Shoe Brands In Trouble
Few can deny the continuous decline and struggling of the classic dress shoe industry.
A slow process – or ticking time bomb if you will – that bubbled up for years until it exploded in 2021.
This (unusual) article contains my personal thoughts about the why and how as well as what’s next. I should also warn you that it might contain profanity or strong expressions.
Join me in this discussion of a very serious topic.
But Is It Really Dying?
If you really think about it, the dress shoe industry isn’t dying.
In fact, it is actually thriving every year as the formal shoe market value will be at an all-time high in 2022. The projections are $9.8 Billion Dollars which is a staggering 50% increase from 2015 (Source).
These numbers however include anything they define as “Dress Shoes” which for the most part is cheap fast fashion garbage.
When it comes to the real classic dress shoe industry, most brands are on a tightrope. One small sudden move or wrong decision and they are out of the game in an instant.
The Covid 19 Pandemic only served to expose the corrosion of this “car’s” chassis. Many historic companies filed for bankruptcy while others changed direction completely.
The increased “casualization” and death of the white collar is certainly a contributing factor. But in my opinion there are many more reasons behind the struggling of the (real) dress shoe industry as a whole.
What I will attempt to do is to lay out my thoughts on different things that cause this chain reaction.
#1. Casual Is Taking Over
I think it’s only fitting to start with the obvious.
Nobody can deny that even in corporate America dress codes are not so formal anymore. You see that when the big last bastions of white/blue collar jobs such as Goldman Sachs and those other leeches drop them.
Additionally, most of us would rather be in joggers and sneakers all day purely because of the comfort. Quite often, the suit is not an armor any more, rather than a hassle.
And when they do have to wear a suit they select some shit shoes from cheap depot.
It’s shocking when I walk in Stockholm and I see people in nice, expensive suits with colorful ugly trainers or running shoes. There is no care for style anymore.
One can observe this horrific trend of casualization by looking at the desperate attempts to create sneaker dress shoes.
Culprits like Santoni, Allen Edmonds and more ride the trends resulting in shoes nobody asked. But because everyone’s doing it, they keep milking the cow.
No, there’s nothing wrong with wearing sneakers even with certain suits. But I wouldn’t take you seriously in a business environment if you showed me you don’t care.
#2. The Covid-19 Pandemic
I briefly touched the surface of the Pandemic before.
Whether you believe in its severity or not, it affected all of our lives for over a year now. Luckily, the end is slowly in sight with regulations loosening up.
What it did though was put the nail in the coffin of certain types of businesses.
2.1 Those Already Clinging For Dear Life
Brands with no clear identity or strategy would never survive for long in this environment.
Many accumulated debts or were barely breaking even. Others driven by orangutans like my former 2 bosses.
When a business is already near financial peril, the pandemic exposed their flaws exponentially. Infrastructure, logistics, customer service.
There are so many things you can discuss in separate articles. I will certainly expand on this in separate sections.
2.2 Those Without An Online Presence
As much as I love walking into a Brick & Mortar to buy things and get the service, online shopping is the future.
There is an ongoing debate if traditional retail is dead or can recover. The bleak truth is that almost any shop that relied so far in offline sales or had no website was ready to fail.
It’s quite simple that you need to catch up with the times. It’s quite shocking how bastions of classic shoe brands like Crockett & Jones didn’t launch their e-commerce website until 2021.
But at least they use their downtime to do it, alongside brands such as Septieme Largeur.
Think of it as putting all your eggs in one basket. You simply have to diversify.
So far I retained my composure, but we reached my “favorite” part of the article.
In 2021, almost everything you see out there is fake. Everybody can show a product and self-label themselves an “influencer”.
What are you influencing you apocalyptic dingleberry? The problem is that there are a lot of people that should not be allowed near the internet.
Seeing someone genuinely liking a product and endorsing it is fine. But how daft must you be to not understand when there is a clear marketing plot in front of you?
As an owner of The Noble Shoe, I get messages and mails every single day from aspiring Influencers. They tell me how much they love my products and how their audience will love it.
Same canned proposals of petty individuals that think they have a privilege to get things for free.
The worst of them all are the “YouTubers”. Even channels that started up nicely and actually offered some good information for newcomers regressed to commission based affiliates.
They game the search algorithm and tell you “how to not be ugly” or for fuck’s sake “how to shower”.
If you need to watch a video on how to take a shower there’s no hope for you.
The Teaching Men’s Crap guy in particular and the Beta Male Aaron Marino guy are the worst. But nonetheless, if they promote cheap ass shoes like Cole Haan and their millions of subscribers buy them, who’s gonna buy the Carminas & Crockett & Jones.
Our good, real brands don’t have that demographic for sure but the colossal waste of money on inferior products makes it harder to survive.
#4. “Styling” Magazines & Blogs
Now, I am a blog myself but it is a hobby. I am pretty sure at certain times I fell into the same category I am going to discuss.
While researching keywords for this article I Googled “what’s next for formal shoes”. The first result was from one of the worst magazines in the history of magazines: GQ.
In that article, Aaron (the author), who has never seen a woman naked before shows us the best formal shoes to smart up your collection.
His vomit inducing list includes 21 shoes out of which 6-7 qualify as ok options. I am not sure I can come up with a good enough swear word for the rest. Just see for yourselves.
If you find the above shoe good looking and appropriate for the “Best Formal Shoes 2021” List then you need anal bleaching.
Wait so what does this have to do with the Struggling Shoe Industry? Well bear with me for a second.
If people like Aaron, GQ and the other short pillock in a famous blog about little people keep promoting garbage because they earn money out of it then those brands will take over.
Like it or not, a magazine like GQ has social status and people blindly believe that if a product’s featured there it must be good. It’s the same for other juggernauts like Forbes, Business Insider and Esquire who are full of fecal mater.
Unfortunately, the classic shoe industry cannot fight off these money making machines, nor it should try to.
Our industry is niche and we love it. But the key takeaway here is to do some research, due diligence and question the validity and credibility of these sources.
#5. Refusal To Change
For those of you unaware, Foster & Son is a legendary British Bespoke Shoemaker.
A couple of years ago they launched their high end Ready To Wear Line which unsurprisingly went bankrupt last year. But why did that happen?
Because British Companies are afraid to change. They are stiff, rigid and play it safe refusing to change.
The Foster shoes were great, although extremely pricey and offered absolutely nothing new. There was no incentive for you to buy them over Edward Green, their lasts were boring and still machine-made.
Brexit and lockdowns were the final nail in the coffin for a company that wanted a piece of the pie without any identity.
Refusal to change can be a great thing. For example, Winson Shoemaker refuses to increase his production when there is a massive demand for his shoes. He knows that if he does that quality will drop.
Crockett & Jones will not increase production just to pump out more shoes, nor will Caulaincourt throw models just to release them.
Foster & Son on the other hand were French fries without a single pinch of salt. Having a clear brand strategy and brand identity is pivotal to survive in this challenging space.
#6. Mismanagement & Dishonesty
Grab some popcorn and visit the visitor’s posts page of Undandy’s Facebook or the comment section on their Instagram Posts.
It’s a mixture of comedy gold and feeling sorry for the poor customers waiting for their “radically awesome” custom shoes for a year.
Or look at the death of another historical company in Alfred Sargent that closed recently. The foreign owners simply didn’t care.
Then you have the unbelievable fiasco with Archibald London that unraveled in Styleforum over the past 2 months. Their contracted shoemaker decided to change the construction from Handwelted to Cemented and nobody noticed a thing for a year.
The owner has not a single clue about shoemaking and was incredibly offensive in his posts.
How can a classic shoe brand survive if they are not honest or ran by blithering idiots?
#7. Shocking Customer Service
I cannot understand how an established big business in 2021 can have appalling customer service.
Take for example the worst customer service in the history of shoemaking by Meermin and Carmina.
The former will not issue you a refund, speak to you nicely or acknowledge mistakes in many occasions until you chargeback their fat asses. People mail me on the blog often or write entries on forums about it.
And then you have a more “serious” company like Carmina which charges a premium product but has never replied to my mail ever. Inaccessible on Instagram and with a QC that went down the drain in the last 12 months they just ride their brand name.
Lastly, you have Cobbler Union who while they seem friendly and nice, they completely ignored me after some discussions we had.
The point here is, no matter how good your product is if you don’t have good service people will jump ship. I would rather pay more to get better service elsewhere as a customer.
When I started The Noble Shoe it was paramount that I offer the best service I can possibly give. And I have ample proof that it’s working so far.
They can do better and they should otherwise it will crash down one day.
#8. Fuck You Prada
Designer brands make my blood boil and are the source of all evil.
You dingleberries, do you really think you are buying a lifestyle or a quality product? You are buying rubbish made by slaves and cheap materials.
A real gentleman doesn’t try to make a statement and stand out by wearing fancy shit. His presence fills the space instead.
The biggest recent stigma in the struggling dress shoe industry is Church’s. Church’s was a nice brand with some good classic shoes.
Little over a decade ago Prada purchased Church’s and laid its dirty stinky fingers all over it. Quality declined or at best stayed the same yet some of the shoes remained appealing for those ready to pay the premium prices.
In a shocking – yet unsurprising – maneuver, Prada overnight increased Church’s prices 40-50% across the board.
Those baboons don’t care if they will lose the few existing customers. No, they are trying to attract rich idiots from emerging markets such as in Asia.
They think that can sell the same exact shoe for 50% more and idiots will buy them.
I really hope Church’s go to the dumpster were it deserves to be with their fashion shoes. If that happens, only time will tell as there are a lot of idiots around us willing to shell out the money.
Big fashion brands are cannibalizing smaller brands and turning them into cash cows. The Church’s owners went back to Joseph Cheaney and helped revive it instead.
Prada and Co. you can eat shit.
Disclaimer: I am actually a certified affiliate for Church’s but I refuse to give them any paid links. I also removed the banner at the right of the website.
So What Now?
The future is not as bleak as it sounds.
In fact, I believe that companies that manage to come out of Covid will be stronger than ever before. Those that were already struggling however might never recover again.
Running my own company and growing it in such challenging times fills me with hope. There are many, many good people out there that appreciate good footwear and will support their favorite shop.
I also talked to many great Bespoke Shoemakers and the reports are encouraging. They have enough work and keep doing this for the joy of it and their passion.
The companies I fear the most about are not so much the classic European ones. It’s the British ones that suffered greatly from Brexit and continuously declining brands such as Alden.
Many shoe brands also choose to go though their own channels instead of supplying shops. Loake pulled out of most stores, Carmina for the most part sells through their website and even Crockett & Jones has their own website now.
On the other hand, smaller workshops like Vass that heavily relied on revenue from tourism and their Brick & Mortar in Budapest have a tougher time. But to their credit, they are willing to work with massive discounts to keep the cash flow going and pay everyone.
There is a small artisan from Italy called Fausto Ripani. An old traditional chap who I think runs the workshop with his son and does low volume contracting work. He messaged me one day on Instagram and asked me for work in a rather desperate but not pushy tone.
It was a little heartbreaking. You can help by supporting your favorite local shop. Do your part and don’t let this amazing craft die.
The above sections are not a definitive guide to all the issues our dress shoe industry is facing. It’s just my quick thoughts in an attempt to let some steam out but also talk about this pressing issue.
You might agree (or not) but the dress shoe industry is truly struggling but I feel has a bright future in front of it. Shoe aficionados will rally and keep supporting what they love.
Especially as so many are eager to get into their dress shoes and go out when the pandemic is over. At the same time, don’t fall victim to mindless “influencing” and think twice before purchasing.
Lastly, when buying think about who makes your shoes. Is it a child in a third world country, or a small family business elsewhere?
I would love to hear your thoughts about all this if you stumbled upon this article. What are your problems with dress shoe brands? Why do you think they are falling behind and what’s the future for them?
In the meantime, stay safe and I will see you next week with a Review of Vass Budapest!
Thank you for reading,