In 2013 I started to willingly wear leather shoes. Nine years later, I am awaiting delivery of my first bespoke shoes. Along the way, I strayed here and there. This post aims to describe this journey with some lessons for readers looking to get into the hobby or looking to go to the next level.
As with any hobbies I delve into, I didn't start my shoe journey immediately buying high-end products. It was a slow process. This was good for a number of reasons.
First, it allowed me to know whether I really was into this hobby before I spent more money (and thus avoiding any unnecessary financial risk). Second, it allowed me to appreciate the quality increase that comes with each upgrade.
I would strongly advise adopting this approach every time one considers getting into a hobby. Here's my journey so far and where it is going next. Of course, I won't be able to show you all of the shoes I bought in this journey, but the ones I show will be indicative of the shoes I own at any given time.
I. "Leather" Shoes
It started in 2013 when I was still at university. By then my style had already been like my current casual Fridays style: tucked-in shirt with rolled-up sleeves with dark jeans and brown leather shoes. This was a big shift as just three years prior, I still rocked my high school emo bangs and was more into Vans than brown oxfords.
All I really cared about was the style. They were quite conservative: brown captoe oxfords with a rounded toe by Bata. I think I paid around IDR 200,000 (approx. USD 14).
Material and construction-wise, they were quite inferior. They had cemented rubber soles and synthetic uppers. But I didn't care, I just liked the look of them and that was enough. I even polished them to have a nice patina.
II. Leather Shoes
By 2015, having learned that I am into leather shoes and polishing leather shoes, I moved on to genuine leather shoes. Construction was either cemented or blakestitched (which I didn't care for). I also didn't care for the uppers too much, so long as they were genuine leather. A few were corrected grain and heavily processed with acrylic. But there was definitely a quality increase from the Batas. Some even had vegetable-tanned leather outsoles.
I bought from brands such as Koku, Portee, Priere, Lazada, and even from no-brand individual craftspeople. I was probably spending around IDR 600,000-700,000 (approx. USD 40-50) per pair. Still not a lot of investment.
But because I thought I wasn't spending too much on each pair, I sort of went a bit mad and bought too many pairs at once (none of which made it to my current rotation). Because of the high number of shoes I was buying, it allowed me to also step outside my comfort zone in terms of style and color, like below (I remember back then I was quite drawn to fringes and tassels).
While I would advise against getting too experimental with shoes, if one had to be, this would be the best time to do it. If you get too experimental with welted and bespoke shoes (discussed below), the cost and risk are too high.
III. Welted Shoes (and the Realization that Cemented Shoes have a Place in One's Collection)
Now we're at the deep end. "Welted" here refers to both goodyear welted and handwelted. This is a very large segment in the market. I've elected not to split this section because I still do buy both.
In mid-2016 I finally pulled the trigger on Fortuna Shoes, a brand that has been on my radar for quite some time. Fortuna had this mystique about them. Back then they didn't sell online and I had to travel to their factory shop in Bandung to even see one in person. Moreover, Fortuna (branded as Jalan Sriwijaya, sometime simply known as Jalan) was very popular in Japan, but not quite in Indonesia. If a product is popular among hobbyists and enthusiasts in Japan, it is quite a good indication of quality as the Japanese market has quite a high standard. Obviously, I was intrigued.
I spent around IDR 2,500,000 (approx. USD 170) on my first pair of welted shoes. This was a huge investment at the time as this was around three to four times the amount I would usually spend on any of my previous shoes.
I went with a very classic (and uncharacteristic for me at the time) black captoe oxfords. To be honest, back then I didn't really think that I'd buy another pair of welted shoes and almost regretted that I didn't get them in brown (thinking that I will only have one welted pair that I will wear for many years, which I hope would develop a natural patina). I was wrong.
Suffice to say, I didn't regret this purchase one bit (and I certainly did buy more welted shoes since). I got a lot of wear out of them and they are still in my rotation. I even had them recently resoled for more years of service (more on that here).
After that, I tried a few different makers from Indonesia (Winson, Sagara), the U.S. (Allen Edmonds, Alden), and England (Crockett & Jones, George Cleverley, Grenson). I bought from different makers primarily for each maker's distinct style (e.g., sleek and refined from Winson, tough and rugged from Sagara).
After experiencing different leather uppers including calf, cow, crust, suede, and grained, I started exploring more unique leather uppers, such as crocodile and shell cordovan.
At this stage, my shoes started to look more conservative. Fewer bold colors, tassels, and elongated lasts.
When I first started buying welted shoes I had a rather simplistic viewpoint -- welted: good; cemented: bad. As with anything that is overly simplified, this is simply not true. Somewhere along the six years since I started buying welted shoes, I also came to the realization that cemented (and blakestiched) shoes have their merit.
Cemented shoes can be superior to welted shoes if the goal is to have a thin and flexible sole. Thinness and flexibility are useful for light, casual shoes, such as belgian loafers. So welted shoes are not the be-all and end-all for shoes.
This stage represents the bulk of my shoe-owning experience. And I will always likely continue buying welted shoes, even after I try bespoke shoes (discussed below). There are simply too many good RTW, MTO, and MTM shoemakers out there. And it'd be a shame not to experience them simply because I've started to wear bespoke shoes.
IV. Next: Bespoke Shoes
"Bespoke" here refers to shoes that are made on a bespoke last (i.e., made from scratch) and usually involves one or two fitting or trial shoes, or both.
So, not merely "custom," which falls within the preceding category. The Winson, Sagara, and one pair of Fortuna shoes I had were all custom made. I had choices of upper and sole material and color, but they were all made on standard lasts.
I started my bespoke journey in 2019 when I bought a whole calf hide at A&A Crack in Northampton to be used for my first bespoke shoes. Shortly thereafter, I handed the whole hide over to Winson. After receiving one pair of fitting shoes and two pairs of trial shoes, I am currently awaiting the final pair. This will be the subject of another post.
The last that is currently being made is for a formal shoe. The idea is that subsequent formal pairs will use this last as well, with small tweaks on the last along the way as necessary. Given my bias towards loafers (penny in particular) I may also have Winson make a bespoke loafer last.
Bespoke shoes make more sense if you have a maker make a few pairs, which would allow the cost of the bespoke last to be stretched out among many shoes. For this reason, it is unlikely that I will have another bespoke pair made by other shoemakers in the near future.
Winson's shoemaking skills and customization possibilities also allow me to try different patterns and shapes, which makes it difficult for me to justify starting a new bespoke journey with other bespoke makers.
But time will tell. Nine years ago I didn't expect to have a pair of bespoke shoes. Let's see what the next nine years will bring.
Written by: Nikki Krisadtyo