In my last update, I was still evaluating two shoemakers that were carefully selected for me by my sourcing agent. One of those shoemakers took the initiative to draw up new patterns, because they had some ideas on how to improve on them. Most of the last update went into detail on what they changed.
In this update, I'll go into:
#1 Your feedback to the March newsletter
#2 My visit to Mexico
#3 Additional design changes
#4 Delivery estimate
Our March newsletter might have received the most replies, ever. Thank you! An overwhelming majority expressed excitement about the redesign. 2 people didn't like it, and I thank you guys for your honesty. Of the people who liked it, 7 mentioned not liking the heel counter, specifically. So I spent a couple hours researching heel counter designs. In the end, I fell in love with this one, on the right.
This heel counter design is most often seen on wingtips, where extra panels allows for the shoe to showcase more of its intricate detailing. I saw it on an Oxford though, and I said Whoa.
The first day, my sourcing agent Fuad and a shoe engineer from his firm Claudia took me to visit the first shoemaker that did the redesign. I met the owner, Miguel, a stylish middle-aged gentleman who also seems to approach his business with a primary emphasis on design. We were joined by the head of design Giovanni and another designer Paul. I presented my comments on their first sample, and we jumped into a discussion on design.
I followed the designers to their computers, where they let me watch them make the revisions on CAD software. Next, we went downstairs to see a laser cutter "print" the patterns out from cardstock paper. From there, I was able to follow the sample, from the back of the factory where the leather is stocked, to the front of the factory where my sample was buffed with cream. I wore this sample the rest of the day to test them out.
The second day, I visited the second shoemaker, who made samples based on my old patterns. They were good, but of course I preferred the redesign by the first shoemaker, as well as the initiative they took on it. The people I met at the second shoemaker were nice, but it wasn't like meeting the owner and getting ideas left and right at the first shoemaker. Out of respect for everyone's time, Fuad helped me tell the second shoemaker that we were going with another shoemaker, but that we would contact them if things didn't work out. We shook hands, thanked them, and said goodbye. Since we had the rest of the day free, we went back to the first shoemaker where I put in a request for a third sample.
The third day involved visiting accessory suppliers: outsoles, shoe box, and shoe trees.
I learned from the outsole maker that there is a great deal of accuracy involved in making outsoles. Depending on the materials used, outsoles will contract or expand to varying degrees after they come out of the mold. So you must take this into account when creating the mold.
Visiting the box maker opened me up to an infinite number of possibilities: box shapes, materials, colors, prints, etc. Up until now, I was never given the option of designing a custom box. The minimum order quantity (MOQ) was always too high in USA. The best I could do was a custom sticker label. But by moving production to Mexico, I can design a custom box. Our box design is not finalized yet, but you should know that I will make it something different and practical ;)
At the shoe tree supplier, they presented a pair of shoe trees that were customized to my last. Seriously? Custom-lasted shoe trees are typically only seen in $1,000+ shoes. And now I'm able to give them to you guys, complimentary, with every pair of our shoes.
What impressed me most about the shoe industry in León is how agile and flexible it is. It's been around since 1645, so it is steeped in tradition. But this doesn't mean its slow-moving. Yes, it still takes longer than you'd imagine to make shoes, due to the number of parts, tooling, and the many steps of assembly required. But because there are so many different firms, of so many different sizes, providing so many different products and services, all clustered so closely together, things that were impossible for me before in the USA are possible now in Mexico.
As my sample reached finishing at the Mexican shoemaker, I watched them apply cream and then buff it off, so the shoes are pre-conditioned with a hint of shine. I had asked my USA shoemaker to do this for me. They wouldn't. They have a buffing wheel, but they don't use it anymore.
When the Mexican craftswoman finished buffing the sample, she handed it to me, and I started to lace the shoes up in my favorite double helix style. She asked if this is how I want my production shoes laced. I stared at her blankly for a second.
me: ...Tu puedes? (You can?)
her: Si! (Yes!)
Another impossibility with the USA shoemaker, made possible in Mexico.
All of this is why, in the middle of a meeting, after getting another surprising bit of good news, I put my hands up and exclaimed, "Everything's better in Mexico!"
About a week after leaving León with my third sample, Fuad emailed asking if I approve of it for production.
I wrote back:
I'm glad you asked. I thought I had approved the pattern, but your question made me think really hard. After walking around a lot in these shoes, I do think we could use 2 changes.
First change: I think the flexpoint isn't at the right place because of the longer cap. The back edge of the cap digs into my big toe in flexion.
Therefore, I ask that the next sample have a shorter cap (and longer vamp as a consequence) by 9mm.
Second change: Lower the topline a bit more. I've identified where a point on the curve should be lowered by 4mm.
I've been recording your feedback and return reasons since the very beginning. With all these revisions made in Version 4, I am able to address all the major issues that can be addressed with changes to the pattern.
It's insane how 2 months of R&D in Mexico yielded way more than 2 years of R&D in the USA.
When I left Mexico, they told me a July delivery date was doable. However, that was based on my approval of the third sample. With the extra round of sampling, we might be pushed into August. I've updated our website accordingly.
I know timing is crucial for some of you. This was a hard decision to make, but I stand by it and take responsibility for it. You're paying a lot for these shoes and you're going to have them for a long time, so I want them to be as comfortable as possible, especially if I know exactly how to make it so.
Thanks for reading! By the next newsletter, I should have photos of finalized designs for all 3 of our style-colors.
Mountain Evan Chang
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