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It's probably worth pointing out that a Loake 1880 and C&J bench grade would be within about 10 pounds of each other at a wholesale cost, which would all be in leather quality. If you think about it they are both made in England, with the same technique, staff would get paid around the same and other manufacturing costs about the same. So to me it's not that surprising, and I think $400 AUD is perfectly reasonable for a B&M store where you can try them on. Loakes are very underrated shoes at the 1880 level.
I don't thnk we should speculate whether loake do or don't use a distributor here, probably not given they only have about 10 accounts in OZ but who knows.
If you think about it, it costs around $75 to ship a pair of shoes back to the uk if they don't fit, which blows the majority of the saving of buying from the likes of herring etc. of course if you know your size etc then that a different story. But it may surprise to learn that some people still value good service, being able to be fitted etc for shoes and are happy to pay for it.
At the end of the day you vote with your wallet but if B&M stores never get any support, then they won't exist at all, which would be sad.
In conclusion, your bank probably rips you off a hell of a lot more every month than your local loake stocking shoe store (DJ's not included).
From what I've read, the main difference between a Loake and C&J etc is that the sole is stitched aloft as opposed to being bevelled which is the more arduous process. I can't see the leather quality being that much better if it has to go through an A4 machine, I could be wrong though.
FWIW, Cresta in Chippendale own the Australian distribution. Their site advertises the overseas corrected grain models exclusively.