The Right Choice
It is only natural to be skeptical. I already invested in getting my last (wooden model of my feet) created; and though 800 dollars is considered a small investment for truly bespoke shoes, I didn’t know the value of what I was purchasing at the time. What helped ease my anxiety was knowing that truly bespoke, hand-welted shoes can be resoled whenever they wear out for just a fraction of the price. This would entail that I don’t have to buy new shoes as long as we got the measurements right and they are comfortable. Legend has it a good pair of shoes can be handed down generation by generation–just like a good Rolex. Furthermore, what helped ease my skepticism was to remind myself that, at least from what I heard, hand-welted shoes share some similarities to barefoot minimalist shoes. As I mentioned in the previous blog post, it is said that hand-welted, bespoke shoes, just like minimalist shoes are more responsive, and allow the wearer to feel closer to the ground. That being said, I will have to see for myself. I know the difference between walking barefoot and walking in mass-produced, factory-made shoes, but only until I actually put on the pair that was made per my specifications at the trunk show will I truly know if my investment was worthwhile.
Bespoke, Trust, and Reassurance...
Still holding some doubts in my mind as I didn’t want to buy another pair of shoes that would hurt my feet, I decided to contact Allan, the co-founder of The Last Shoemaker who I met at the trunk show some time ago. Allan reassured me that in the process of truly bespoke shoemaking, he would first build a “test pair” using cheaper leathers based on the shoe last created specifically for me, and modeled using a pattern carefully designed according to my feet and the specifications that were discussed at the first meeting. This “test pair” would allow for some adjustments before the high-quality leather was brought onto the table. Beyond the test pair, Allan offered me the option of a “trial pair” considering my various conditions such as recurring ingrown toenails, my right-foot being larger than my left, and the occasional ankle and knee problem. This “test pair” as explained by Allan, was meant for me to be worn for about 2 weeks to see how the shoes still fit after walking in them for a while. My doubts started to fade as I listened to the intricate and nuanced processes a shoe has to go through before it really becomes a part of me. Reviewing these clearcut and intricate processes, from speaking to the customer, i.e. myself, to creating the last; from nailing the upper (leather) onto the last to creating the right balance of solid wood and soft cork for balance and stability; from making a channel to stitch the welt and leather sole together, and finally shining the shoe, pulling out the last and awaiting me to try out my one in seven billion pair of shoes, it is a process which, once understood, annihilated all of my doubts.
During the period of waiting for my shoe last and “test pair” to be created, I continued to practice walking around barefoot as much as I could, at least when I wasn’t at work–This would ultimately allow me to gauge the much-needed feedback from my feet so that once the “test pair” was ready, I could instantly tell which part was uncomfortable; or unlike the barefoot experience to say the least. Walking around barefoot at the local parks, reading, studying, learning about the different kinds of custom-made shoes and manufacturing techniques made me even more so eager to at least give my “test pair” a try. I read stories of the differences between Goodyear welted and hand-welted shoes, between custom-made, semi-bespoke and bespoke footwear; bespoke being of the highest tier, of course, as they are truly one in a million. Well, one in seven billion to be precise. It was fascinating to learn that Goodyear welted shoes, although they are known to be of high quality, can not compare to hand-welted shoes in terms of the barefoot feeling as the hand-welted shoe will always sit closer to the ground due to what I mentioned before, a smaller space between the insole and the outsole, allowing more responsiveness and flexibility just like an ideal minimalist barefoot shoe.
Before I knew it, my test pair was ready. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it must’ve slipped my mind that the test shoes are made from cheaper leathers, and of course that the test shoes would not quite look like the final product that we communicated at our first meeting in the trunk show. Allan reminded me not to worry, and that this step was just to make sure that the shoe was comfortable until the more expensive leathers were incorporated. I slipped them on and immediately noticed the wide toe box that allowed my toes to splay naturally, unlike my past experiences when trying on expensive, sharp-tipped dress shoes that would crush my toes. It was a sigh of relief. Though the test pair was slightly tight on my right side, everything else felt just right. I told Allan of the tightness on the right side, and he didn’t give me the usual salesperson response of “The shoes will break in after a while and you will feel better.” He attentively listened to all of my concerns and said that he would make sure the right side would fit better on my next visit. Yet another refreshing sigh of relief.
In this chapter, I spoke about the challenges and doubts that I faced in the initial stages of getting my first pair of bespoke, hand-welted, minimalist shoes. Though they seemed significant, Allan and his partners at The Last Shoemaker made sure all of my concerns were tended to and that I had the best experience possible when waiting for my one in seven billion pair of shoes.