they perform when wearing and from my experience in shining the different leathers. That is how I personally grade them.
Therefore, the top tanneries that I am aware of are Ilcea, Haas and Zonta. Horween is of course the king of Cordovan, but good luck getting any other it without having to pay some agent 3 times the valued price.
As I have stated in the answer below, I think that tannery Du Puy and Annonay historically made some of the best leather in the world. But the problem is that the average brand no longer has access to the top grade that they produce. Therefore, now I just find them acceptable for a good benchgrade RTW shoe and maybe your bottom rung handgrade shoes.
For crust there is also Koldeleder and Freudenburg, who are both quite good. I am experimenting with another tannery in Italy called Nuova Antilope. The crust is quite nice, but is really affected by rain/moisture. But it creased less than anything else that I have seen….
That is the real problem with leather. There is no real perfect one. They all have a downfall of some sort. So you have to choose your good vs evil’s….
What leathers do you currently use? If you were to get to the next level, what would you choose?
We use first grade leather and maybe some 2nd grade on heel counters/inside quarters etc.all natural for shoes at this pricepoint. But within 1st grade are sub grades too…as I have explained in a blog post, the difference between makers is not the leather, but how much they use of the hide, i.e. how much wastage they create. It is rumored that Lobb will cut one shoe out of a hide. Whereas other makers of that price-point will cut 2-3.
My factory can make 6 pairs from one hide, but of course the leather is not consistently good throughout the entire hide. That is what separates £300 shoes from £900…we are using the same leather, just using the parts that are not as good too. There is probably a grade of 1st that we don’t get, called A grade. They probably send us from B down, but we could never get A as it is controlled by the tanneries and they give it first to others who are really shelling out a lot of money…so it really is not a question of being able to get it, especially as it does not make sense at my caliber of shoe…
If I were to upgrade, I might look at a smaller tannery in Italy who produces nice leather, but it is very expensive….the big tanneries are now facing the idea of ‘quality vs. output’ and are having that age old problem of the higher the supply, the more something has to give and it’s always quality that suffers….
To be continued …