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what makes a good shoe and why they cost so much - Page 9

post #121 of 232
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Originally Posted by DWFII View Post
Why Rome? Why not the early neolithic? If you go back far enough even a cardboard facsimilie will look like it is one of the "finer things" by comparison. Such juxtapositions are neither valid nor objective. If you want to compare items in your "middle class American home" to similar hand made items when the artisanal production of such was at its height then I suspect you would arrive at a very different conclusion.
Rome was quite civilized, had a high level of trade, had very skilled artisans, and access to the knowledge of the Greeks- as the Antikythera Mechanism gives testimony to. It is also entirely before the industrial revolution. One could also use the Han Chinese empires, say the Southern Song of ~1000AD, to come to the same conclusion. But fine, let us move to post 1700, with the understanding that the industrial revolution was in motion.
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Take that kitchen table...do you really believe that a table in a middle class home of the 18th or 19th centtury would be eclipsed in quality by the veneer and composites of the average contemporary middle class home? Or let's skew the comparison just a lttle and assume that our modern home has a solid oak table. Have you ever heard of quarter-sawn oak? I doubt many have yet it was clearly a superior cut of wood that is too expensive to implement today despite the great savings that mass production realizes in comparison to hand made simply by dint of eliminating the skilled worker.
The small middle class of the 18th probably had nicer items than I do, particularly artifacts of wood. The median subject of the British Empire in the 18th century would not have had nicer things than I do. The middle class of the British Empire in the 19th Century was larger than at any previous time. The median subject of the British Empire in the 19th century was probably worse off than his/her 18th century counterpart, but that isn't the comparison we are making. The "public school" class in Britain probably had nicer things than I do, as they could afford it. The point I'm making is that the wealthy had access to nice things, but the rise of the middle class -required- mass production. And mass production -required- machines. And since I am adamant that the rise of the middle class was a good event in world history, blanket denunciations of machine made are not persuasive. Has the pendulum swung too far towards cheap, expendable, souless, mass produced artifacts? Absolutely. There we are on common ground.
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Or how about the middle class American home itself? Does the mortise and tenon construction of joist and beams really pale by comparison to the unseasoned 2x4's and nailgun stapling of modern homes? How does particle board subflooring compare to tongue and groove?
Worse, clearly. But then, we don't live in sod houses like at least one house of the Little House on the Prairie set- testimony to 19th century Americans probably thought of as lower middle class.
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Well, it may have in some Trades...I'm most familiar with my own, however, and if I am understanding your usage of the term "artisanal mass production," I can assure you that in the shoemaking and allied trades commual production--"artisanal factories"--continued well into the early years of the 20th century in many western societies. Well after onset of the Industrial Revolution, in any case.
Granted. Clothing, and in particular shoe making, seems to have been one of the last holdouts to machine made mass production. Look, what I worry about is that the middle class, the majority of people in America at least, needs cheap products in order to remain middle class. I'd like to change this, it isn't clear how, and moving back to artisanal production seems a promising model. The whole point can be made clearer using airline travel. We all agree it is dreadful how they pack us in like cattle into airplanes. The problem is the price. If they charged more, they could put fewer people into the planes. If they charged more, though fewer people could fly. It'd be a nicer experience for those who could afford it. It could become the definition of middle class- being able to afford plane tickets. It would just be a smaller middle class than we have now. Thus I'm attracted to the idea of artisanal clothing, including shoes, as the wedge to take people to the place where they buy less often but buy better things. It is one of the few places I can imagine this working in the shorter term.
post #122 of 232
jennysy, this is some next level spamming you are doing. Good work.
post #123 of 232
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by james_timothy View Post
The point I'm making is that the wealthy had access to nice things, but the rise of the middle class -required- mass production. And mass production -required- machines. And since I am adamant that the rise of the middle class was a good event in world history, blanket denunciations of machine made are not persuasive.
And yet there has been none of that here. I have given what I consider fairly cogent and logical reasons why I beleve that factory goods inevitably tend towards poorer and poorer quality. I have provided many examples and, if you will pardon me saying so, I don't think that many...if any...valid or objective examples have been provided to counter the thesis. One of the more obvious weaknesses in the discussion is simply that we haven't really established what we mean by middle class. I cannot agree that the Laura Ingals homestead represents a typical middle class American home--not in the 19th century nor yet the 18th. A better example might be the Cape Cods or the farm houses of post-colonial Pensylvannia. What's more if you truly believe that the common household goods that you surround yourself with are of finer quality than their 18th century counterparts then you have a lot higher standard of living than I do and I consider myself lower middle class. As yet another example...I own a bedroom set that I inherited from my grandparents. It was probably made in the late 1800's or early 1900's. It is massive Honduran mahogany and not a nail or square inch of veneer to be found. My grandparents owned this set for as long as they were married...they may have even bought it right after their marriage...and they were solidly middle class. Nothing...absolutely nothing...that I, as a middle class Tradesman, could afford on the contemporary market could begin to touch it for quality. And it will probably pass on to my grandchildren. What in the typical middle-class American home will be passed on to anything but the next generation of landfill? And that's an important point because ''durability" is surely an aspect of quality even if one that only implied. But that durability is there because it is intentionally designed into any well made product. The Tradesman does not consider "built-in obsolecence" as part of his mandate. In fact he does everything in his power to incorporate techniques and materials that will stand up to wear and give the longest service possible. Again, factory made goods have almost a diametrically opposed philosophy--for the factory to survive it must continue to produce goods...the demand for product must never level out. If goods are durable, sales go flat because people hang on to what they have. And so the fashion cycle is born...and nurtured...
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Look, what I worry about is that the middle class, the majority of people in America at least, needs cheap products in order to remain middle class. I'd like to change this, it isn't clear how, and moving back to artisanal production seems a promising model.
Very commendable, but from my perspective...as a shoemaker...all I can say is good luck with that. I suspect that it is naive or perhaps overly optimistic to believe that a system that led to the factory and mass-produced goods almost as surely as two cars rushing at each other herald a wreck, can ever be made to yield a different result. ...no matter how many times it is tried, no matter the context nor the forgotten lessons of the past. Think about this...when a Tradesman gets such a reputation for quality work that his business expands beyond what he himself is capable of doing, at least one of the options is to hire more workers. And if demand continues to increase he may very well replace some of those humanly slow and errant workers with fast and reliable machines. And so the slide begins... The other part is that as that transition is effectuated, the original Tradesman begins to lose control of the means of production. The company becomes horizontal rather than vertical. And as he loses control of the quality of the raw materials, he inevitably loses control of "quality" overall and altogether. The point is that no company starts with the objective of producing crappy goods. Most start off with the same high standards that characterize the bespoke worker. It is the demands of mass production, the contraints imposed by machines, and the mandates set by the "bottom line" that dilute, and ultimately debase, the best of intentions. Johnson and Murphy were once bespoke makers.
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Thus I'm attracted to the idea of artisanal clothing, including shoes, as the wedge to take people to the place where they buy less often but buy better things. It is one of the few places I can imagine this working in the shorter term.
The only thing that makes this a viable impulse at all is the Internet. But it requires the understanding that the artisanal community needs to be comprised of many individual artisans controlling their own individual means of production all the way down the line. It also requires that the general populace not only think about and ultimately reject the "factory mentality" but that the artisan himself reject that "philosophy", as who should say. That he realize that his best interests lie in appealing to a niche market that values quality above any other consideration.
post #124 of 232
Thread Starter 
Rather than make my somewhat lengthy observations above even lengthier, I wanted to expand just a little bit... I regret to say that as hard hearted as it sounds, I am not worried about whether the middle class get its fix of plastic and chrome. I am worried that artisans--bespoke shoemakers, tailors, etc. will survive as valued members of society, much less in what would almost certainly be insular artisanal communities. If past is prelude, the future is by no means certain for the trades. We have not thrived in the last 150 years. Not even as quaint repositories of somewhat arcane but hypothetically valuable knowledge....much of that already lost to the mists of time. Even here on Style Forum, we see the preponderance of opinion trending towards the view that bespoke is overpriced and unnecesssary. Or better bought used. This is the "factory mentality" exemplified. How can artisans, of any stripe, survive if people who ostensibly tout quality and refinement, are willing...nay, even eager...to accept "good enough?"
post #125 of 232
Thread Starter 
Somewhere in this thread we were talking about exposed stitching on outsoles. I wanted to illustrate what can be done...with the entry level version of the machine that is used in factories--the "rapid" in GY/Rapid or Blake/rapid. Took roughly one minute more to close up the channel after sewing than to have stitched aloft and probably less than that if the alternative was to groove and stitch an exposed seam. So little time, so little effort...so great a difference.
post #126 of 232
Quote:
Originally Posted by DWFII View Post
Somewhere in this thread we were talking about exposed stitching on outsoles.

I wanted to illustrate what can be done...with the entry level version of the machine that is used in factories--the "rapid" in GY/Rapid or Blake/rapid. Took roughly one minute more to close up the channel after sewing than to have stitched aloft and probably less than that if the alternative was to groove and stitch an exposed seam.

So little time, so little effort...so great a difference.


If such improvements are possible at minimum cost why is the cost of bespoke shoes at 3k or there about? What makes bespoke shoes worth so much if they can be made for the same or close to the same price as RTW?
post #127 of 232
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sir James View Post
If such improvements are possible at minimum cost why is the cost of bespoke shoes at 3k or there about? What makes bespoke shoes worth so much if they can be made for the same or close to the same price as RTW?
A good many bespoke shoes are not only hand stitched but hand channeled. If nothing else the channel is virtually invisible when cut by hand, particularly if it is cut horizontally. In the photo above, the outsoles were stitched by machine and the (vertical) channel was cut at the same time the stitching was being done. The best and most difficult techniques are reserved for bespoke work...mostly because the maker is implicitly responsible for the level of workmanship..and explicitly because they bear his name.
post #128 of 232
Quote:
Originally Posted by DWFII View Post
A good many bespoke shoes are not only hand stitched but hand channeled. If nothing else the channel is virtually invisible when cut by hand, particularly if it is cut horizontally.

In the photo above, the outsoles were stitched by machine and the (vertical) channel was cut at the same time the stitching was being done.

The best and most difficult techniques are reserved for bespoke work...mostly because the maker is implicitly responsible for the level of workmanship..and explicitly because they bear his name.

Maybe a better question to ask is, from the consumer point of view what makes the bespoke shoe worth 3k when the RTW shoe may have some of the same features that are accomplished by machine.
post #129 of 232
^Perhaps if not for superior construction, then other plausible reasons are to accomodate a difficult fit and the infinite possibilities of design and materials.
post #130 of 232
Quote:
Originally Posted by DWFII View Post
Even here on Style Forum, we see the preponderance of opinion trending towards the view that bespoke is overpriced and unnecesssary. Or better bought used. This is the "factory mentality" exemplified. How can artisans, of any stripe, survive if people who ostensibly tout quality and refinement, are willing...nay, even eager...to accept "good enough?"
Really? You make many many good points, and certainly are a major contribution to SF, but its the hyperbole and overheated prose which gets people - believe it or not, form is just as important as function.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sir James View Post
If such improvements are possible at minimum cost why is the cost of bespoke shoes at 3k or there about? What makes bespoke shoes worth so much if they can be made for the same or close to the same price as RTW?
Actually, it's to keep the bespoke artisan living the 'life' of what used to be the province of the monied, landed gentry. It's easy to overlook the rapid rise in socioeconomic strata of 'artisans' over the centuries, something which everyone here has been stepping around.
post #131 of 232
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sir James View Post
Maybe a better question to ask is, from the consumer point of view what makes the bespoke shoe worth 3k when the RTW shoe may have some of the same features that are accomplished by machine.
But thinking that there is a qualitative similarity, much less equation, just because a technique kind of...sort of...looks like or is touted as being like a Traditional technique is a mistake. The techniques used in RTW may seem like the techniques used in bespoke but they are not. This is one of the great fallacies that we all buy into on one level or another. And because of that complicity we can't even blame the perpetrators of that hoax. Since the Industrial Revolution, every item that factories have sought to mass re-produce has been "jimmied" to emulate or duplicate features of the original hand made artifact. But it is all for show. To fool the eye and even the willing heart. Think of the "pricking up" of a welt--that's the little separations between the stitches. Originally there was a reason that a welt would be pricked up. It served to tighten and true stitches that had been put in by hand and by eye. Over time, the appearance of the welt pricking became identified with good quality and a conscientious craftsman. Today, what with machines that do all the outsoles stitching (on RTW) there is no real need for pricking up yet you will see it even on PVC welting, even on cement construction that has no stitching at all. Why? If there is no longer any functional justification, it begs the question as to whether it is simply an attempt to "steal the thunder" of a traditionally made shoe. I cannot think of a single Traditional technique, as it applies to shoemaking, that Industry has been able to 100% successfully translate to the factory context and machines. In most cases, although the final result may superficially appear the same, the qualitative differences are considerable. And, if it makes a difference (and for whom it makes a difference), almost 100% of those techniques have been tailored to accommodate cheap and more commonly available (in many cases, inferior) materials and altered to take so much less time and so much less skill to accomplish as to boggle the mind. Traditional bespoke shoemakers have never been and are not now anywhere close to being landed gentry. In the past, shoemakers who did not own their own shops worked in lightless basements and drafty attics. Today, I doubt that the individual bespoke maker commands more than $75.00 an hour...and that's shop time--it pays the lights and heat and the cost of materials, etc.. If a bespoke firm is asking $3000.00 for a shoe, it may very well be worth it simply because the Traditional techniques require an inordinate amount of skill and time to effectuate. And such skills (and artisans) are rare and getting rarer simply because most people do not understand nor respect them...anymore than the factory owner respects them. But on another level, I am sure that in a few of those cases (bespoke firms), it is simply capitalism run rampant--owners controlling the means of production and wishing to increase profit margins by taking advantage of a public perception that may or may not be warranted. The individual skilled shoemakers working for such firms almost certainly get paid substantially more than their unskilled counterparts operating machines in a factory. And hurrah for that. But they are not making the kind of money a doctor is making. Or a stock broker is making. They are middle class at best (as compared to the factory worker who is, by default, working class). The 19th century broadsides decrying "wage slavery" resonate even today among those who make their livings by the sweat of their own brows. Maybe the owners of the high end bespoke firms are making an unreasonable amount of profit...depends on your perspective, I suppose. But this cuts across the board in all facets of industry. The owners of shoemaking firms whose products may retail for a tenth of the price of the bespoke shoe are, relatively speaking, making far more profit than the bespoke firm, in most cases. I think you have to be oblivious to fundamental business precepts to deny that maximization of profit is the mandate imposed by competition (for a nearly homogeneous market that is geared toward the lowest common denominator), if not the stockholders.
post #132 of 232
Thread Starter 
Another aspect of this that occurs to me... If we were to count up the hours that went into a Traditional handmade bespoke shoe, and figure out some sort compensation for the years and years of training and continued learning, and the difficulty of some of the skills that need to be acquired, and the rarity of those individuals who possess those skills... and if we were to pay these individuals a per hour wage commensurate not only with their uniqueness but in line with what other middle class (or even working class) members of society get paid, hand-made bespoke shoes would undoubtedly cost much more than $3K. We don't value people who have to sweat to make their living. It's "class-ism" and nothing less. There are far more real estate brokers and lawyers and so forth than there are skilled shoemakers, and a case could be made that the former contribute less to society (and consume more oxygen) than the latter. Yet on a per hour basis some of these folk make enough money to employ their own personal shoemakers on a full time basis. So the real question might better be: why do bespoke shoes cost so little? Simply put the market won't bear it. People will pay a "premium" to say their shoes are made by "so-and-so"...sometimes literally a thousand times the cost of production. Just as companies will pay a bonus to the CEO that is literally thousands of times their salary or their intrinsic worth. But in most cases it never occurs to do a cost-price analysis even on...especially on...luxury goods or articles that have the cachet of a famous name--it's just another form of "class-ism," make no mistake.
post #133 of 232
Quote:
Originally Posted by DWFII View Post
Another aspect of this that occurs to me... If we were to count up the hours that went into a Traditional handmade bespoke shoe, and figure out some sort compensation for the years and years of training and continued learning, and the difficulty of some of the skills that need to be acquired, and the rarity of those individuals who possess those skills... and if we were to pay these individuals a per hour wage commensurate not only with their uniqueness but in line with what other middle class (or even working class) members of society get paid, hand-made bespoke shoes would undoubtedly cost much more than $3K. We don't value people who have to sweat to make their living. It's "class-ism" and nothing less. There are far more real estate brokers and lawyers and so forth than there are skilled shoemakers, and a case could be made that the former contribute less to society (and consume more oxygen) than the latter. Yet on a per hour basis some of these folk make enough money to employ their own personal shoemakers on a full time basis. So the real question might better be: why do bespoke shoes cost so little? Simply put the market won't bear it. People will pay a "premium" to say their shoes are made by "so-and-so"...sometimes literally a thousand times the cost of production. Just as companies will pay a bonus to the CEO that is literally thousands of times their salary or their intrinsic worth. But in most cases it never occurs to do a cost-price analysis even on...especially on...luxury goods or articles that have the cachet of a famous name--it's just another form of "class-ism," make no mistake.
IMO this type of rationalization is not seen anywhere in society, not just bespoke shoe making. I am in law enforcement and have been for nearly 20 years, but my pay does not equate in the manner your prescribing. Teachers, fireman, combat military personnel, even doctors and nurses are not payed by those standards. Why should it be different for skilled shoemakers? Not to say that other professions do not deserve more compensation, heaven knows teachers are grossly under paid but for someone to make 3k for 1 pair of shoes to some (including myself) no offense, seems excessive.
post #134 of 232
No one is going to win this argument.

If you're a value shopper, don't buy bespoke shoes. At this point, the only people who do buy bespoke shoes are (1) a dwindling population who do so because it wouldn't occur to them to do otherwise or (2) enthusiasts who want something that looks or feels special.

Don't go making some Consumer Reports-style inverted snobbery argument about how no shoes can be worth 3 grand. I'd sooner argue no shoe can be worth $1500, if you see what is sold at that price. Someone buying a bespoke shoe has a different idea of whether it is worth it than someone scouring ebay for a pair of cheap groupthink-safe shoes.

DWFII may be overstating his case (and is not going to stop me from buying EGs) but I have a great deal of sympathy for him and for other real artisans in the various clothing-related fields since they are going to be ever more marginalized by brands with a lot of money for ad spend which can sell something much more cheaply made (RTW or special orders sold as bespoke) for prices that can reach almost as high. Bespoke shoemaking is almost always a loss-making business, and I've met more bespoke shoemakers than most of the rest of you to know that they aren't blowing smoke. What helps keep them in business are things like shoe-repair businesses, (generally licensed) RTW or wealthy parent companies that keep bespoke as a small loss leader for prestige purposes.
post #135 of 232
Quote:
Originally Posted by RJman View Post
No one is going to win this argument. If you're a value shopper, don't buy bespoke shoes. At this point, the only people who do buy bespoke shoes are (1) a dwindling population who do so because it wouldn't occur to them to do otherwise or (2) enthusiasts who want something that looks or feels special. Don't go making some Consumer Reports-style inverted snobbery argument about how no shoes can be worth 3 grand. I'd sooner argue no shoe can be worth $1500, if you see what is sold at that price. Someone buying a bespoke shoe has a different idea of whether it is worth it than someone scouring ebay for a pair of cheap groupthink-safe shoes. DWFII may be overstating his case (and is not going to stop me from buying EGs) but I have a great deal of sympathy for him and for other real artisans in the various clothing-related fields since they are going to be ever more marginalized by brands with a lot of money for ad spend which can sell something much more cheaply made (RTW or special orders sold as bespoke) for prices that can reach almost as high. Bespoke shoemaking is almost always a loss-making business, and I've met more bespoke shoemakers than most of the rest of you to know that they aren't blowing smoke. What helps keep them in business are things like shoe-repair businesses, (generally licensed) RTW or wealthy parent companies that keep bespoke as a small loss leader for prestige purposes.
I find your comments to be snobbery. My comments has nothing to do with consumer reports. Nor am I some E-bay shopper as you so casually describe. If you don't agree that fine but I reserve the right to engage in conversation and speak my peace in a respectful manner. You will not dictate to me what I can say. My comments were not out of disrespect!
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