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The high end Chinese Shoe Thread

Jmr928

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Agree. Still, it confirms my recent shift towards Blake. It is likely that future commissions will feature all the bells and whistles from the sleekiest HW shoes for a fraction of the price. My main concern right now? Leather quality. Shanghai "bespoke" shoemakers may be able to deliver great design but I don't know if they have access to decent leather.
I think for me, aside from the other practical benefits - in my experience, over time Blake stitched shoes aren’t as comfortable.

Setting that aside though and focusing on aesthetics and make - I actually come at it from a different side of that same argument I think.

You’d mentioned the ease with which certain things can be achieved by using Blake construction. To me, the impressive part of higher end shoes is that they’re able to accomplish those things the traditional way. I also simply enjoy the craftsmanship in things. Whether it’s a pair of shoes, a watch, art. The skill, the knowledge, the work and time. I’m much less impressed by using a shortcut method to slap some features on a shoe because it’s easier to get a tighter waist or whatever it might be. Pulling it off on a hand welted pair made by hand? Let me get a pair from the maker who does that.
 

bernoulli

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I have exactly one pair from Acme with another on the way, so bear that in mind. To my untrained eyes, I prefer G&G and AM over Acme but the difference is minor to be almost immaterial.

@clee1982, since sometimes tone is not conveyed well on internet forums, let me state that I highly respect your opinion. I did the "scientific experiment" because your concerns are sensible and you seem a very knowledgeable person.

How would you compare Acme’s leather quality to that of a G&G, AM, etc?
 
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unprocessed

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I have exactly one pair from Acme with another on the way, so bear that in mind. With my untrained eyes, I prefer G&G and AM over Acme but the difference is minor to be almost immaterial.

@clee1982, since sometimes tone is not conveyed well on internet forums, let me state that I highly respect your opinion. I did the "scientific experiment" because your concerns are sensible and you seem a very knowledgeable person.
Interesting any particular reason you find them a slight notch below? How have they taken cream and wax when polishing?

I’ve noticed a dramatic difference in leather quality and how they polish up between premium brands like G&G and more budget friendly brands like TLB
 

bernoulli

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Creases are a little finer and more pronounced on my Acme's. It holds polish well but I find it easier to maintain a high shine on my G&G and AM.

Interesting any particular reason you find them a slight notch below? How have they taken cream and wax when polishing?

I’ve noticed a dramatic difference in leather quality and how they polish up between premium brands like G&G and more budget friendly brands like TLB
 

bernoulli

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I remember this article. It is very good. There is one major assumption, though: that all these companies have access to great leather. I think that is the case, but I have no way to tell. How can we be sure that these companies buy excellent leather?

^^^ When you are comparing and judging "leather quality" on premium brands like G&G, Meccariello's finer ranges, Acme etc, as well as good bespoke shoemakers, you're actually not, you are comparing "leather properties". I've written about this in for example this article.
 

JustPullHarder

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My 2 cents: quality is a normative categorisation for the most part; insofar as a leather has qualities that reflect quality there do not appear to be any constants. For example, a delicate leather can still be very high quality in the eyes of some for certain use cases. In the same vein, a leather that is outwardly very inconsistent visually could be very hard wearing. Another marker of quality could be whether the product is fit for purpose but then it raises of questions of whether the appropriate metric is whether, and the extent to which, it is fit for purpose vis-a-vis the intent to the tannery, the desires of an end user, the aggregate desires of a group of end users, or some combination of the same (I suspect it the last is the most appropriate).

I would argue that the more important measure is whether the leather speaks to your personal subjective tastes. Though that really doesn't provide any answers.
 

j ingevaldsson

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I remember this article. It is very good. There is one major assumption, though: that all these companies have access to great leather. I think that is the case, but I have no way to tell. How can we be sure that these companies buy excellent leather?
Thanks! As I also write, it doesn't really work that way that one brand has access to the best leather, one does not. When you order leather from a tannery, you buy a batch (or several), normally the amount of hides that fits in the smallest of the drums used in the process (if aniline the dying drum). This batch will contain grades of grade 1, 2 and 3. Exact amount one don't know on beforehand. Then it's the matter of what you do with these batches, and there premium brands as the ones I mentionobly select the best parts, that's part of why the price is so high. The rest is sold on at low price or used for other things.

For smaller bespoke makers one normally source from wholesalers or similar, there one pick the hides themself or specify grade when ordering, and pay accordingly. Also then use it in the same way as above.

It would be more expensive for these to use lesser quality leathers, cause the risk of customers coming back and demanding new pair, not buy these brands again, spread negative feedback on them and so on would be too high.

But a low price brand also get some of the best hides in their batches, but they use the best parts of this for a bunch of toe caps and maybe vamps, they cut way more of it than the premium brands, ans quarters etc comes from less good parts, and so on. They use more of the batch and hence have lower material costs. It's all a scale of specifications which brands follow, to make the most out of what they have according the specifications.

Then of course also premium brands can sometimes misjudge a hide (more common with embossed leathers etc that can be harder to assess) and so shoes less good, usually these end up as seconds,but sometimes slip through to full price shoes, it's the nature of human work.
 

bernoulli

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I really respect your position on this. I would most likely approach bespoke similarly if I was sure that everybody involved was being (a) compensated properly and (b) would be respectful of traditional shoemaking. I would have no problem saving years to afford the work of @ntempleman or @DWFII, both makers that I hold in the highest regard. In fact, I have an outstanding commission from Lu Yang that is being done in the same spirit that you describe. However, when we get to larger workshops or factories, I am skeptical that workers are well-treated and compensated, and that the skill, the knowledge, and the work are valued in a commensurate manner to the best standards. Workplaces are messy, power dynamics can lead to dysfunctional teams, cost-cutting is always a strong incentive, etc.

If companies were more like Vass, whose owner promised every worker that they would retain their job, no matter how painful the pandemic, I would likely approach the shoe industry differently. But I am a bit too jaded at this point to believe that is common behavior. I hope Acme workers make a decent living, are well respected, and given a stake in the company's success. The same goes for G&G. But I don't know. As a business owner of a respected brand told me: "Look at Lu Yang, he can make 24 pairs a year; it is hard to make a living that way." And he is absolutely right. I made some estimates of the hourly wage that Mr. Yang is making, and that is pitiful.

Anyway, I offer no answers and my opinions are not set in stone.

I think for me, aside from the other practical benefits - in my experience, over time Blake stitched shoes aren’t as comfortable.

Setting that aside though and focusing on aesthetics and make - I actually come at it from a different side of that same argument I think.

You’d mentioned the ease with which certain things can be achieved by using Blake construction. To me, the impressive part of higher end shoes is that they’re able to accomplish those things the traditional way. I also simply enjoy the craftsmanship in things. Whether it’s a pair of shoes, a watch, art. The skill, the knowledge, the work and time. I’m much less impressed by using a shortcut method to slap some features on a shoe because it’s easier to get a tighter waist or whatever it might be. Pulling it off on a hand welted pair made by hand? Let me get a pair from the maker who does that.
 

shirtingfantasy

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And I copy-and-paste my review below:

ACME Shoemaker: the UNsponsored review
January 09, 2022


ACME (or Acme) shoemaker skin-stitched special Oxford. Made-to-order 2021.

There is no dearth of Acme shoemaker reviews from the bloggers and KOLs - with some of them having multiple pairs made already:
https://shirtingfantasy.blogspot.com/2022/01/goog_9971580
ShoeGazing.com (Jesper Ingevaldsson)

https://shoegazing.com/2020/10/04/buyers-guide-acme-shoemaker/

The Shoe Snob (Justin FitzPatrick)

https://theshoesnobblog.com/acme-shoemaker-the-review/

@ThunderMarch (Winston)


@shellvedge (David)



Here, @shirtingfantasy is going to review his own process of MTO from Acme (or ACME?) in 2021, and provide some initial feedbacks on fit and construction.

A bit of flashback - when the COVID-19 was still pre-Delta/Omicron, and when Acme was first launched:



Back in August 2020, Acme MTO was RMB 9500 (USD 1490). As of late 2021, the official price for MTO is quoted as EUR 1250 / USD 1450. From what is understood, VIP customers of Medallion Shoes (the mastermind behind Acme) would receive preferential rates. @shirtingfantasy did not have enough purchases with Medallion to unlock that.


Almost a year later, after MTOs and Special Orders with some other makers, @shirtingfantasy suddenly had the impulse to order a pair of seamless back double monk (a.k.a. JL Chapel-mimic) from Acme because of the deterioration of finishing and leather quality of JL Prestige in recent years (so the lesson is, seeing bad shoes from one brand can lead to purchase from another, better brand).

Initial communication was through the chat function on Medallion Taobao store, which was quickly switched to WeChat (effectively our National messaging platform for the Mainland region):





Tim from Medallion very smoothly coordinated for me my contemplated Chapel-clone, and quickly liaised with workshop head Mr Oliver Tang to pick for me a nice piece of Zonta museum calf.




@shirtingfantasy is not a shoe enthusiast, or someone with particular shoe-luck in general: in China, it is difficult to source the exact type of metal buckle used by JL. Local shoe enthusiast @fishball_boy_in_hk suggested that the buckles could be purchased from Poursin Paris, yet after weeks of communication Acme has not been able to convince Poursin to ship to Mainland China - which, as some readers may know, has rather stringent import laws and tax policies than some sellers would rather not deal with. @shirtingfantasy's passion for a Chapel-clone also waxed and waned. At that particular juncture, the Frenchness of another design caught the eyes of @shirtingfantasy:

My New Life At Berluti : An Interview With Anthony Delos
MY NEW LIFE AT BERLUTI : AN INTERVIEW WITH ANTHONY DELOS (https://www.parisiangentleman.com)
How about a Delos-clone? With extra handwork? That's how it happened. The order sheet prepared by Tim is self-explanatory.


As the payment to Acme / Medallion involved a bank transfer with currency exchange (HKSAR China uses HKD, while Mainland China uses RMB) and non-negligible fees, @shirtingfantasy asked Tim if it would be possible to have the added cost of the long skin-stitching seams absorbed into the added leather cost of the Chapel-clone (it was above 10% on top of normal MTO cost). Tim quickly liaised with Mr Tang, and we all agreed that it would be a fair arrangement for everyone. So, final cost of the pair: USD 1880 or around EUR 1660 (Acme asked for a small surcharge for receiving money in USD instead of RMB).



After some back-and-forth, we settled on their so-called almond toe last (F75) - which to @shirtingfantasy is just another smart round last (the prototype dumb-round last would be Edward Green 202).

This experience also highlighted a few things about shoemaking in Mainland China:


1. While sourcing is partly solved by Acme's initial investment of some EUR 800,000 into European and American (mainly Horween cordovan) leathers, the "trimmings" such as sole leather, metal parts, linings etc. are still some of the unsolved variables in the quality equation. Whether their magnitude is large enough to affect the wear experience is an open question.

2. Due the unavailability of Google in Mainland China, some easily available sources of information maybe unavailable to Medallion and the workshop. For example, the quality difference between Horween Russian calf and Baker Russian calf is not well-known, even in the enthusiast circle or among the sales associates. Due to the sourcing difficulties as described in (1), there could also be incentive to persuade the customer to choose what they already have.


3. Making itself is very fast - even for fully handmade shoes - see the unboxing part.

Some obligatory in-the-making shots:



The final shoes arrived on 26 December 2021 - the perfect unboxing on a Boxing Day!





The tweed bags are actually very nice
After a few hours of polishing (@shirtingfantasy is not a shoe expert, again), the shoes were ready for some garden shots:





While many budding enthusiasts are into "photo scams" (照騙), the seasoned enthusiast always look at post-wearing performance:

After two full days of wear. The slight excess at the vamp created the bunging of leather. Creasing is otherwise quite fine.

So, what's the final verdict?

The Goods

1. Work looks neat. If you are not into the endless debate as to how to blind a waist, whether the wheel marks are done by machine or by hand, whether the waist stitching is real or fake (it has been discussed among some domestic and overseas shoe experts) and just want to wear some nice-looking shoes, Acme is the right maker. They deliver a package that can elevate your mood.

2. Work is fast. Despite the initial delay and actual start of making in early November 2021, shoes were received on Boxing Day 2021, which is unthinkable if you attempted to commission a custom pair from European (their artisanal perfection uses celestial, flexible time scales) or Japanese makers (they simply have an inflexible wait list).


3. They are willing to clone, to innovate, or even to create. Another virtue of Chinese is pragmatism, they tell you what they can do, what they would need extra money to do, and what are impossible to do given their constraints. Cloning does not hurt their pride - Chinese is not particularly prideful compared to some Continental makers. Whether making near-exact clones of shoe styles is ethically right has been repeatedly discussed by The Shoe Snob and Shoegazing.com and needs not be repeated here.

The Bads

1. Sourcing is an issue. Certain options such as Baker leather sole, peccary leather, special buckles are difficult to coordinate if not outright impossible. Many exotic pairs in sharkskin and crocodile have been made and shipped domestically, but export status is uncertain and elephant or hippo seem outright impossible.

2. Acme restricted the finishing fineness of their MTO range. Outsole stitching is fixed at 9 SPI and only bespoke clients can choose higher SPI options. Seamless shoes also attract a significant surcharge.


3. MTO and MTM do not allow the modification of toe shape. According to Tim, special toe shapes would require bespoke. Also, the client's bespoke last can only be used for subsequent bespoke orders (unlike, for example, a client's bespoke last may be used for lower-tier orders). This is also unlike

The Caveats You Can Avoid
1. Wrong sizes can be avoided by meaningful communications with your sales associate. Tim of Medallion maintains a last comparison library and his shoe size is just 0.5 UK smaller than @shirtingfantasy - conversion and extrapolation therefore is easy and meaningful. If you have not ever worn any proper leather shoes ("I know my Nike size, it's US 9")), or live consistently at the extremes of the sizing scale (e.g. 4.5 Corthay or UK 13 John Lobb Paris), then going straight to MTO could be very dangerous.

2. Reasonable expectation is the key to happiness. @shirtingfantasy's pair has a small blemish on the inner side of the waist of one shoe, presumably due to edge paint staining the upper. @shirtingfantasy eventually decided to fix it himself. Some argue that USD 100 / 1000 / 10000 shoes should be PERFECT. It is hard to comment on moral dimension of expectations, but it would be healthy to self-adjust such that your reasonable expectation is one that doesn't fail too often.

Is it a small blemish? Should it hurt you?

3. Know your bank and payment means. Paying sizeable amounts of money through Taobao can be tricky (credit card companies can block it), and transferring money to Acme / Medallion is not the most straightforward thing for many. With their new webshop (https://acmeshoemaker.com/), payment through PayPal seems possible.

SUMMARY

Acme (or ACME) shoemaker is an emerging maker from China which offers customised, fully-handmade shoes (hand-lasted, handwelted, hand-sewn outsole with a fast turnaround time. The cost is comparable to certain smaller European makers (e.g. Antonio Meccariello, Maftei), and significantly lower than fully-handmade ranges from some established makers (e.g. Yohei Fukuda MTO with bespoke craftsmanship upgrade at around HKD 30000, Gaziano & Girling Optimum at around GBP 2750, Corthay Petite Mesure at around EUR 4000). Upper design is flexible, but finishing options are limited by price-tier. Due to sourcing issues, certain "trimmings" may not be easily available. Sizing can be advised by Acme's team of sales associates. The author considers his Acme one of his more enjoyable pairs of dress shoes in terms of overall ordering, receipt of the actual product, and initial wearing experience.

ACME Shoemaker

https://acmeshoemaker.com

Minimum order: 1 pair

Price range:
RTW - from around RMB 8600 (Medallion webstore)
MTO/MTM - from around RMB 9500
Bespoke - from around RMB 15000

Handmade options: "hand-lasted, handwelted, and hand-sewn outsole" for all ranges
 

unprocessed

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Great review. And has me thinking: is Acme RTW/MTO is more of a direct competitor to G&G’s optimum line, and already a step ahead of G&G‘s MTO/RTW offerings?
 

j ingevaldsson

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I really respect your position on this. I would most likely approach bespoke similarly if I was sure that everybody involved was being (a) compensated properly and (b) would be respectful of traditional shoemaking. I would have no problem saving years to afford the work of @ntempleman or @DWFII, both makers that I hold in the highest regard. In fact, I have an outstanding commission from Lu Yang that is being done in the same spirit that you describe. However, when we get to larger workshops or factories, I am skeptical that workers are well-treated and compensated, and that the skill, the knowledge, and the work are valued in a commensurate manner to the best standards. Workplaces are messy, power dynamics can lead to dysfunctional teams, cost-cutting is always a strong incentive, etc.

If companies were more like Vass, whose owner promised every worker that they would retain their job, no matter how painful the pandemic, I would likely approach the shoe industry differently. But I am a bit too jaded at this point to believe that is common behavior. I hope Acme workers make a decent living, are well respected, and given a stake in the company's success. The same goes for G&G. But I don't know. As a business owner of a respected brand told me: "Look at Lu Yang, he can make 24 pairs a year; it is hard to make a living that way." And he is absolutely right. I made some estimates of the hourly wage that Mr. Yang is making, and that is pitiful.

Anyway, I offer no answers and my opinions are not set in stone.
As I understand it, from talking to folks who have a much better insight than me, in general, workers in factories making Goodyear welted shoes in both Europe, US and Asia have decent salaries, sort of an average for industry workers in respective areas/countries (all here of course relates to country, someone in Vietnam will make less actual money than someone in the UK, but they also have much lower costs of living, you know the drill). For workers doing handwork, manufacturers making RTW hand welted stuff, it's sort of the same, although earning a bit more since it takes more time to find someone else who can do the same work to the same standard.

For the bespoke shoe area, it differs the most, also depends on if you run things on your own, are employed, freelancer etc. Experience matters a lot, I'm not including apprenticeship and all that since it's a whole other story, but overall the more skill and speed you have, the more money you can make/higher salary you can get. Sadly, as you sort of touch on, many of those who make the least money are single operations, especially newer ones who aren't as efficient and can't charge a lot.

So, in general, in this industry with "high end" footwear who also use material that comes from good tanneries almost exclusively, one can feel rather safe that workers earn a decent living. There's variations of course, I know factories who pay really well and give lots of benefits compared to normal, but surely there's the other way around as well. But, extremely few who works with making welted shoes in any way makes a lot of money. Thing is that very few in management or owners in this area make that much money either (at least relatively speaking), it's just too time consuming stuff with too low margins in almost all cases. Want to get rich, try somewhere else. Those in the industry with lots of money, they usually get this / have gotten this from somewhere else (like Hermès getting it from their luxury leather goods and ties, or owners of certain bespoke shoe companies who've got money in the family, etc).
 

shirtingfantasy

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I really respect your position on this. I would most likely approach bespoke similarly if I was sure that everybody involved was being (a) compensated properly and (b) would be respectful of traditional shoemaking. I would have no problem saving years to afford the work of @ntempleman or @DWFII, both makers that I hold in the highest regard. In fact, I have an outstanding commission from Lu Yang that is being done in the same spirit that you describe. However, when we get to larger workshops or factories, I am skeptical that workers are well-treated and compensated, and that the skill, the knowledge, and the work are valued in a commensurate manner to the best standards. Workplaces are messy, power dynamics can lead to dysfunctional teams, cost-cutting is always a strong incentive, etc.

If companies were more like Vass, whose owner promised every worker that they would retain their job, no matter how painful the pandemic, I would likely approach the shoe industry differently. But I am a bit too jaded at this point to believe that is common behavior. I hope Acme workers make a decent living, are well respected, and given a stake in the company's success. The same goes for G&G. But I don't know. As a business owner of a respected brand told me: "Look at Lu Yang, he can make 24 pairs a year; it is hard to make a living that way." And he is absolutely right. I made some estimates of the hourly wage that Mr. Yang is making, and that is pitiful.

Anyway, I offer no answers and my opinions are not set in stone.
I cannot represent workers in the shoe-making factories in Beijing and Shanghai, as I am not one of them, but I would offer some hearsay and local examples in my city.

1. The owner of TGC / Xibao, Mr Chu, @chujiahao9759, can be seen wearing a gold Rolex in some of his posts and personal photos. From what I understand, it is not a counterfeit watch. Mr Tang, the current workshop head of Acme, worked with him in the past; Helen of Blazing Wonders was also a worker at the TGC factory. It shows that factory owners are not very poor, and occasionally workers accumulate enough savings to have job and social mobility.

2. In my city (Hong Kong), there are loads of tailors / cutters who can proudly make you a fully canvassed suit for around EUR 200 (you have to provide your own luxury European fabric). Many of these makers middle-aged or senior citizens of the city, living in public housing estates, and do not report these "informal" income to the inland revenue department. They are roughly as rich / poor as the average retired person in my city.

3. I know the workshop head / owner of a EUR 30 (making fee) shirt workshop personally (I referred a few friends from the Meccariello shoe thread to him as well). I once estimated that his total cost (incl. trimmings, labour) for making each shirt being EUR 20 and his turnover before COVID-19 was 40 shirts per day. His workshop opened 25 days per month on average. His monthly income was therefore EUR 10 x 40 x 25 = EUR 10,000. Considering the tax rate of my city (maxed at around 15%), I think he is not poor by the standard of many enthusiasts on this forum.

I would agree that a young artisan living the life of (2) is undesirable, but if you are a middle-aged workshop owner living the life of (3), it is not a very miserable life at all. The case of (1) is sort of in-between.
 

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