A Major Shift To Online Service
Since you really seem to enjoy them I got another Interview for you all! This time I Interview Simon Wegmann from Wayman Bespoke Shoes! Over the past few years (and especially now with Covid) there is a very strong shift towards online retail. Many people feel more comfortable ordering shoes online and the demand is there for new innovations.
When it came to customization there are not many shoemakers offering the “Bespoke” Experience for higher end shoes out there. So when I heard about Wayman Bespoke’s growing reputation I immediately reached out to Simon to see what it’s all about. And he was kind enough to answer all my questions in-depth which is amazing considering the amount of work us solo-preneurs must do!
1. Welcome Simon! Glad to have you here and thank you for finding the time! Let us begin with the customary, an introduction to you and what you do!
Thank you so much for inviting me to this interview, Kostas! I am very humbled by your request and interest. So yes, my name is Simon and I am the founder of Wayman Bespoke. I began working on this project for the past two and a half, almost three years now. I kind of soft launched the program on my own Instagram with a comprehensive website/webshop in June of this year after completing a trial run with test customers earlier in January. Actually I studied and worked in corporate finance until a few months ago, when I decided to risk it all and pursue my passion project (Wayman Bespoke) full time.
With this program I strive to offer a more accessible but still personal bespoke experience. In fact not only by being able to commission a pair of bespoke shoes remotely and online via the Wayman Bespoke Website, but also offering the shoes at a fraction of what traditional bespoke costs and at a much faster turnaround time. Still we don’t compromise on quality, handwork or finishing and also do one fitting before the real deal is made. I especially enjoy building relationships, talking about shoes and creating the perfect style and fit for each client. The creative process and seeing a well-fitting pair of shoes on someone who has never had this, gives me a lot of joy.
2. Talking out of experience, it is incredibly challenging to enter the shoe business with a new brand. Especially when you offer what you call Bespoke Quality. How did you end up in the industry?
I entered the shoe industry as consumer. I was always quite passionate about classic menswear and shoes, but also struggled with my oddly shaped feet for all my life. Unfortunately I also have a narrow heel and forefoot, low instep, but long toes and overall odd shape. The usual solution of the shoe salesperson was to put me into an open laced derby and size me down a couple of sizes and close them so tightly that the facings pretty much overlapped. This resulted in crushed toes and a lot of pain, blisters and bruising, just to give my feet a little bit of hold inside the shoes.
I never managed to find a RTW last that fits me comfortably. At some point I couldn’t take it anymore and started looking at MTM and bespoke. But MTM only adds material on existing RTW lasts, so most told me they could not help me. Bespoke looked very intriguing but I neither had a good bespoke shoemaker near me, nor could I afford to repeatedly travel to or pay a reputable shoemaker.
I started to wonder, quite naively, why there wasn’t a more accessible program where I could send my measurements and tracings to a shoemaker and he would make the lasts and shoes and send them back to me. This is quite similar to what some online MTM suit or shirt companies offer. Well, I reached out to a bunch of shoemakers and all told me that this was impossible. Mainly due to the fact that a good fit is much more difficult to achieve in shoes than in clothing, generally. But I still needed well-fitting shoes!
So, I started my research, asked a looot of questions and reached out to many companies and makers in the industry. Fast forward two years down the rabbit hole with many sample shoes, failed attempts, great friends and a huge learning curve later. I was finally able to do the first test run with real clients (that weren’t me or my family). I did this test run with two different workshops and very quickly learned what worked and didn’t. This was definitely a stress test and I am exclusively working with one workshop since.
3. What about the name then? It does bear a small resemblance to your surname.
Haha, you are indeed correct! Wayman is the literal translation of my German surname. “Weg” means “Way” and “mann” means “Man” so Wegmann becomes Wayman. It was my nickname since high school and most of my best friends still call me by this name to this day. Since I mostly operate internationally and in English, it seemed like a good company name. It’s certainly easier to pronounce for most!
Trivia: In Swedish Väg (Vaeg) is Way and Man well means man…Swedish is a form of Germanic language!
4. One thing that interests me is the (often) controversial use of the word “Bespoke”. In all honesty your shoes sound more like extensive MTM/Semi-Bespoke since you have to take your own measurements.
Absolutely! The word bespoke can be very controversial (especially if you go on Styleforum) and I thought long and hard about this.
Made to Measure (or MTM as I know it) always starts with a standard size last, that is then modified to fit better. Usually those modifications have limits to the addition of leather pieces or widening the last. Semi Bespoke was what I initially called my program. But with a fully custom made last we make from scratch according to the client’s foot measurements and tracings as well as the now mandatory fitting pair for a first time client, the term Remote Bespoke seemed more fitting. I hope to create my own niche with this term, which nobody coined as far as I know. Also, the customization options we offer go far beyond standard MTM or Semi-Bespoke where you can usually only choose a different RTW last, leather and sole type.
I am definitely aware of the controversy though!
5. I agree! Remote Bespoke sounds like the future. Onto the shoes themselves! Where do you make them?
I make my shoes in our workshop in Shanghai, China. I have a great, young and equally passionate team there who I can trust with my work. The amount of handwork and quality I could never get for the price in Europe.
Still I am able to source materials, tools, etc. locally here in Europe so we can combine the best from both worlds/continents. My team as well as I are learning and improving every day, so we are never standing still and the shoes and process will only get better.
A very specialized last maker makes the lasts who I work with very closely. An external shoe-tree maker crafts the shoe trees individually after receiving send the clients lasts to after the shoes have been made.
6. Sounds like an elaborate process! You mentioned a lot of options when it comes to leather and construction among others. Do tell!
Handwelted is our standard construction with a machine-sewn outsole stitch and handsewn waist stitch. We also offer a handsewn stitch-through construction for loafers (similar to blake), which is a bit of a novelty and quite rare. Additionally we even offer a handsewn Norwegian or Storm-welt construction for a more rugged pair.
We offer pretty much all the standard high end leathers from well-known tanneries in Europe and the US (Annonay, Weinheimer, Ilcea, Bonaudo, C.F Stead, Horween and so on). Anything from full grain box calf, various suede and grained leathers as well as a patina service with crust calf as regular options. Additionally, I can even source leathers per special request of the client. Recently we explored things like Horween Shell Cordovan, Hippo, Nubuck Alligator and even a cashmere Harris tweed fabric, to make the shaft of a boot. So just reach out to me and I will give my best to find whatever your heart desires. Definitely an advantage of me being in Germany/Europe.
In terms of models, we have a range of 18 house style shoes, loafers and boot models. We can further modify them by adding or removing a toe cap, wing tip, apron, medallion or split toe. Just by simply clicking on each model and choosing the specifications for each design. With this we cover more than just the basics. Those who want to make something very unique have the option of a bespoke pattern at an upcharge. There I will put the design ideas and dreams of the client into a sketch and in turn my pattern maker will in then make up into a workable pattern and upper. This process is extremely creative and one of the aspects I personally enjoy most about this.
The options you can are quite vast starting with:
- Toe shape of your personal lasts: classic round, modern round or chiseled square
- Sole type: single or double leather, Vibram City or Commando Sole
- Waist style: sharp fiddle, soft beveled or square
- Coloring of the sole, sole waist, sole edge and heel block
- Heel Shape: from a traditional square heel, to an elegant pitched heel all the way to a pretty extreme and beautiful Cuban heel, like some of the Japanese makers tend to offer
Finally, you can add extra options, like brass peg initials on the waist, sole protection (toe taps, half soles, brass pegs) as well as lasted bespoke shoe trees either as a spring loaded, hinged or in case of boots, as three-piece boot trees to your commission.
It is probably easiest if the client visits the website and click through the options himself to get a feeling for what we offer. Since this can be quite overwhelming I offer a free personal consultation. Together with the client I will talk through and advise them on each model as well as the options and specifications.
7. Intriguing! We briefly touched upon your workshop and factory experiences. How challenging was it to find the correct one and communicate with them?
This was definitely the most difficult part for me. I needed someone able to make great shoes, but also passionate and interested in taking on this (admittedly) very ambitious challenge with me. Mostly this is where the collaboration failed from the start, as the shoemakers I contacted simply didn’t believe in my idea and that we could pull it off. But I also needed a place where I could possibly scale the business and make more than 3-4 pair of shoes per month otherwise it couldn’t sustain itself. So the workshop had to be at least medium size.
Then I was also very particular about the way we should make the shoes (handwelted, high SPI, clean and tight bottom finishing, beveled fiddle waist, leather stiffeners, European leathers…) so many of the makers were just not fit for the job. In the end I landed with the team I am working with through a bunch of referrals from friends in the industry and am very happy to be working with them. I supply tools, materials and my own humble shoemaking knowledge to them. Together we try to get the finishing and work to the level that I desire and have thus created my own brand identity.
8. Creating Quality is one thing, but how do you ensure it meets your expectations as well as maintain its high standards?
I have a full-time assistant at the workshop whose sole purpose is to report back to me, send me photos, updates of every step and control the quality of the production. This is absolutely crucial for me, as with such a complex making process mistakes do happen. Therefore, it is extremely important to catch those mistakes early. It avoids the risk having to remake the whole shoe and losing a lot of money.
9. Say that someone is new to this. Can you run us through the process in a few simple steps?
While it is possible to place your commission directly through the website without ever contacting me, the process generally starts with the client getting in touch with me. We then discuss their fit issues, measurements and tracings as well as the model and configurations of their commission. After measuring themselves, they upload the tracings, plug in the measurements in the web order form and choose all their options directly through the website.
If it’s a first-time client we start with the lasts and make a fitting shoe. Usually those are cheap pairs of shoes from scrap materials and with cemented plastic soles as a way for him to test the fit of his new lasts. We finish such shoes usually within 4 weeks and then send them directly from our workshop.
After he tried them on for a few hours, we will collect fit data via photos, videos or a video chat and most importantly the client’s own impression of how the shoes feel.
Then the lasts are further modified (if necessary) and we start with the pattern for the uppers, which are then clicked, sewn together, the insoles prepared, uppers lasted and finally the bottom maker finishes the shoes. Then we take out the lasts and send them to the tree maker, who makes an exact copy of the lasts and turns them into perfectly fitting shoe trees. All this takes around 12 weeks including the final quality control by myself in Germany, where I polish the shoes and soles, photograph, package and then finally send the shoes to the client.
10. Having an idea and turning it into reality, let alone a full time income is hard work. What was the most difficult aspect for you?
I must say nothing came easy for this with a lot of ups and downs. From finding the right maker, to finalizing the measurement and last making process. I probably would’ve and should’ve given up a long time ago if my heart wasn’t fully invested in this idea and passion of mine.
Building the website, communicating with the clients and actually making the shoes feels like a breeze in comparison to the hardship I have experienced at times before.
11. I was also on the same path! But in the end you can look back and smile. Let’s talk clients now! Who are they usually for Wayman Bespoke? What’s up with their feet?
So far I have three types of clients.
The first type purchases because they want something completely unique. They want to create their own pattern design and patina and are looking for something they just can’t find with any other maker.
The second group of clients are looking for the best construction and finishing they can find for the money and usually purchase a more conservative model. Both of these groups usually have a pretty big collection of shoes and don’t experience any major fit issues.
The third type however are clients with severe fit issues who just can’t comfortably fit into a RTW shoe. Issues are usually low or high instep, wide or narrow heels, flat feet, and so on. These clients are certainly dearest to my heart, since this is why I wanted to bring this program to life.
12. As far as models go what would you say is the most popular style or model people request?
I would say, so far, either the clients go all out and design their own very unique pattern and model, or choose something quite conservative and versatile like a cap toe oxford with a bit of broguing. What model will be most popular in the long run, we will still have to see. I am actually quite curious myself! Obviously boots are currently quite popular simply due to the seasonal change.
13. You mentioned the difficulties and giving up. Looking back do you consider Wayman Bespoke a success project so far?
I actually do consider Wayman Bespoke a success!
Even though It is still not a commercial success or made much money so far, I succeeded with creating an accessible bespoke program. I must admit albeit at a higher cost and with a longer waiting time than initially anticipated. But I am very happy where I am at and with the service,I am able to provide to my clients. I wanted to create a program that gives everyone, anywhere in the world the chance of experiencing a bespoke fit and quality shoe. Something which I think I achieved.
A few clients actually already returned for their second commission which must speak for itself. I certainly hope that the company will gain some further traction in the near future! That way I won’t need to finance myself and the company off my savings for too much longer, so that I can have a sustainable business for the future to come.
14. Sounds familiar! So what’s next for Wayman Bespoke?
The most difficult part at the moment is getting the word out and finding new clients to try my program. Marketing, especially in this high end, high price, tiny niche segment can work in mysterious ways. But I have some exciting projects in the pipeline that I hope will work out and be a success.
Also, I might do a few trunk shows here and there in the future for clients who don’t feel comfortable measuring themselves. I could possibly even see a few local retailers picking up my brand, so that customers can be measured by a professional. But that’s just me thinking out loud.
15. Hopefully the world will return to normal in 2021 for that! Wayman Bespoke is all about the fit. How important is a good, comfortably fitting shoe for someone?
For me, its everything! One can make shoes to the highest standard with impeccable finishing but if they don’t fit you won’t wear them. But shoes are made to be worn! For me they are in a sense a practical form of art much like watches, tailoring or even cars.
My goal is to reach more people and get them in better fitting and better shoes. Whenever I look around on the streets, it always surprises me how many people tend to wear the wrong size. I personally couldn’t do it, but it seems some people don’t really care or know. So education also plays a big role.
16. Before we wrap things up, one last question! Why would someone choose Wayman Bespoke over so many other established (or not) brands?
I am sure there are still a lot of people who prefer to go with an established brand. But for those wanting to venture a bit outside the norm I sincerely believe that our proposition has incredible value. Not only because we offer a personalized last for every client but also our finishing and handwork. They are one of the best you can currently find on the market especially for the price. At least as far as I am aware!. And for some people like myself, Wayman Bespoke might be the only way to get well fitting shoes and dip your toes into the world of bespoke shoemaking.
17. Thank you so much Simon! All the best with this difficult and rewarding journey you embarked on. Any last words of advice for our readers?
For anyone considering commissioning a pair with Wayman Bespoke I encourage you to reach out to me personally. Either via email, Instagram or even the live chat we offer on the website. I very much enjoy the relationships I am able to build and am always happy to help with the process and any questions you might have. I am also open to special requests, so if there’s something specific you are looking for just let me know!
A small note for those of you that are curious about the pricing of Wayman Bespoke. A pair would start at 680 Euros (about $799/£615) and 115 Euros for the test shoe ($135/£105). These prices are without VAT so add +16% ONLY if you are in Europe.
Wrapping Things Up!
First of all I would really like to thank Simon for this interview article. Not only he wrote almost 3200 words but he also did it twice after losing the save file. It takes hours to write this amount and as a blogger and businessman I appreciate his effort greatly. It is certainly unique on the market and speaking from personal experience it takes a lot of faith and belief to follow up with an idea and quit your job to focus on it.
I therefore encourage you to give Wayman Bespoke a look through their Website and follow them on Instagram! I hope one day I can try his shoes and get my hands on a pair I can review here. And that brings my Interview with Simon from Wayman Bespoke to a close! Let me know if you enjoy these or who would you like to see next. For next week, I will attempt make a review of the awesome Dignito ties I got!
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Thank you for reading,