If, like most of us, you’re not rich enough to buy cheap shoes, then scoping out the very best quality is paramount when you’re planning a footwear purchase. Markedly more trend-proof than everything else in your wardrobe, handcrafted styles will last you years if cared for properly, so hunting for traditionally-made designs makes sense in more ways than one. From vegetable tanned leather sneakers to Goodyear-welted boots, here are some of our favourite footwear brands putting quality over quantity.
Founded by Australian brothers Tull and Josh Price in New York City back in 2005, Feit is a leader in clean, minimalist construction, championing quality and environmental awareness over mindless mass production. “Feit was a reaction,” explains Tull. “A desire to return to product and create something special, unique and uncompromising.” To see these shoes up close is to appreciate that each pair really is made with love. Feit offers a wide variety of styles, from hand woven suede slip-ons to double stitchdown desert boots in a robust material it’s dubbed ‘hairy suede’. But where the brand really excels is in the purist form of its sneaker offering: the ‘biotrainer’. The world’s first 100 per cent biological handmade trainer, this slick, pared-back style comes crafted from cordovan (an equine leather, or plainly speaking, horse hide), a material usually reserved for the manufacture of smarter dress shoes, which gives the sneaker its supremely luxurious finish. The key, according to Tull, is in carefully considered materials handled by real people: “The best way for us to offer an unbeatable level of quality is by using a hand-sewn, hand-stitched Goodyear construction and natural materials. Working by hand also gives us flexibility and enables us to create things in small numbers that cannot be created in that scale with a machine or assembly line.” See More: feitdirect.com
In 1851, the story goes, a farmer’s son by the name of John Lobb started out on what was to be a journey of exceptional accomplishment. Aged just 22, Lobb left his home in rural Cornwall and walked the several hundred miles to London in a pair of handmade boots. Few luxury shoemakers can lay claim to that level of heritage. Although now owned by Parisian luxury giant Hermès, it’s John Lobb’s rich, distinctly British tradition of craftsmanship, combined with an eye for modern design, that solidifies the brand’s status as a leader in the luxury footwear sector. John Lobb’s ready-to-wear shoes are still handmade the traditional way, with the vast majority produced in the ‘spiritual home’ of British shoe manufacturing: Northampton. As is to be expected with time-honoured manufacturing methods, there are many steps involved – 190 to be exact, spread over several weeks of production that culminates in footwear of the highest pedigree. Couple this with newly appointed creative director Paula Gerbase (formerly of Hardy Amies and Kilgour) and you’ve got yourself a brand that excels in both artisanal skill and contemporary design. “John Lobb’s craftsmanship and signature attention to detail delivers such impeccable quality footwear,” says Sam Lobban, buying manager at online luxury menswear destination Mr Porter. “A pair of classic John Lobb shoes, like the double monk-strap or loafer, is the ultimate finishing touch to any smart outfit.” As well as classic styles like wingtip brogues, suede penny loafers and leather Chelsea boots, the label’s latest offering embraces slightly more directional styles. The ‘Savannah’ canvas Oxford, for example, delivers the sturdiness and premium feel of a leather shoe (it’s leather lined) with the casual ease of a trainer, thanks to its beige canvas uppers. For autumn/winter 2015, the brand is set to introduce its new featherweight non-welted plimsoll: a slick and simple design featuring rich textures like reverse suede and velveteen calf – not bad at all for a first dip into the sports luxe arena. See More: johnlobb.com
A family-run business, and one of the few remaining British shoemaking elite, George Cleverley was originally founded by the man himself back in 1958, after a 38-year tenure at famed bespoke bootmakers Tuczec. Mr. Cleverley’s grounding in bespoke footwear gave him the requisite skills to quickly establish himself as a leader in the field. Today – albeit without Cleverley who sadly passed away in 1991 – the brand is going from strength to strength, counting the Stathams, Stallones and Spaceys of the world among its clientele, as well as collaborating with Mr Porter on a line of footwear for Colin Firth and Mark Strong in recent spy flick Kingsman: The Secret Service. “We like to think of our brand as a gentleman’s club which has dressed, and continues to dress, some of the world’s most elegant and stylish individuals,” enthuses George Glasgow Jr., CEO and creative director at George Cleverley. So what is it that makes the shoes so special? “Our craftsmanship and techniques are very unique. The process of making just one pair of shoes involves four to five different craftspeople, each of whom specialises in one part of the shoemaking process – on top of that, each part of the process takes approximately three to five years to learn.” According to Glasgow, “It is very important that our shoes are made by hand today in the same manner as they were 50 years ago.” It’s also imperative that production takes place on home soil: “We have never made shoes outside of England, nor used any materials that were anything but the best in our eyes.” First and foremost a formal shoemaker, classic Oxfords, Derbies and loafers styles are what the brand does best – whether bespoke or ready-to-wear as part of its Anthony Cleverley line. Arguably the most iconic is the chisel toe Oxford shoe, which looks pretty much as it sounds – a slightly more angular square toed style than your average round toe Oxford. But Cleverley does monk-straps just as well – immaculately constructed from pristine leathers – which, on purchase, come presented with the wooden lasts that they were crafted on. See More: gjcleverley.co.uk
Red Wing Shoes
“Red Wing Shoes was built on America’s great promise; if one worked hard enough, one could achieve anything,” says Wytse Hylkema, Red Wing Shoes’ European marketing manager. It’s an emotive philosophy that’s been the driving force behind the brand’s global success in producing footwear that’s not only aesthetically pleasing, but also comfortable and, most importantly, durable. In 1905, when Charles H. Beckman couldn’t find the right boots for the muddy streets of Minnesota, he decided he’d make his own – and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, with almost 110 years of experience under its belt, the brand prides itself on a production process that’s remained largely unchanged since its inception over a century ago. Made in America, using signature triple stitched leather and Goodyear construction, Red Wing’s pièce de résistance is its own leather tannery, where the production and processing of materials can be monitored to guarantee a high standard. But it’s the talented workforce that really forms the backbone: “The knowledge and skill of our employees is our most valuable asset,” explains Hylkema. “Currently, our fourth generation of employees crafts our boots in the original Red Wing factory in Minnesota, with the unrivalled skill required to build our boots being passed on from generation to generation.” It’s this level of artisanal skill and minute attention to detail that has put Red Wing at the top of the boot game. Take their classic ruddy brown lace-up boots, for example – combining comfort and rugged durability, this style comes rubber-soled with distinctive features including contrast yellow laces and a slightly raised toe. For those looking to invest in a slightly less well-known style from the brand, the ‘Beckman’ boot is elegant and robust in equal measures, featuring sturdy leather and rubber soles that contrast with a smooth rounded toe. See More: redwingheritage.com
Hailing from Tuscany, Buttero is steeped in the Italian tradition of shoemaking. Taking its name from an Italian word for cowboy or shepherd in the Tuscan region of Maremma, Buttero is, and has been since its debut in 1974, family-run. Although the brand produces footwear in a variety of materials, it’s best known for its locally sourced vegetable-tanned leathers, which – if cared for properly – age beautifully with wear. “Buttero’s production remains in Cerreto Guidi and it hasn’t wavered from its simple formula: honest, local ingredients; elegant lasts and details; and above all, a focus on putting people first,” says Nick Ayoub, co-founder of online men’s designer footwear and accessories retailer Opumo. “Several employees have been with Buttero for over thirty years, and everyone is considered part of the Buttero family.” While the brand is committed to traditional Italian techniques, it’s the way it fuses the old and the new that marks it apart, particularly in the form of its cutting-edge trainer silhouettes made from premium materials. “When you consider how versatile the sneakers are, you really do get great value for money,” say the buying team at menswear retailer END Clothing. “The branding is subtle; just a small, unobtrusive stamp towards the heel, but the superb materials and attention to detail speak for themselves.” The perfect option for those of a slightly more daring sartorial persuasion is the ‘Tanino’ sneaker boot, handcrafted from soft calfskin leather. Its decadent finishing details add an air of opulence to the shoe, with brass grommets (also known as lace eyelets) that are built to last. See More: buttero.it