We pride ourselves on stories of character, value, and dedication to developing a craft, many of whose may go unnoticed. Most, as expected with an ever-changing society, toss and turn between multiple professions. Nothing against those who do, but it goes without saying that I deeply appreciate those who become immersed in their craft. Justin Fitzpatrick, known to the menswear industry as “The Shoe Snob”, began a new chapter in his life in 2008 and hasn’t turned back. His evolution mirrors that of a Hollywood movie: sold off everything, packed his bags, and moved to Europe to begin his education in the shoe cobbling world. It’s been a road of trials and tribulations for Justin, but something that he fully notes as an amazing experience.
Justin’s time apprenticing for shoemaker Stefano Bemer in Italy as well as his work as a shoe shine artisan at Gieves & Hawkes (No.1, Savile Row) acted as both new chapters in his life. Working with such amazing people will only act as a catapult to the next stage. His long train commutes into the city of London gave Justin time to start sketching out shoes, which fast-forward to today, are in production and soon to be available on his web-shop come Spring. For now, though, you can see Justin’s full shoe collection here and email him directly for purchase inquiries. Yes- just in time for this holiday season. Justin is a true gentlemen of character and a name to keep close tabs on in the men’s artisan shoe world. We are looking forward to the next steps of his journey as it continues to evolve. I had the pleasuring of speaking with him for this month’s featured interview:
Chris Dam: How do you feel your time in retail influenced you as a designer?
Justin Fitzpatrick: It definitely helped me understand the needs and wants of men. If it were up to me, I would just design unique things that were to my personal liking, but as a smart businessman and designer as one, I have come to understand through my time in retail (as well as from sage advice from another designer friend of mine) that I have to create a fine balance of what men want and need versus what I like as a designer. This is key to my shoes actually selling, versus just looking unique but sitting on the shelves collecting dust. It’s also helped me understand what not to do as well as allowed me to see all of the other shoemakers out there and what they do. That then allowed me to differentiate myself when creating my collection by understanding what others were missing out on and how I could capitalize on that.
CD: In my experience within the menswear industry, I’ve seen the “gasp” effect upon seeing a bench-made shoe’s price tag. It’s unfortunate, but most do not understand the process and longevity that goes into a pair of well made shoes. Rather than a form of salesmanship, what do you share with someone who sees a price tag over $500 as outrageous? Is there an affordable way to produce high- quality shoes at a price in which men can afford?
JF: To be quite honest there really are only two things that you pay for in a shoe: leather and labor costs. The more expensive shoes are usually made in Europe where the currency is strong and the wages are high (in comparison to the majority of the world). Also, the higher the price-point of the shoe, the better the leather should be. So when I come across people that gasp, I simply explain to them what is involved and try to put it in simplistic terms. A $500 shoe is not a necessity. But it will look nicer, feel better and last longer than the cheaper alternatives. But one does not need it. It’s a luxury. People have to decide for themselves whether or not it’s worth it. Those same people that gasp probably drive Range Rovers when they could be driving a cheaper Honda Accord that will do the same thing: get them from point A to B. But they are willing to pay that extra to feel good and have prestige. Same with shoes.
Sure, a good shoe can be made at a lower price, but only due to lower labor costs as leather will always be the same price to buy whether or not G&G, Meermin, John Lobb, C&J, LV or anyone is buying it. There are only so many tanneries that produce the good leather that is found in higher end shoes. So if the leather stays constant then the only other thing that can be changed is the labor….that is why there is a sudden surge of Asian factories who learned the skill of European shoemakers but clearly have cheaper labor costs and are able to produce a product that has a lower retail cost.
CD: Shoe care is an obvious ritual to us in the industry, but what advice do you share with those who are looking to take a bigger investment in a pair of shoes?
JF: You just have to be consistent. If one maintains his shoes for minimal amounts of time but on a regular basis, they will last a long time. But they have to do it. If you were to never shower yourself imagine how awful your skin would be after a year. Same with shoes. They are leather and it was once a living tissue. It no longer has a body attached to it to replenish its nutrients so we have to. And good leather does not just work itself out. It, more than others, needs to be treated right, with good products and regular care. That is, if one wants to get his money’s worth.
CD: What do you see if the biggest difference between the men in Europe (specifically in England/Italy) and the men in the US?
JF: Fit. Plain and simple. Most men in the US wear clothes that are too big and improperly tailored. But England is not that far off either. It is the definitely the minority of men that wear clothes properly. But I guess that the proportion is far greater. Italy is on another level. They just have it down when it comes to clothes and fit, as if it was engrained in their being. That’s my take on clothes.
If you were referring to shoes, well I don’t see a difference really. There are loads of people here in England that wear the worst shoes ever. Where men in America wear square toes, men in England wear winklepickers which are those shoes that look like you could kick an insect that was hiding in a corner, pointier than pointy. Italians are still smart in that regard, but not as much as one would think. Many of them wear horrible trainers. Times are changing there. In reality, I think that the French wear the best shoes, not that French shoes are the best, but that more men on average wear smart shoes and not crappy, nasty ones. Same with the Swedish. They are always wearing good shoes. But in reality we are a long way off (the whole world) from the majority of men wearing good shoes. But I think that as the internet gets bigger and more bloggers are out there educating the more that men are wising up, investing in their appearance and thus dressing better.
CD: How has (if it has) your time on Savile Row shaped the man you are today?
JF: It definitely helped me with the way that I dress. I wore horrible suits before coming to England. It has also helped me grow/expand my views on what it means to be elegant. I have been spoiled here as you see sartorial excellence on a level that is not matched anywhere else outside of the few Neapolitan/Parisian tailors and I have been fortunate to hang out with greats such as Chittleborough & Morgan, those at G&H, Timothy Everest and others. I definitely carry myself differently too, but that could be just because I have been aging!
We ended our conversation with an impromptu “fill in the blank series” of questions. Notably, they allow our readers to take a deeper look into the mind of Mr. Fitzpatrick.
[one_half padding=”5px 20px 0 20px”]Tomorrow when I begin my day, I’ll start by a shower, coffee, checking emails and playing with my son if he is awake. Then music in my earphones and off for my only personal time of the day which is on the tube. Reflection time.
If there’s one thing in life you should love more than anything it has to be yourself. If you don’t love yourself then you can’t love anyone else. And that is not in an egotistical way. It is about being happy with who you are. That is important. If you truly are, then you have to love your immediate family (parents/spouse/children) more than anything else as they provide the happiness and comfort that is unmatched by anything else in life.[/one_half]
[one_half_last padding=”5px 20px 0 20px”]Men should start a new wardrobe by first investing in a good pair of shoes as it is the foundation of your outfit.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past five years it’s that passion, persistence, integrity and honesty trump anything else when it comes to getting to where you want to go
Don’t forget to breath and be grateful for the little things, like running water and a warm bed[/one_half_last]